David Moyes will be astonished that his side managed to lose this match – Everton had more shots on target than Chelsea, hit the woodwork three times and, although their impressive early speed and energy resulted in a drop in performance after half-time, they were certainly not outplayed by Rafael Benítez's side.
Moyes has the option to play either a straightforward 4-4-2 or a more cautious 4-5-1 this season, as Marouane Fellaini can be utilised as a second centre-forward or play deeper in midfield. But the Belgian's absence meant Moyes appeared forced to choose between one system or the other – would he use a striker or a midfielder? In the end his strategy was dictated by the unavailability of two further midfielders, Phil Neville and Darron Gibson. With Moyes still unconvinced Ross Barkley is ready for a starting place – a feeling reinforced by his unimpressive late substitute appearance – he continued with Victor Anichebe, supposedly to play alongside Nikica Jelavic.
On the pitch it was more complex. Anichebe started from the left wing, competing with the Chelsea right-back César Azpilicueta, holding the ball up and waiting for Leighton Baines' overlapping runs, and also able to receive big long diagonal passes from Johnny Heitinga and Phil Jagielka. In turn this allowed Steven Pienaar to play in a central role behind Jelavic, roaming between the lines and linking play.
Pienaar's second-minute goal was the most obvious result of his central positioning but his game overall was highly impressive – he nullified David Luiz's ball-playing ability by sticking tight to the Brazilian but then skipped either side of him when Everton won the ball, combining pace in counter-attacking situations with an ability to find space after long spells of Everton possession.
Everton's strategy under Moyes has always involved working the flanks and creating situations of numerical supremacy after quick switches of play, and Pienaar's history as a winger was obvious in how often he drifted towards the touchlines. While it was a risky move to disturb his excellent partnership with Baines, the fact that he often drifted left in the first half furthered Everton's ability to play clever passing combinations down that side. Yet there were other occasions when Everton appeared more like a 4-4-2, with Anichebe high up.
Without the ball there was good understanding between Anichebe and Pienaar, seemingly taking turns to defend that side of the pitch. There was similar fluidity in the manner Corinthians defended that flank in their 1-0 Club World Cup final win over Chelsea earlier this month – Moyes is a keen tactician and a reactive manager who varies his strategy according to the demands of each opponent, so it is possible he deliberately replicated that policy.
In the second half Pienaar seemed to occupy the left on a more permanent basis and Everton threatened less frequently. They lacked a link between midfield and attack and, although they were focused on crossing rather than attacking through the centre of the pitch anyway, their passing was slower and their moves more predictable. Pienaar was eventually removed 10 minutes from full-time as Everton searched for an equaliser – a situation that would have been unthinkable when he was running the game before half-time. Everton might not have collected any points from the match but Moyes will pinpoint wasteful finishing as the primary cause of the defeat, as well as surprisingly disorganised defending for Frank Lampard's two goals.
Their overall strategy worked well – Fellaini's imminent return means Moyes is unlikely to utilise this system frequently but it was a demonstration of how Everton, even without their star man, can compete with a far more expensively assembled side.