LONDON — Three points from Stamford Bridge on Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Everton in the Premier League.
1. Chelsea stay unbeaten but drop two points
Chelsea remain unbeaten, but it was Everton who emerged with greater credit from a frantic and physical stalemate at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The visitors set the tone early as Yerry Mina, making his first start for the club, crashed through Eden Hazard’s ankle as the Belgian darted towards Everton’s back four. Marcos Alonso, Chelsea’s most dangerous attacking player on the day, curled the resulting free kick just wide.
Chelsea responded with even greater force in a first half with more fouls than chances. Jorginho was lucky to see yellow rather than red for a reckless lunge on Gylfi Sigurdsson, and N’Golo Kante was also booked for an uncharacteristic scythe on Richarlison.
Temperatures rose further when Alonso caught Theo Walcott on the ankle directly in front of the benches, who traded a consistent stream of angry words and gesticulations. The opening 45 minutes saw five bookings and only one clear opportunity, as Alonso’s sensational volley was parried away by Jordan Pickford.
The game opened up after the break and Eden Hazard, the one man capable of creation amid the chaos, grew in influence. Pickford was forced into action again when the Belgian’s superb cross from the left was diverted towards him by a combination of Alvaro Morata and Michael Keane.
Willian fired just wide with a low shot after a brilliant Hazard through ball, and the Belgian then tested Pickford himself with a 25-yard strike that stung the palms of England’s No.1. In the main, though, this was a game with more needle than football.
Alonso struck the post and Morata had a goal ruled out for offside but Everton, always dangerous on the counter-attack, were well worth their draw. For Chelsea, the gap to Manchester City could grow but, on the evidence of recent weeks, predictions of any kind of Premier League title race look optimistic.
2. Chelsea a work in progress under Sarri
We’re still waiting for the “problems” that Maurizio Sarri predicted to translate into significant dropped Premier League points, but it’s impossible to watch Chelsea against dangerous opponents without concluding that they are still some way from finding the consistent balance and control their head coach wants.
Everton’s high pressing led to far too many misplaced passes out of defence, and far too many of those resulted in Chelsea fouls that were at best cynical and at worst downright dangerous. On another day, Jorginho and Alonso might have been sent off without much controversy.
Defending by, as Sarri puts it, “looking at the ball rather than the man” at times morphs into ball watching for this team, with opposition midfielders and forwards allowed to run unchecked into threatening areas. Sigurdsson, at the heart of Everton’s best work, never had to look too hard to find space.
There have been spells in almost every match this season where Chelsea have floundered defensively, only to be rescued by poor finishing and then redeemed by their own resilience and remarkable knack for finding late goals.
The good news is that Man City encountered many of these problems in their first season under Pep Guardiola. Chelsea are in the early stages of a similar process, and these first months of the Sarri era have offered plenty of cause to hope that they can one day reach similar heights.
What is clear for now, though, is that the gap between the team Chelsea are and the one they want to be — City — is bigger than the table would have you believe.
3. Silva, Everton gaining ground
Marco Silva is an ambitious man. It is the quality that has defined his rollercoaster career to this point, and you sense it is the one that ensures he has no problem preparing and motivating his players for marquee matches like this.
Everton did him credit on a ground they have not tasted victory at since 1994, pressing Chelsea all over the pitch, engaging them in battles and sewing chaos wherever the home side wanted control. But for an agonising lack of composure and quality in the final third, they would have claimed a famous victory.
There remain questions about this team — Richarlison looks a little lost operating as a central striker, even if he exhibited a Roberto Firmino-esque determination to make David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger as uncomfortable as possible — and at times their high defensive line looks hugely risky.
But there is plenty of quality too. Perhaps not quite enough to break into the Premier League’s top six this season, but certainly enough to close what was a 14-point gulf last term. Sigurdsson is excellent, Richarlison could be special and Idrissa Gueye is almost as nightmarish to play against as Kante.
In Silva, they also possess a tactically polished young coach who is determined to reach the very top. If he realises those ambitions it will most likely be away from Goodison Park but, in the short term and with Farhad Moshiri’s continued investment, Everton should benefit from his keen ambition. After last season’s uninspiring second half under Sam Allarydce, Everton now are a team on the rise.