Michael Keane stole the show as Everton beat Chelsea 1-0 on Saturday with the England international helping to form a brick wall in front of Jordan Pickford’s goal.
Carlo Ancelotti named an all-central defender backline for the visit of Frank Lampard’s Blues to Goodison Park following injuries to full-backs Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman, while losing makeshift left-back Fabian Delph to a hamstring strain.
Losing the width in defence helped ensure Saturday’s affair was an exasperating afternoon for Everton, who were forced to work hard for a win sealed through a 22nd-minute penalty converted by Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Chelsea controlled much of the proceedings as the strived to find a way to move atop the Premier League table, but were consistently thwarted by an Everton unit who Alan Shearer felt worked well together in closing down any spaces the visitors sought to occupy.
“They defended as a team; they didn’t give up any space. Keane, I thought was magnificent, along with the other defenders,” Premier League icon Shearer said while speaking on BBC One’s Match of the Day as he enthused over Keane’s display.
“They just worked together, there was no space. They came up against a wall all afternoon. Everton, I thought, were brilliant.”
Keane stood out from his backline partners Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey – who has now featured in each defensive position since moving from Norwich for £20m this summer – as he led the line in protecting Pickford’s goal.
Ancelotti had named Keane as his captain for the prior week’s draw at Burnley for he felt the ex-Burnley man is a “professional guy, dedicated, and really cares about this club”, and saw that enthusiasm remain despite Sigurdsson taking the honour at home to Chelsea.
No player for either side registered more clearances on Saturday than Keane, who dealt with danger on 10 occasions while intercepting the ball twice and winning five of his six aerial duels, per SofaScore.
He further lost possession just four times as Keane recorded 32 touches, found teammates with 15 of his 19 passes and saw the ball remain with Everton with two of five long balls.
Mina, meanwhile, made only five clearances, Godfrey two and Holgate eight, while each were less successful in the air than Keane with four, two and zero successful duels.
Keane may not have worn the armband against Chelsea, but the £65,000-per-week centre-half dealt with Chelsea with all the hallmarks of the defensive leader Everton need him to be.
And that was a major reason to why they not just kept a clean sheet, but also defeated the Blues at Goodison Park.