Heroes sometimes come in unlikely forms. Ellis Simms has been a sad figure since returning to Goodison Park from his loan spell at Sunderland, but he came off the bench to score an equalizer that at least lifted Everton to within a point of the relegation zone, even if they remain fourth. last. However, he is so tight in the bottom half that a win would have moved them up to twelfth.
Simms had scored seven goals in 17 games on loan at Sunderland earlier in the season before being recalled by Frank Lampard shortly before being sacked.
The only real opportunity Sean Dyche had given him was at Liverpool, when he was asked to play a lone striker role that didn’t really suit him. He may be big, but chasing lost causes isn’t his style. Here he showed what he can do with players close to him, picking up the ball on the left, sliding into the field and finishing through the hand of Kepa Arrizabalaga. As such, this joined Chelsea’s long list of games this season that they have dominated but failed to win.
In Enzo Fernández and João Félix, Chelsea have two players with immaculate tact. They’re always in the mid-spin, able to find space where there seems to be none, both blessed with remarkable passing range.
Add in the dexterous talents of Kai Havertz and Mateo Kovacic and it is perhaps not surprising if there are moments when they seem almost seduced by their own virtuosity, creating magnificent netting of passes that often end, 30 seconds or a minute after they started, so return. where they started.
That can be useful in bringing an opponent down, making them chase until the attrition process creates chances, but if the failure of Graham Potter’s sides to score as many goals as they feel they should is due to something beyond the absence of a bona fide number 9, that’s probably it.
This for long stretches fell squarely into the familiar Chelsea pattern of late, dominating possession without creating any clear scoring chances, something they were not helped in by Everton’s deep defence, guarded by Abdoulaye’s new trio of war dogs. Doucouré, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Amadou Onana in midfield.
Everything João Félix does is elegant. He slid to keep the ball in play near the touchline and somehow managed to control his spin across the grass to climb with the ball at his feet. A lap past James Tarkowski had an air of Dennis Bergkamp.
Even when he tossed a cross over the bar and ended up looking remorsefully at his errant right foot, he somehow managed to imbue the act with a sense of class. This wasn’t a mistake like another player might make: it was a meditation on the inevitability of human fallibility.
Tarkowski’s response was rather less swaggering, grabbing João Félix by the throat the next chance he got; the kind of off-the-ball incident that a more enlightened implementation of VAR could eradicate.
But this was not about the minutiae of refereeing (very few games are), this was about the much more fundamental question that has been asked for so long by so many different people in the south of England that it has begun to see one of the most deep questions of the time: why do Potter teams score so few goals?
However, almost nothing in football has a single answer. Potter’s conundrum intersects with a characteristic of Chelsea that precedes them by a long time, and that is that they are extremely reliant on full-backs for penetration. Before Saturday, Chelsea had won 63% of the games when Reece James and Ben Chilwell played this season compared to 36% when they didn’t.
When Chelsea finally got their remarkable chance, four minutes after half time, it was Chilwell’s cross that led to Havertz’s downward header saved by Jordan Pickford.
And Chilwell was a crucial link in the goal that opened the scoring on 52 minutes. Fernandez’s sweeping pass created space, putting Michael Keane on his back foot, so that when Chilwell squared up, he scraped his punt.
João Félix didn’t catch his shot clean either, but he’s a player with such natural grace that there was something aesthetically pleasing anyway, about the way the ball slid past the far post, with Everton players strewn across his path.
Everton’s threat, such as it was, was largely limited to set pieces and sure enough, that’s how they found the equaliser, Doucouré chipping in a touch after Tarkowski had headed back through the goal. But it didn’t take long for the Chelsea full-backs to break through again, James tripping over a combination of Ben Godfrey and Tarkowski to earn a penalty which Havertz converted. But Simms assured that he was not the winner that had appeared.