Alvin Jones, Staff Writer
Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic (left) clashes with Everton midfielder Alan (right) Photo//AFP/Getty Images
It has been a long season for Everton FC. On Sunday, coming off a 2-0 loss to arch-rivals Liverpool, Everton played Chelsea at home in desperate need of a win. Everton went into the relegation sports five points away from safety and another season in the Premier League.
Everton fought hard to earn a key victory to boost their chances of staying in the league. It was a riveting game from start to finish. After a chippy and scoreless first half, Everton talisman Richarlison found the net in the 46th minute.
Richarlison pounced on a poor clearance from Chelsea defender and compartriot Thiago Silva. The ball found its way to Demari Gray who passed it back to Richarlison, who put it past the keeper. The moment meant a lot for Richarlison, who celebrated in part by grabbing a flair that was thrown onto the pitch into the crowd.
Chelsea had quite a few chances in the remainder of the second half, but most of them were handled by Everton goalie Jordan Pickford, who put together a heroic performance.
The 1-0 win for Everton was a massive one. While they are not out of the drop-zone, Everton is still in control of its destiny as they look to avoid being relegated for the first time since 1950.
It meant the most to Everton’s fans, including one who went as far as hiding the ball inside of his shirt. As Chelsea defender Reece James looked to get a ball that had gone out of bounds for a late throw-in, the fan hid the ball in his shirt. Anything for three points.
An Everton fan hides the ball in shirt as Chelsea chase the game. Photo//NBCSports/USA Network
The other half of Merseyside had an eventful evening on Tuesday as they went away to the
Estadio de la Ceramica to play Villarreal in the Champions league. It was the second leg of the semi-final, in the first leg, Liverpool managed a 2-0 victory looking like the better team throughout. That all changed in the first half of the second-leg.
It was an early goal that put Villarreal back into the tie, as Dia finished off a pass across the box from Etienne Capoue, which was set up by a perfect cross from Estupinan from the left wing.
After a solid half of football from Villarreal, including a denied Villarreal penalty after Gerard Moreno clashed into Liverpool keeper Allison in the box, they found the equalizer through Francis Coquelin. Coquelin scored a far post header off a cross from Capoue. It was a massive moment for Villarreal, going from 2-0 down to tied on aggregate.
Liverpool looked sluggish, struggling to string together passes and looking poor defensively. The second half substitution of Diogo Jota for new signing Luis Diaz was the catalyst for change. Diaz looked lively, taking on Villarreal defender Juan Foyth. Fabinho put Liverpool back ahead on aggregate with a 61st minute strike that rolled through the legs of Villarreal keeper Rulli.
Liverpool players celebrate against Villarreal. Photo//David Ramos/Getty Images
The floodgates opened from there and Liverpool fully opened up the game. Luis Diaz scored in minute 67, a bullet header set up by a long cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold. This one also went through the legs of Villarreal goalie Rulli, who had a night to forget.
For the final goal, Sadio Mane rounded Rulli, who came far off his line and thoroughly misjudged a challenge against Mane, missing the Liverpool attacker completely. Mane outran Villarreal’s Foythe and calmly passed the ball into the net, punching a ticket to the final for Liverpool.
It was the end of an incredible run for VIllarreal. They beat Juventus and Bayern en route to this semi-final. The Spanish side put together a good effort against Liverpool, but came up short. Villarreal’s fans were undeterred despite the loss, serenading their team with chants after the full-time whistle.
For Liverpool, a tenth Champions League final and a third in five years. Another step in a potential quadruple, and football greatness.