Sigurdsson shines and Everton keep clean sheet

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Gylfi Sigurdsson of Everton (L) celebrates after scoring their team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12, 2020 in Liverpool, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Gylfi Sigurdsson of Everton (L) celebrates after scoring their team's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12, 2020 in Liverpool, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) /
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Football is a funny old game, or so someone once said and Saturday’s match certainly proved that axiom as Everton not only beat Chelsea but also kept just their second clean sheet of the season.

Somehow against the odds Everton secured a 1-0 win at Goodison Park with a Gylfi Sigurdsson first-half penalty enough to secure all three points for the home team. I certainly didn’t expect this result or a clean sheet, but I’m more than happy to be proven wrong!

Carlo Ancelotti picked Sigurdsson in midfield in place of Andre Gomes and went back to the 4-3-3 formation that finished against Burnley, but with Alex Iwobi pushed forward this time on the right in place of James Rodriguez.

The start of the game was open with both sides looking to be positive and attack but it was the Toffees who got the breakthrough when Dominic Calvert-Lewin was brought down in the box clumsily by the Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy.

A little surprisingly after Calvert-Lewin had taken a penalty for England recently and given what a run he’s on in front of goal, it was the Icelander who stepped up to take it. He made no mistake though nonchalantly stroking the ball past Mendy.

Then Chelsea took control and began to dominate, putting the Blues makeshift back four under real pressure. They had a few good chances, but Pickford made several excellent saves and Reece James (who was outstanding for the visitors), hit the post. However, generally Everton coped well.

The Toffees rode that storm with the vocal support of the returning 2,000 Goodison Park faithfull perhaps helping and got to halftime with their lead intact, but in truth only just.

Chelsea continued to have the lions share of the ball in the second half as they pressed for that elusive equaliser, but the Blues again were solid in defence and kept them honest with some incisive counter-attacks.

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Sigurdsson was pulling the strings well and putting in some good dead balls, Iwobi was busy and always an outlet on the right and in central midfield Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure were superb, battling and working hard.

Richarlison went close a few times and the Toffees were enough of a threat so that Chelsea couldn’t ever really get control of the game.

Calvert-Lewin, who had his usual bustling match without getting too many opportunities at goal, then went down again in the penalty area after a challenge from Ben Chilwell. The referee gave it but on review he was ruled offside and the penalty was rejected.

In the closing minutes Mason Mount hit the post and there were a few other close scares but Everton held on for a big three points and that elusive clean sheet.

While Sigurdsson had his best game in an Everton shirt for a long time, I think the real story was how well the defence coped with the visitor’s myriad of attacking talents.

Despite not having either first-choice full-back, the Blues defence was very solid throughout and even when one of the Chelsea players got through, usually someone else would pop up to make a crucial tackle or block.

The use of Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey as full-backs also worked really well. Both can play there, Holgate has spent quite a lot of time earlier in his career at full-back and Godfrey played superbly again just as he did when asked to slot in at left-back last weekend against Burnley.

They each have lots of pace and the ability and confidence on the ball to do the job there.  And while neither are the most instinctively adventurous being centre-backs by trade, they can and did get up the field when they could playing positive balls forward.

I think Ancelotti should stick with them both as they also provide additional pace and natural defensive qualities in support of the centre-backs, which made Everton’s overall defensive effort a much more consistently solid one. Crucially of course, it’s the first clean sheet this defence has managed since the season opener.

Talking of the centre-halves, the most impressive was Michael Keane who was outstanding, and for me probably man of the match. He’s becoming ever more consistently effective despite still having the odd lapse of concentration. He marked Chelsea’s dangerous forwards, especially Olivier Giroud, very well and always looked calm and collected in possession.

The players in front of the full-backs, Iwobi and especially of course, Richarlison also did well. The Brazilian had another good game in which he worked hard for the team and was a constant nuisance to the Chelsea defence, but will probably feel a bit frustrated too.

He did all the spadework in defence to help Godfrey and had a few chances in front of goal, but it just didn’t quite fall for him again today. He slipped as he was shooting on one occasion and went for goal when perhaps he should have passed on another and the keeper got a hand to the shot.

So then a fine and deserved win and a much needed boost to confidence going into a hectic schedule of fixtures over Christmas and the New Year. And I didn’t even have to mention the absence of Rodriguez!