Carelessness continues to threaten the unraveling of Chelsea’s Premier League title bid after they allowed Everton to pinch a point at Stamford Bridge. Ahead through Mason Mount’s goal midway through the second half, Thomas Tuchel’s side should have displayed the poise to see out what would have been a third win from their last five league games.
However, the defensive rigour that was so ingrained in this Chelsea team only a matter of weeks ago has disappeared and the home side succumbed to a late equaliser from Everton’s centre back Jarrad Branthwaite.
There were few excuses to which Chelsea could cling. Even though they were missing four strikers because of Covid, and couldn’t name a recognised forward in their matchday squad, Everton were even more depleted. Rather, Tuchel’s players failed to take advantage of 70-minutes plus of domination in which they saw plenty of the ball but struggled to create clear cut chances. Invention was the key commodity missing.
It means that Chelsea are now four points behind Manchester City, who top the table, and three below Liverpool. There is a real risk of being cut adrift if the top two keep performing and Chelsea spurn points such as these.
Meanwhile, this was a precious draw for Everton and Rafael Benitez. After losing five away games on the bounce, this was probably the most surprising of capital gains. And with injuries playing havoc with their squad, this was a battling point built around players from the academy.
Ellis Simms was drafted in up front for his full debut and had a thankless task of being Everton’s isolated front man. His replacement on the hour, Lewis Dobbin, was more lively and showed some nice touches when Everton countered more as the game reached its climax.
Though it was Branthwaite who impressed the most. Playing as the left-sided centre back in a three-man defence, the 19-year-old showed through his positioning and well-timed tackles why he should be given a more permanent place in the starting lineup by Benitez.
Story of the game
The extent of Chelsea’s selection issues were laid bare when it was announced that Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi had joined Matteo Kovacic in being sidelined by Covid while Kai Havertz missed out due to illness. The home side were at least lucky to have N’Golo Kante and Trevor Chalobah back available and amongst the substitutes.
The situation was even worse for Benitez who had to make a raft of changes, five from Sunday’s defeat away to Crystal Palace. There was little time for the makeshift team to get to grips with the game as the visitors were on the back foot from the start with Chelsea creating three chances in the first 10 minutes.
Reece James somehow side-footed wide when played through by Jorginho, before Mount dragged an effort across Jordan Pickford’s goal. The Everton ‘keeper then plucked an audacious flick from Cristian Pulisic out of the air. Pickford, who kept his side in the contest, was again called into action to save at full stretch a James free-kick.
The waves of attack kept coming Everton’s way. Hakim Ziyech scuffed a shot wide from the edge of the area and then Mount saw a low effort rebuffed by Pickford’s boot. The away side somehow hung on but their compact shape allowed Chelsea to manipulate them. Mount was denied early in the second half and Ruben Loftus-Cheek flicked over the bar from Marcos Alonso’s corner.
It was just when Chelsea were starting to grow frustrated and the night became niggly that James broke down the right and sent in Mount. The Chelsea attacker was too quick for Everton’s defence and slotted past Pickford for his seventh goal of the season. It lifted the mood around the Bridge and Thiago Silva could have added another but his goalbound header was parried by Pickford.
Everton came out of their shell with Dobbin and Anthony Gordon leading the way, but there was never any real threat of the visitors snatching a point. That changed, however, when Gordon delivered a free-kick from the left and Chelsea’s defence stood static. Branthwaite, sliding in at the back post, lapped up the chance and added to Tuchel’s vexations.
Chelsea: Mendy; Azpilicueta (Chalobah 79), Silva, Rudiger; James, Loftus-Cheek (Barkley 65), Jorginho, Alonso (Saul 65); Ziyech, Pulisic, Mount.
Subs (not used): Kepa, Bettinelli, Sarr, Christensen, Kante.
Everton: Pickford; Holgate, Keane, Branthwaite; Kenny, Doucoure, Gomes (Gbamin 71), Godfrey; Iwobi, Gordon (Onyango 91); Simms (Dobbin 62).
Subs (not used): Begovic, Lonergan, Coleman, Allan.
Referee: Michael Oliver.