Chelsea lose ground in title race as depleted Everton battle for a point

Chelsea were stunned by Everton’s quick equaliser

As chaos reigned and reverberated across the Premier League, with players testing positive, coaches demanding circuit breakers and fixtures falling like dominoes, Everton somehow stood firm against all the odds at Stamford Bridge. It is hardly an exaggeration to claim Rafael Benitez’s embittered side were under siege for almost every minute of this draw, finally succumbing to the relentless tide of attacks when Mason Mount struck in the 70th minute. And yet, for all their relief, it took Chelsea just four minutes to squander their lead and two vital points as teenage centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite turned the ball in at the back post.

There was a sense all day that this game could be called off, and Tuchel might feel more need now to argue with the Premier League’s curious definition of a Covid outbreak, considering almost his entire forward line – Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi – are currently in isolation, but that will offer no caveat at the top of the table. After their near-faultless start, Chelsea are now four points adrift of Manchester City and struggling to break out of a laborious rhythm where they dominate at will but are bereft of their usual cutting-edge.

There were, of course, other factors at play in this 1-1 draw, but the more cynical reality is that these sort of doomsday scenarios, where fatigued squads are further depleted by the virus, should in fact favour Chelsea. And while they were still able to call on Christian Pulisic as a false nine, an injury-stricken Everton had been stripped back to their bare bones, unable even to fill the eighth place on their bench while 20-year-old Ellis Simms made his debut up front.

It didn’t require any great ingenuity then, before even taking Everton’s woeful form and Richarlison’s injury into account, to realise how this match might unravel. Chelsea dominated possession to such an extent Everton’s players seemed perturbed by the rare sight of it at their feet. Space in the channel next to Branthwaite was carved open with almost apologetic ease. And yet, for all the disruption and disorder of the past few weeks, Chelsea’s lack of killer instinct remained a reliable constant.

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They had begun with such intent Everton looked set to be blown away, with Reece James racing clean through onto Jorginho’s pass in the opening minutes. Chelsea’s de facto striker in recent weeks when all else has failed, there was a gasp of disbelief in the crowd when his shot skimmed past the wrong side of the netting. But before long, over the course of a brutally one-sided but concerningly blunt first-half, any shock soon melted into frustration.

Chelsea did dazzle in intervals, with Hakim Ziyech’s brilliant dummy clearing the path for Pulisic’s backheel, but the prevailing pattern was one of wastefulness. Mount dragged one chance wide and then contrived to shoot straight at Jordan Pickford from point-blank range when a certain goal beckoned. When the well ran dry, James peppered shots from an ambitious distance that drew theatrics from Pickford but little great panic.

Everton might have been toothless in attack, but they were admirably dogged. Eventually, though, something had to give. Shortly after the break, Mount’s shot took a wicked deflection and was tipped over before Ruben Loftus-Cheek spurned a free header from the resulting corner. Antonio Rudiger came close with a header of his own as the pressure built until, finally, on the stroke of 70 minutes the dam broke. Everton over-committed on a rare attack and were cut to shreds on the counter, with James playing Mount in through Branthwaite’s channel and this time there was no mistake as the England international scored his fourth league goal in successive games.

Everton remain in trouble but they fought for their point

But for all their struggle, irritation, huffing and puffing, it took just four minutes for Everton to strike back. Anthony Gordon’s free-kick swerved across the face of goal, evading almost everyone in its path, before Branthwaite stretched a leg and turned the ball in at the back post. Chelsea were rocked, Tuchel was apoplectic on the touchline, and Everton almost struck again instantly, with Lewis Dobbin almost latching onto another great Gordon cross.

The dying stages were a fitting description for the Chelsea onslaught that followed. Pickford made a spectacular save low to his right to tip away Thiago Silva’s bulleted header, crosses were scrambled away and Chelsea’s frantic efforts were made to no avail. As the Premier League teeters with uncertainty, Everton refused to buckle, and Chelsea were left to rue a pain they’ve started to know all too well.

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