Chelsea endured an afternoon of frustration at Stamford Bridge against a dogged and well-organised Everton.
The Blues dominated for long periods of the second half with Eden Hazard, Willian and Marcos Alonso all going close to breaking the deadlock, but were left to settle for a point that maintains our unbeaten start to the campaign and makes Maurizio Sarri the first Premier League coach not to lose a match in his opening 12 games.
The Italian will not be celebrating the feat, however, and is left to wonder how his side was unable to find a goal to win the game. Alonso clipped the outside of the post while Hazard and Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford seemed locked in a personal battle for parts of the second half, and Alvaro Morata had an effort chalked off for offside.
Credit should go to the visitors too, who provided stern opposition and threatened on occasion themselves.
Maurizio Sarri was able to call on Eden Hazard from the start of a Premier League game for the first time since 20 October. Ross Barkley was only on the bench against his former club following some intense Europa League exertions with Mateo Kovacic taking his place. The visitors gave Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina a full Premier League debut with Blues loanee Kurt Zouma ineligible.
A minute’s silence to mark Remembrance Sunday, exactly 100 years since the end of the First World War, preceded kick-off, as serving members of the Armed Forces joined Chelsea Pensioners and players on the pitch.
Once the action was underway, neither side was finding it easy to grasp control, attacks regularly petering out before reaching the final third.
The game’s first opportunity fell to Everton’s Bernard, who lashed a half-volley a foot wide of Kepa’s right-hand post after a corner was only partially cleared.
Mina fouled Hazard just outside the visitors’ area on 21 minutes, Marcos Alonso bending the Blues’ first shot of the game just past the post. Hazard’s interplay with Kovacic just before had been the encounter’s sole standout moment of quality.
N’Golo Kante, booked for a foul on
With six minutes left in the first half, neither goalkeeper had been tested but that was to change when Willian lofted an angled free-kick into the box and Alonso caught his volley sweetly. The Van Basten-like effort was heading for the top corner, a goal of the season contender until England’s Jordan Pickford acrobatically pushed it away to keep the game goalless at the break.
Just before the whistle, a flashpoint involving Toni Rudiger and Bernard saw both players booked. Replays suggested the Everton man had aimed a headbutt at the Blues defender.
Fifteen minutes for everybody to cool off seemed to invigorate the Blues and we were almost in front immediately after the restart. David Luiz’s long ball forward freed Hazard to put the ball into the box for Morata, who, tussling with Mina, nudged the ball towards goal but saw Pickford claw it away to safety. It was as good a chance as either side had fashioned in the whole of the first half.
Hazard, in particular, was looking more threatening, first with that previous chance created from the left, then firing a low ball across goal from the right.
His opposite number 10 was also getting going, Gylfi Sigurdsson testing Kepa with a bending long-range drive the Blues keeper had to push over the bar and then delivering a cross from which Bernard should really have scored rather than trip over his own feet at the far post.
The game was now much more open, much more entertaining, with the key creative forces finding pockets of space to exploit.
Hazard picked out Willian’s run and saw the Brazilian drive narrowly wide and then had a crack from 30 yards himself, Pickford pushing that effort behind. Next up he beat two men before firing low, this time a deflection forcing Pickford to tip it over the crossbar.
It would be wrong to suggest this was a one-man show, others were contributing, but there was no doubting the identity of the main man. Even when he was imperfect, Hazard was still creating. He was unable to bring down a long ball but took just enough off David Luiz’s pass to tee up Alonso, who hit another sweet one that clipped the outside of the far post.
Into the final 20 minutes, it looked as though we had finally made a breakthrough, only for Morata to be ruled offside after diverting Cesar Azpilicueta’s low cross into the net. Moments later Hazard in was in the thick of things again, poking a Kovacic through ball just wide.
Everton’s goal was living a charmed life and it was little surprise to see Marco Silva introduce an extra defender. Sigurdsson was sacrificed as Phil Jagielka formed a back five, which helped the visitors gain a little more of a foothold in the game’s closing stages and see out the game to claim a point they would have gladly taken before kick-off.
As we anticipated more of a Chelsea onslaught as the minutes ticked away, we were left increasingly infuriated. It is perhaps the effect of a busy run of fixtures and a midweek jaunt to Belarus that we were lacking that extra bit of energy needed to find a late winner, even with five added minutes.
We now have a two-week break for international games before travelling to Wembley to meet Spurs on 24 November. We will go into that game in third, a point and a place ahead of our London rivals.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), David Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho (Fabregas 64), Kovacic (Barkley 81); Willian (Pedro 68), Morata, Hazard.
Unused subs: Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Giroud.
Booked Jorginho 28, Kante 33, Rudiger 45+2, Morata 87
Everton (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman (c), Keane, Mina, Digne; Gueye, Gomes; Walcott, Sigurdsson (Jagielka 76), Bernard (Lookman 64);
Unused subs: Stekelenburg, Baines, Davies, Tosun.
Booked Mina 22, Bernard 45+2, Pickford 73
Referee Kevin Friend