Chelsea overcame arguably their biggest test remaining with a comfortable 3-0 win against Everton, and their first clean sheet in 11 matches.
With Tottenham playing later this evening, the Blues had the chance to throw down the gauntlet at their London rivals, but were made to wait until the 66th minute before Pedro made a stunning break-through. In the end, Cahill and Willian rounded off the win, as too did Tottenham in their game against Arsenal.
It means it is as you were in the Premier League table, with still four points separating the two sides, but with Chelsea left to face sides currently 19th, 8th, 13th and 20th, it would appear Conte has passed his biggest test, as shown by his reaction at full-time.
Koeman’s heaviest league defeats in charge of Everton came against Chelsea earlier this season, but any hope for a similar rout was too optimistic. In fact, inside a minute, Barkley worked the ball well to Calvert-Lewin who hit the post, and it needed Cahill to deny former Chelsea man Romelu Lukaku a tap-in.
Lukaku’s opposite number, Diego Costa, did soon get stuck into the action, but neither he, nor Hazard, nor an advanced Matic, could produce a real tangible chance. Costa then had another glorious opportunity but lashed wide.
Lukaku was not proving his former employers wrong to the extent he would have undoubtedly have liked, but he did go close from 25 yards.
Tit-for-tat ensued for the remainder of the first half with neither Courtois nor Stekelenburg troubled closed up, and it looked like if Chelsea were to get their noses in front, it would need something special from afar.
25 yards from goal and collecting a pass from Matic, the Spaniard dallied around the edge of the penalty area, and with little options, decided to bring the ball onto his favoured left foot and just hoof it. It was a spectacular drive and one which nestled into the top corner.
That opened things up for the visitors, who had before then been well-contained by a good man-marking system employed by Koeman, but with the shackles off, Cahill pounced for another.
A low Hazard free-kick was saved by Stekelenburg but not smothered, and Cahill pounced quickest from two yards out to tap in.
With nine minutes remaining and Conte satisfied to sit on the two-goal advantage, Ake, Willian and Fabregas came on in quick succession, but the latter two would add further delight to their boss’ face with the third seconds after coming on.
Fabregas did well to drive the ball to Everton’s by-line, and a neat cut-back for Willian’s first-touch presented the Brazilian with an open goal to aim at with Stekelenburg dragged out of position by Fabregas.
Especially pleasing for Conte will be Chelsea’s first clean sheet in the Premier League for some three months, especially knowing Everton have averaged 3.7 goals per game at Goodison Park in 2017 prior to this defeat.
Next stop Middlesbrough, but Tottenham will play first, some 72 hours before the leaders kick off.
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Man of the Match
GARY CAHILL: The clean sheet cannot be underestimated against such a potent an attack as Lukaku and Everton, and with little defensive solidity from Chelsea for the past 11 Premier League matches, it is about time to recognise the contribution of Gary Cahill. Leading the line well in Terry’s continued absence, dealt with the threat of Lukaku all afternoon, and popped up with the big second goal to kill off all Everton hopes. 7/10
Conte was staying calm: “We must be pleased because we played a game with the head and, at this part of this season, it is important to use our head, then your heart and then your legs. I think we must continue this way — to play game by game and take three points in every game. We know every win in this part of the season is very important. The road is long so we need to rest and prepare in the right way.”
Koeman saw positives: “We did well, until 1-0 maybe. After that we had more problems but that was all about their quality, before that we played well and made it tough for them. It is really tough to beat Chelsea.”