It’s a measure of how far we’ve come that I don’t want to go down the “I’ll settle for that” road to celebrate a 0-0 at Chelsea. What I’d rather do is to say that if that were a City, a United or a Spurs result, we’d be saying how they’d “done a job” on the only realistic challenger to Man City for the title (with thanks to @thechicoazul for an object lesson in winding up the RS by denying their title chances…..beware bites on bum however….). That was as professional a performance from our Blues that you’ll have seen for a while.
Pickford did what he needed to do when he needed to do it, with two saves outstanding from Alonso (some player him) and Hazard (via Mina’s deflection I think), but with 4 shots on target, which conveniently doesn’t include hitting the woodwork, Chelsea were hardly besieging the Alamo (the Texas fort, not the car hire office). In fact, had Walcott and Bernard shown a semblance of the class we know they have, their touch awful when needed most, but their chances might have won us the game. And maybe Gylfi’s shot could have been aimed at the vacant top corner!
It was not a ‘park the bus’ game either, before anyone assumes otherwise. Everton were a well organised side who stuck to a clear game plan and achieved a point when many, including me, assumed that we risked a bit of a spanking against a top class Chelsea side not short on creative urges from Hazard and Willian; but thankfully none whatsoever in the final few minutes from a bewildered-looking Ross Barkley. We know that look. What Chelsea need is a high class striker, what they’ve got is a Playmobil-lookalike striker who spends more time beyond our back line than our ‘keeper.
Morata standing offside again….
Pickford was superb, especially taking his booking, and using up a second here and there in his unfussy and unrushed style in taking goal kicks. His stature at the back undoubtedly infuses the back 4 with confidence, and they way we’re playing at the back at the moment holds a mockery to our early form when any cross in to the box was likely to concede us a goal. Still plenty to do, but Digne continued to impress today, Keane likewise, and Mina’s comfort on the ball and assured defending even with lots of midgets running at him, was a welcome bonus. It’s likely Zouma will return for Cardiff, but not without considerable consideration for the Giant Colombian. Coleman also much more assured this week, but not curtailing his forays forward. If only he could cross a ball.
Gomes was a joy to watch again, but I’m not sure what caused his limping around during the second half; let’s hope that gets better quickly. If all it needs is a gentle rub down, it won’t be there returned Mick Rathbone at the front of the queue. Alongside our Portuguese engine, was our Senegalese one. Gueye has been superb these last few weeks, and seems to have recognised that all his good work can be swiftly undone if he gives the ball away. Funny that. So he wins it back – often – then gives it to Gomes, who’s got a slightly better range of passing in his locker. Keep it simple Idrissa, we know what you do best, you do too (really you do), and you’re no Zidane with the passing, so cut it out and stick to your knitting.
A conundrum we have is out wide. Bernard ripped Leicester a new one, but hasn’t built on that, and of course is yet to last a full 90. Is he fully fit? Is he actually better than what other options we have? The answer to those is probably ‘No’ and ‘Yes’, swiftly followed by a ‘But’. He only averaged 21 league games a season for Shakhtar, and whilst admittedly he added to his appearance tally by European games, it may just be that Bernard is finding the pace and frequency of the PL a wee bit of a challenge. I’d give him a game off against Cardiff, who will undoubtedly be no pushover, but against whom Lookman would have a good chance of a dominant display out left. His one jink through the Chelsea back line had us all excited, and I want to see more of that attacking defenders than we’ve seen in his sub cameos to date. I think we’ve got a hell of a player there, and I think Silva knows it, so it’ll be interesting to see how he plans to make the best use of him, whilst also developing his considerable potential.
Over on the other side we have Walcott. His awful touch from a majestic crossfield pass was embarrassing, but listening to and reading his erstwhile Arsenal ‘supporters’ comments, it would appear to be a bit typical. And we’ve seen enough to know that whilst running at defenders with ball at feet is his strength, one thing he doesn’t need is too much time to think or get over excited at a chance coming to him. I’d persist, because he is immensely talented, and because he gives us balance, the alternative presumably putting Richarlison back out wide (Lookman or Richarlison seem to be comfortable on either flank) and sticking our favourite Turk back up top again. Not sure we looked as good when we played that way before and not since we’ve had our current formation. We’ll see.
Onwards and upwards then Everton. We have a forced period of absence, but one where we don’t have to dwell on a thrashing, or a last minute goal breaking our stubborn resistance, but just thinking about what might have been had we taken our chances. A familiar tale this season, perhaps.