Chelsea scored two quick early goals and then clung on for a 6-3 win over Everton to cement their claim as favorites in the Premier League this season in a breathless game. It was a big win for the Blues at Goodison on a day when Manchester City unexpectedly dropped points at home against Stoke, and a thriller for the fans as the teams traded goals in a wild second half.
But if not for a questionable decision by the assistant, this match also might have been wrapped up inside the first ten minutes. Tim Howard was lucky not to be sent off when he blatantly handled the ball outside of his area to deny Eden Hazard a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Much has been written about Manchester United’s dreadful start to the season — more than a bit of schadenfreude around England about that of course — but Everton have to be running a close second in the "disappointment stakes." Expected to challenge for a top four spot, they have managed to pick up only two points so far, are mired near the bottom, and look little like the side they were last season. Yes, their schedule has been tougher that United’s; they have been held to a draw by a promoted team; gave away a point late against a lazy Arsenal; and now have been exposed by the ruthlessness of a Chelsea team that has yet to lose a match.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Everton’s defense has collapsed. England’s awful show in Brazil has destroyed Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka, and that lack of confidence and ability was ruthlessly exposed in the opening three minutes. Twice, Jagielka and Seamus Coleman combined in some form to keep an attacker onside; twice they blamed the assistant for their lack of attention. That lack of quality would continue to rear its head throughout the match as every time Everton’s offense went through the gears, the back four threw a rod. The Toffees are like a mullet: All business in front, a wrecked party at the back.
Case in point, Diego Costa needed only 34 seconds to find the back of the net. Held onside to latch on to a through ball from Cesc Fabregas, Costa pulled away from Jagielka, who unwisely tried to pull the trap, and blew a ball in off Howard. Howard should have done better with his save, but given that he had no help from his backline, his concession was understandable.
Matters grew worse for Everton two minutes later when Jagielka again kept a man onside, allowing Branislav Ivanovic to ghost in alone on the right side. He couldn’t help but score through Howard, and suddenly, the Gwladys Street End was silent.
Then came a flashpoint. Howard tried to play the sweeper off yet another long ball over his absent backline, but found himself inside his arc. He collected the ball in front of Hazard — and gave a look over to the assistant, who judged it a fair catch while Hazard combusted. Replays were damning — Howard was clearly out of his area. Not ten minutes had elapsed.
Chelsea seemed to take it a bit too easy after that and Everton, given time to regroup, asked some questions. Costa had a chance incorrectly waved off for offside (he was on) but Chelsea seemed to play too much in themselves, and paid a price for it at the stroke of the half. Kevin Mirallas would head home off Coleman’s fine cross from wide right to stake the home side as they headed to the dressing room.
After the break, the floodgates opened. Hazard made a superb run down the endline and fired the ball at Howard’s net, only to see Coleman stick a boot out and tip it around his own keeper. After the goal, Costa and Coleman exchanged words, and Howard confronted both Costa and Cesar Azpilicueta in a rash moment — he was lucky to only see yellow for that incident.
Right away, Aiden McGeady steamed down the picth and served in a cutting ball to Steven Naismith, who clipped a slot around three Chelsea defenders and through Thibaut Courtois. Five minutes later, Nemanja Matic was allowed time and space at the top of the Everton area, and he ripped a shot low and hard to the far post that left Howard rooted.
But then, Chelsea’s former star Samuel Eto’o — just signed by Everton — made it a game again. Off a Baines free kick, Eto’o crouched down and headed the ball sharply into the net with Courtois screened. Back came Chelsea, just sixty seconds later. Ramires played the one-two with Matic before smoothly stroking the ball home at Howard’s near post. Again, the keeper was partly to blame for the goal, having failed to clear the danger.
Everton continued to push and probe, but as the rain began to sheet down on Liverpool, their resistance finally crumbled.
Substitute Muhamed Besic’s first touch was a wonderful set-up for a goal — it’s a pity it was for the opposition. The young Evertonia inexplicably tried to get fancy at midfield, back-heeling the ball towards his own net, which John Obi Mikel promptly ran on to. With a pass out to Costa, and a quick fillip, the ball was in the net, it was 6-3 and the match was done.
Life gets a little easier for Everton. They next face a weak West Bromwich side that were blown out by Swansea on Saturday. But they face a difficult campaign in the Europa League after they were drawn into a tough group with Wolfsburg and Lille, and on the evidence, they are going to struggle to contain powerful and direct teams. Everton can score goals, no doubt. But can they score more than they concede?