Chelsea wasted a chance to move level on points with second placed Manchester United as Everton maintained their improvement under Sam Allardyce in a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park on Saturday.
It marked a sixth game unbeaten for Everton under former England boss Allardyce, but Chelsea’s failure to convert possession into goals will not have pleased Blues manager Antonio Conte.
Conte has already conceded his inconsistent team won’t be able to defend the Premier League title and this was another frustrating afternoon for the Italian as the Blues squandered their territorial dominance.
Chelsea remain third and are 13 points behind leaders Manchester City, who play Bournemouth later on Saturday.
Initially, it looked like being an encouraging day for Conte as Chelsea quickly established a pattern of complete dominance.
It took an impressive double goal-line clearance by veteran defender Phil Jagielka to deny the visitors what would have been a deserved lead.
The Everton captain read the situation perfectly as Marcos Alonso’s cross flew through the home area after 10 minutes, reacting sharply to block Tiemoue Bakayoko’s effort.
Jagielka then responded even more impressively as Willian looked certain to convert the rebound, the defender positioning himself to keep out the follow-up effort in similar fashion.
Yet for all their superiority in those opening stages, Chelsea struggled to carve out many meaningful chances to trouble home keeper Jordan Pickford.
After 20 minutes, Cuco Martina was booked for a blatant foul on Victor Moses on the edge of the Everton area but Willian sent his free-kick sailing well over.
And while the passing and movement of Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard was pleasing on the eye and threatening at times, Everton stuck to their defensive duties well.
It was easy to see the impact Allardyce has made since his arrival at Goodison Park although Everton were not helped by the pre-match loss of in-form Wayne Rooney due to illness.
In the absence of the 10-goal forward, Everton’s attacking play was likely to be hindered and so it proved, with Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois a virtual spectator.
– Major reshuffle –
A promising counter-attack, just after the half-hour, ended with Morgan Schneiderlin sending away Tom Davies but his strike from 25 yards was always drifting away from goal.
And before the interval, Dominic Calvert-Lewin showed great persistence to strip Andreas Christiansen of the ball and advance into the area where his shot was blocked by Antonio Rudiger.
But Chelsea responded in kind when Bakayoko broke up an Everton attack on the halfway line before playing Pedro clear for a powerful shot which drew a spectacular one-handed save from Pickford.
Allardyce made a major reshuffle at the interval, bringing on Sandro and Ashley Williams as he switched to three central defenders, a move that proved something of a gamble when he lost Idrissa Gueye to injury within five minutes of the restart and was forced to use his final substitute.
By then, Chelsea had already threatened Pickford’s goal, with the keeper saving well from Pedro’s drive before Williams did well to block Alonso’s effort.
There was some anxiety for the visitors when Hazard was hacked down and required lengthy treatment, with Michael Keane booked for the foul.
But the Belgian quickly shook off the effects of the injury and was soon forcing Pickford into another fine diving save after receiving a pass from Willian.
Williams got his head to Victor Moses’ fierce 75th minute cross, deflecting it onto the Everton bar before it flew out of harm’s way.
There was also a late chance for substitute Cesc Fabregas when Jagielka stuck out a foot and deflected his powerful, long-range shot just wide.