LONDON – Chelsea missed a chance to keep pace with their title rivals as Everton held on for a 0-0 draw thanks to Jordan Pickford’s heroics on Sunday.
Maurizio Sarri’s side laid siege to the Everton goal in the second half, but found Pickford unbeatable as the England keeper made a series of fine saves.
The stalemate at Stamford Bridge left Chelsea two points behind Liverpool, who beat Fulham earlier on Sunday, with Manchester City having a chance to pull clear of the Blues against Manchester United later in the day.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Chelsea, who extended their unbeaten start under Sarri to 18 games in all competitions, but couldn’t make their territorial dominance count.
Sarri is the first new manager to avoid defeat in his opening 12 Premier League games, giving him sole possession of a milestone he shared with Nottingham Forest’s Frank Clark going into this weekend.
But the Blues will go into the international break regretting their lack of killer touch in a display that undermined their title ambitions.
Initially looking fatigued after their long journey to Belarus for their Europa League win over BATE on Thursday, Chelsea nearly suffered an early shock when Everton winger Bernard fired just wide from the edge of the area.
Not for the first time this season, Chelsea dominated possession without creating many chances in the first half.
It didn’t help that, despite scoring twice against Crystal Palace last weekend, Alvaro Morata once again struggled to impose himself.
Chelsea finally threatened when Everton defender Yerry Mina, making his first start since arriving from Barcelona in the close-season, was booked for a lunge on Eden Hazard.
Marcos Alonso took the resulting free kick, but the left back’s curling effort flashed just wide from 25 yards.
It took 39 minutes for Sarri’s team to muster a shot on target when Alonso met Willian’s high free kick with a thunderous volley that Pickford repelled with a fine save at his near post.
Bernard was involved in a flare-up just before halftime, moving his head aggressively towards Antonio Rudiger after the Chelsea defender confronted him over his failed attempt to win a free kick.
Rudiger appeared to make the most of minimal contact from Bernard, and both players were booked by referee Kevin Friend.
Hazard tried to spark Chelsea into life immediately after the interval, drilling over an inviting cross that Morata prodded goalwards, only for Pickford to make an excellent stop.
Gylfi Sigurdsson tested Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga with a dipping effort, while Morata appealed in vain for a penalty after wrestling with Mina.
When Hazard slipped a superb pass through to Willian, it seemed certain the Brazilian would break the deadlock, but he sent his shot inches wide.
Hazard’s sublime start to the season has been the key to Chelsea’s impressive run, but the Belgian playmaker says he is feeling “wear and tear” as he gets older and has turned to yoga to take care of his body.
Making his second start after returning from a back injury, Hazard was far more vibrant in the second half and his stinging drive forced Pickford into a sprawling save.
Running at the Everton defence with abandon, Hazard went close again when his shot deflected off Mina, forcing Pickford to tip over at full stretch.
Chelsea had Marco Silva’s men on the ropes, and only the woodwork denied them when Alonso’s low shot hit the far post.
Morata saw an effort rightly ruled out for offside, and Hazard clipped a shot narrowly wide after racing through, as Chelsea’s frustration mounted.
Ross Barkley received a hostile reception from Everton fans when the Chelsea midfielder made his first appearance against his old club as a late substitute, but even his arrival could not end the visitors’ stubborn resistance.AFP