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Willian caps emphatic win against Everton as Chelsea close in on title

The Guardian logo The Guardian 30-04-2017 Andy Hunter at Goodison Park
Willian.: Willian celebrates scoring the third goal in Chelsea’s 3-0 Premier League victory against Everton at Goodison Park. © PA Willian celebrates scoring the third goal in Chelsea’s 3-0 Premier League victory against Everton at Goodison Park.

Antonio Conte’s body language said it all. A pivotal victory in the Premier League title race secured, the Chelsea manager crossed the Goodison Park pitch to lead the celebrations in front of a euphoric travelling support. Leaping on to Thibaut Courtois’s back, bouncing up and down in front of the Bullens Road stand and dictating the applause, the Italian’s reaction said the championship is close. He knows, his players know, his supporters know and so, in their hearts, Tottenham Hotspur must do too.

Everton, victorious in their previous eight matches on home soil, represented what appeared the most difficult assignment remaining for Chelsea in their pursuit of the crown. For 66 minutes it was, then Pedro broke Goodison’s resistance with a stunning goal that underlined the league leaders’ unerring ability to find a way through. Gary Cahill and the substitute Willian added further gloss to leave Conte punching the air on the sidelines and Spurs’ seven points in their rearview mirror ahead of the north London derby. It was a result underpinned by Chelsea’s clinical edge, relentless energy and organisation.

Ronald Koeman had been concerned with the lack of intensity in Everton’s previous outing at West Ham United, fearing the guarantee of Europa League qualification next season had imbued in his players an end-of-term holiday mode. There has been a marked contrast between Everton’s form home and away all season, however, and they quickly set about unsettling Chelsea’s three-man central defence with their trio of forwards.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck a post in only the second minute after being released by Ross Barkley on the left of the visitors’ penalty area. The rebound rolled invitingly for Romelu Lukaku to convert against his past and potentially future club but Cahill intervened with a crucial block. The Chelsea defender soon tested Maarten Stekelenburg with a 25-yard drive spilled by the Everton goalkeeper and hacked clear by Ashley Williams. A frenetic, open start suggested a captivating contest ahead. We were misled.

Chelsea carried their customary, incisive threat on the counter attack but their final delivery often undermined the quality of their approach work. Their rhythm may have been disrupted by knocks to Diego Costa and Eden Hazard inside the opening 20 minutes, the former left feeling his knee following a committed but clean tackle by the excellent Tom Davies, the latter after colliding with the advertising hoardings, but Koeman’s tactics were also a factor.

Idrissa Gana Gueye was detailed to shadow Hazard’s every step as the Everton manager paid the Belgium international the compliment his abilities have merited this season. The Chelsea No10 could not be subdued entirely. With Morgan Schneiderlin sidelined by a thigh injury and Gueye spending much of his afternoon chasing Hazard to the corner, Everton offered Chelsea the space to dominate central midfield. Thanks largely to the prodigious work-rate of Davies, however, the visitors were unable to control the contest but still, as so often this season and is the hallmark of champions, Conte’s team found a way.

Only Chelsea posed a genuine threat after the restart but their frustrations in the final third were growing, and evident in Costa’s demeanour, when Pedro produced a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock. Collecting a pass from Nemanja Matic 25 yards from the Everton goal, the Spanish winger turned Phil Jagielka to his right, then his left before sending an unstoppable drive into the top corner of Stekelenburg’s goal. It was a sublime finish with an impact that would have been felt at White Hart Lane.

There was an element of fortune about Chelsea’s second when Hazard, having been fouled by Gueye as he sprinted down the left, drove the resulting free-kick low into the Everton six-yard box. The delivery took a slight deflection off his man-marker and Stekelenburg could only palm the ball on to Cahill who converted via his knee.

Job done, Hazard was replaced by Willian with five minutes remaining and the Brazilian sealed what was ultimately a comfortable win seconds later. Costa released Cesc Fàbregas, another Chelsea substitute, to the by‑line and the midfielder cut the ball back perfectly for Willian to beat Stekelenburg with a routine finish. Conte’s roar of delight could be heard around Goodison on the final whistle. “We’re gonna win the league,” his supporters sang. It is hard to disagree.

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