Conte closes in on ‘fantastic’ season finale

Everton 0 Chelsea 3: This is how champions do it. Chelsea’s trip to Goodison Park was considered the most difficult of their remaining fixtures, yet they tackled it with a professionalism to make Tottenham hearts sink.

Conte closes in on ‘fantastic’ season finale

Antonio Conte’s side were patient, wore down a hard-working Everton side, and then produced the inspiration when they needed it to pull away in the final 25 minutes.

Pedro’s opener was superb, and while Gary Cahill had a little luck with the second, the clinical efficiency of Willian’s showed a ruthless streak.

“Are you watching Tottenham?” chanted the Chelsea supporters. Second place is surely as much as they can hope for at White Hart Lane now. Conte’s post-match celebrations in front of the away fans suggested he knows it. Still, he wants to make sure they finish the job.

“After the game, the message was to show great hearts, great enthusiasm and great patience because it’s important to win but also to have a great enthusiasm to reach your target,” he said.

“At this moment, it’s very important to stay together and to have great enthusiasm and patience because we must feel this season could go from good to fantastic.”

Ronald Koeman, Conte’s opposite number, conceded Chelsea look likely champions.

“Maybe, yes,” he said. “Maybe in the last 30 minutes, yes. One of the most difficult things against them is to create chances. It is a difficult system to play against. They wait and they are really clinical.

“They are a team who, even without playing on a high level, can win the game because they have quality.”

Chelsea went into the match without a Premier League clean sheet since January 22; Everton had won every home league match in 2017. Inside the first 75 seconds, there was just the faintest sign those runs might continue.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin, recalled to the starting line-up, took the outside route around Cesar Azpilicueta and caught out Thibaut Courtois with a low shot that struck the near post, before Romelu Lukaku’s follow-up was blocked.

Lukaku, a scorer in each of Everton’s last nine home matches, threatened only sporadically as his team battled to keep pace with Chelsea in the first-half. His physical power was demonstrated as he shrugged off David Luiz to roll one shot just wide.

Later in the half, he almost benefited from some more nervy defending, but Enner Valencia’s driven cross whizzed over his head after Cahill’s attempted clearance had rebounded comically off Marcos Alonso.

Chelsea, by and large, looked comfortable, though. Eden Hazard sprinted through to round the goalkeeper and hit the side-netting following a Diego Costa break; the Spain forward volleyed wastefully into the Gwaldys Street End from around 12 yards, having outmuscled Phil Jagielka to reach a Luiz free-kick.

Everton were missing the midfield influence of the injured Morgan Schneiderlin, although Tom Davies proved a willing worker, leaving Costa in a heap with a particularly robust first-half challenge.

All the same, there was a strong sense a Chelsea goal was coming. It almost arrived courtesy of an ingenious corner routine early in the second-half, when Hazard’s kick was flicked out by the boot of Cahill to Victor Moses, whose outswinger of a first-time shot took a nick off Jagielka and narrowly eluded Costa at the far post.

Costa played as Costa always does, always a nuisance, never far from controversy. When he was booked for sending Maarten Stekelenburg flying as he chased down a dreadful back pass played blind by Jagielka, the striker could have no complaints. He complained.

Everton, for all their endeavour, could hardly complain when Chelsea finally broke their resistance with 25 minutes to go. It was a wonderful goal too. Pedro gathered Nemanja Matic’s pass and lost Jagielka with a sharp turn before whipping a shot into the top corner from 25 yards.

The visitors’ second goal had a touch more luck about it, although they could argue they had earned their fortune. Hazard, having been brought down out on the left by Idrissa Gana Gueye, whipped in a free-kick at pace, and it rebounded out off Stekelenburg and then into the net off Cahill’s knee.

A 2-0 victory felt about right, but Chelsea had not finished. Conte brought on Cesc Fabregas and Willian for the final few minutes, and they soon combined for a third. The Spain midfielder slipped Jagielka easily down the left, and cut back for the Brazilian to sidefoot in. A difficult assignment had been passed with top grades.

EVERTON (4-3-3):

Stekelenburg 5; Holgate 6, Jagielka 5, Williams 5, Baines 6; Gueye 7, Davies 7; Valencia 6 (Kone 72, 5), Barkley 5, Calvert-Lewin 6 (Mirallas 72, 5); Lukaku 5.

CHELSEA (3-4-3):

Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Luiz 7 (Ake 82), Cahill 8; Moses 7, Kante 7, Matic 7, Alonso 6; Pedro 7 (Fabregas 82), Costa 6, Hazard 6 (Willian 85).


Jon Moss 7.

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