Football: Chelsea beat Everton to remove biggest hurdle in their title run

Smiles all around as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (right) congratulates Gary Cahill (centre) and Victor Moses after their 3-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park. The hard-fought win means they have beaten the most difficult team left in their sea
Smiles all around as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (right) congratulates Gary Cahill (centre) and Victor Moses after their 3-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park. The hard-fought win means they have beaten the most difficult team left in their season and look likely to be able to coast to the Premier League title.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Clinical goals see off formidable Everton, and EPL leaders can see the finishing line

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Everton 0
Chelsea 3


The chorus was a statement of the obvious. "We're going to win the league," chanted the Chelsea fans penned into a corner of Goodison Park yesterday.

They are. They know it. They were 2-0 up at the time. They went on to win 3-0.

In a season that has contained a series of statements of intent, wreaking such havoc against an Everton side with such a formidable home record will rank as one of the biggest, especially considering its timing.

Tottenham's valiant pursuit of Chelsea is irrelevant if the league leaders continue in such a vein. This was their greatest obstacle left on their path to the title.

Now Antonio Conte can eye a coronation. His team turned an evenly-contested clash into a comfortable win. They picked a fine time to keep a first clean sheet in the Premier League since January.

Romelu Lukaku had scored in nine successive games at Goodison. Everton had scored 29 in eight consecutive league wins. Both sequences came to an abrupt end.

"In this type of game it's easy to lose your head and lose your balance," Conte said. Chelsea did neither.

If the sense was that they may have settled for a draw, Pedro Rodriguez transformed the game with a wonderful 66th-minute strike.

Collecting a pass from Nemanja Matic, he spun away from Phil Jagielka and unleashed a shot into the top corner of the Everton net.

His first goal in nine games was a transformative moment. "An amazing goal," said Conte.

Everton had tested the theory that if you stop Eden Hazard, you stop Chelsea. Idrissa Gueye was delegated to man-mark the Belgian, a task he approached diligently.

"He did really well," said Ronald Koeman.

Hazard had shot into the side-netting after rounding goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg but Gueye otherwise kept him quiet. But the Senegalese could not mark Hazard when he took a free kick in the 79th minute. Stekelenburg spilled it and Gary Cahill forced home the rebound.

Chelsea duly made it more emphatic, substitutes Francesc Fabregas and Willian teaming up for the Brazilian to add a third with four minutes remaining.

"We didn't deserve this defeat with three goals difference," Koeman said, but he recognised why the scoreline was more emphatic than the performance. "They are really clinical."

More than most, Everton know that. They have lost both games against Chelsea this season by an aggregate score of 8-0.

It could have been different. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a surprise selection and almost rewarded Koeman with a second-minute goal. Instead, he struck the post.

Reprieved, Chelsea prospered and celebrated, only for Conte to warn it means nothing if they do not win next week. "Now it is important to prepare for the final rush," he added. With Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford and Sunderland left to play, it is more of a final countdown to glory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Blues remove biggest obstacle'. Print Edition | Subscribe