Chelsea lost ground in the Premier League title race after their team’s 2-0 defeat at West Ham United on Thursday night. The Londoners are now 10 points behind leaders Manchester City, who won 3-1 against Watford earlier in the day.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Everyone involved in Chelsea’s 1-1 tie with Everton seemed to be biting or holding on to their fingernails. Chelsea will be disappointed with the two points and ground lost in the championship fight, which came partially as a result of their own squandering but also as a result of Jordan Pickford’s outstanding saves. Everton scored from their first clear opportunity despite playing a patchwork XI missing 12 first-team players.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel commented afterward, “It was a bizarre outcome for this sort of encounter.”
The Premier League, meanwhile, was dealing with a developing COVID-19 dilemma, with more matches falling by the wayside by the day.
This was a Chelsea performance we’ve become used to: Tuchel looking away in despair as his side had all the possession and opportunity in the world, but couldn’t finish clinically. Everton can build on this performance after earning only four points in the previous 30 games, but both sets of fans departed Stamford Bridge unclear when they’d see their clubs again as COVID-19 takes hold of England for the second holiday season in a row.
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Even before the teams arrived at the stadium, all of Chelsea’s best-laid preparations had gone astray. Tuchel expressed his delight at the prospect of playing Romelu Lukaku for around 70 minutes against Everton on Wednesday. By Thursday lunchtime, the manager had already learned that Manchester United’s weekend fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion had been postponed, as he counted the players in and out of the dining room, awaiting PCR results and determining who he still had available.
Tuchel added that despite the COVID-19 instances upsetting his preparations, the idea of appealing for a delay never occurred to him before to the match. Lukaku, Timo Werner, and Callum Hudson-Odoi were all ruled out due to positive tests, and they were also without an ill Kai Havertz, who was awaiting PCR findings.
“We didn’t talk about it being called off for a second,” Tuchel added. “I’m not familiar with the rules, and I’m not interested in learning them.”
As they began going down Fulham Road to Stamford Bridge under Plan B circumstances — in which fans must produce evidence of vaccination or negative COVID test results — another game had ended, with Leicester City’s match versus Tottenham Hotspur the next to collapse. Four more matches had been postponed before Everton’s exhausted, patchwork squad had even got to the field to warm up, including their next encounter against Leicester on Sunday.
After the match, Toffees manager Rafa Benitez stated of the COVID issue, “The health of everyone is the most important thing, and if we have to postpone games and put the proper message through, then we’ll do it as it’s our obligation.” “They need to think about how to reduce the amount of COVID instances, because if they don’t, things will become worse.”
Despite the delays, the game began with Chelsea attacking from the start, focusing on Everton’s left flank, with Reece James, Jorginho, and Mason Mount finding gaps in the opposition’s back five. Within five minutes, the hosts could have been two up, as both James and Mount fired wide from good positions. Everton’s low-block, which was crowded 5-4-1, was peppered by Chelsea.
Christian Pulisic began in the false nine, flanked by Hakim Ziyech and Mount, and found himself heroically battling high balls but unable to carve out clear-cut opportunities. In the 10th minute, he had his finest chance with a flick with his instep, which Pickford easily stopped.
Chelsea had 13 shots to Everton’s two at halftime, with Mount wasting a clean one-on-one with Pickford. It was attack vs defense, with Chelsea absolutely dominating while Everton waited for the tiniest sight of an opening, with Ellis Simms given the onerous chore of holding the ball up against Chelsea’s first-choice back three for his Premier League debut.
Tuchel became more irritated, even doing a fantastic furious pirouette in reaction to Ziyech and Marcos Alonso wasting possession, while Benitez became increasingly irritated.
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Chelsea’s defensive flaws were exposed once again, with the Blues conceding eight goals in their last five league games after allowing only four in their first 12, as they failed to cope with the one occasion their goal was actually tested. There were also the old problems of having time and space in and around the box but not being able to create chances. Tuchel will be upset about the two points lost, especially because Manchester City currently leads the league by four points.
Everton’s next match has already been rescheduled. They’ll have to wait a while to build on this, but the hope is that more of their injured and unwell back will be available.
That isn’t to imply it will make things easier for Benitez. Benitez looked lonely on the touchline in a stadium filled to the rafters, in a game predicated on claustrophobia, the solitary socially distant figure against the background of Everton’s travelling fans, who carried a banner aloft before the game reading: “Benitez Get Out of Our Club.” On a night when the club’s kids came through for him, he got the tactics right on, given the personnel at his disposal.
“You might argue that’s the most significant result [of my tenure at Everton],” Benitez remarked, “since we’ve had so many injuries and illnesses.” “It’s a nice point, but the manner in which we gained the point was crucial.”
Although we aren’t nearly halfway through the season, Thursday’s game might still be significant at the conclusion of the year, whenever that may be. Chelsea will be hoping that this was simply a stumbling block, and that Everton is the start of a new era under Benitez. But, as COVID-19 tightens its hold on the clubs and the calendar, the question of the Premier League’s near future looms over all of this on an unseasonably warm night in London.