It was not a statement performance to launch a new season under ambitious new owners yet Chelsea found rare encouragement at Everton nonetheless. “Maybe it was not the most exciting game in the history of the Premier League,” Thomas Tuchel massively under-stated; “But a win is a win is a win.” A potentially significant one, given Chelsea’s recent canvases at Goodison Park.
Jorginho’s penalty late in first-half stoppage time ended a run of four successive league defeats for Chelsea at Goodison. Tuchel’s team were dogged not decisive, solid not spectacular, and lacking in penetration despite a lively contribution from Raheem Sterling.
Everton impressed defensively and in possession yet were toothless in the final third; a surprise to absolutely no-one with not one recognized striker available for the opening day. Their problems were compounded by the loss of Ben Godfrey to a broken leg. Another central defender, Yerry Mina, also departed injured.
“Ben has a small fracture of his fibula bone,” Frank Lampard confirmed. “I don’t know how long he’ll be out for sure but it will be months more than weeks.” The Everton manager added: “I thought we gave a good performance and didn’t deserve to lose. In terms of both boxes and chances created a draw would have been a fair result. We played really well and they didn’t really hurt us but we had a lapse of concentration for the penalty.”
There was a tumultuous reception for the Everton team when their coach pulled into Goodison Road before the game as fans again showed the support that was instrumental in last season’s survival. Lampard’s side responded with a sharp, high energy start only to lose Godfrey in horrible circumstances only 10 minutes into the new campaign. The fact his injury was so unnecessary heightened Everton’s torment.
Serious disruption in central defense contributed to Everton’s brush with relegation last season and their latest setback stemmed from a back-pass that Godfrey played blind towards Jordan Pickford. His loose ball went a yard out of play before Pickford cleared it straight to Kai Havertz. The assistant referee’s flag stayed down, referee Craig Pawson allowed play to continue, and in his attempts to make amends Godfrey launched himself into a hard but clean challenge on the Chelsea striker. The defender signaled to the bench immediately and received almost seven minutes of treatment to his ankle before being carried off on a stretcher.
It was a sad sight as a player who missed the final seven games of last season was carried off and a serious blow for Lampard. Chelsea gradually gained advantage. Mason Mount was first to seriously test Pickford with a low drive that the Everton goalkeeper, captain in the absence of Seamus Coleman and on his 200th appearance for the club, pushed into the path of Sterling. Mason Holgate, Godfrey’s replacement, produced a timely intervention.
Sterling thought he had broken the deadlock shortly before the interval when Pickford spilled a shot from N’Golo Kanté and the new signing converted the rebound. His celebrations were curtailed by an offside flag.
Everton went close when the impressive James Tarkowski met Vitalii Mykolenko’s cross with a towering header that Édouard Mendy tipped over. But their hard graft was undone by a moment of panic from Abdoulaye Doucouré. Kalidou Koulibaly’s distribution shone on his Premier League debut and it was from the summer signing’s incisive pass that Ben Chilwell found himself bearing down on goal.
Doucouré, caught out by the wing back’s surging run, reacted by grabbing Chilwell and Pawson immediately pointed to the spot as the defender went tumbling. Pickford saved from Jorginho when they faced each other in the European Championship final at Wembley last summer. There would be no repeat here as the Italian coolly sent the England international the wrong way from the spot with the final kick of the half.
In a game of few clear-cut opportunities Everton wasted several promising openings due to a wayward final ball or poor first touch. Demarai Gray should have played Anthony Gordon clean through on goal but hit Thiago Silva while Dele Alli squandered a fine chance from the lively Patterson’s cross.
Sterling almost sealed victory with seven minutes left when meeting an inviting cross from £62m signing Marc Cucurella, who made his Chelsea debut as a late substitute, but his close range shot was deflected just wide with Pickford beaten.
Tuchel said: “Seven minutes of stoppage time in the first half and 10 in the second shows there were a lot of interruptions. No team could really find their rhythm. Everton defended very deep and we struggled with switches of play or changes of speed. We needed more movement on the ball.
“It seemed like we did not want to make the decisive mistake, so we did not take the risk. But in the first match you hang in and do what’s necessary to get the win. To start with an away win is a fantastic result.”