Everton v Chelsea. The Everton Forum Preview
Those who read these previews will know that I usually start off with a few words on the previous match.
Given that we all know what happened (or didn’t, last Saturday) i’ll spare you, aside from saying; West Ham away was crap, we were rubbish and the away form needs to be improved next season.
Now that’s over with, it’s back home for the blues this Sunday and onto a big, big test.
As everybody knows, Chelsea are top of the Premier League table.
They’re also the best away team in the league (11 wins, 3 draws, 3 defeats).
They have 5 matches to play this season and come into this fixture 4 points clear of second placed Tottenham.
If you look at both run-ins comparatively and put the ‘there are no easy games in this league’ cliche to one side, Chelsea have 1 difficult fixture and Spurs have 2.
Chelsea’s difficult fixture is on Sunday, kicking off at 2.05pm at Goodison Park, whilst Spurs still have Arsenal (also on Sunday) and Manchester United to host.
Regardless of the 4 games each side has to play after this weekend, Sunday has the potential to be huge in the scheme of this season’s title race; Chelsea come to Goodison whilst Spurs have Arsenal immediately after.
It’s tricky to call how both games will go but with 2 tough games with potential for points to be dropped, there’s a chance the dynamic of the title race could be different come 7pm on Sunday evening.
If Chelsea were to lose at Goodison and Tottenham were to beat Arsenal, the gap which stood in double figures a few weeks ago would suddenly be down to just 1 point.
Where did Chelsea’s lead go? Well, with Spurs winning every game it didn’t take much. 2 Chelsea defeats; at home to Crystal Palace and then at Manchester United. 10 points clear became 4 and that’s how it remains.
With the potential for that lead to become 1 point this weekend, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Chelsea were quite cagey by their standards on Sunday.
I still think they’ll be on the front foot throughout, but I don’t think they’ll come flying forwards and leave loads of space for Everton to exploit. Instead I think it’ll be quite a measured and respectful method of attack, lots of probing around the area whilst leaving the back door firmly shut.
The Chelsea team is likely to take the usual 3-4-3/3-5-1 shape with a starting 11 along the lines of; Courtois, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Moses, Alonso, Kante, Matic, Hazard, Pedro, Costa.
Although I didn’t include him in that example 11, I wouldn’t be surprised if Antonio Conte went with Cesc Fabregas over Pedro on Sunday.
I don’t think Everton will leave much space in behind for a player like Pedro to exploit, so a wiser pick might be Fabregas who could help Eden Hazard pick through an Everton defence which is likely to defend deep.
One man who’s likely to get Goodison backs up is Diego Costa. The Brazilian come-Spanish striker has had some eventful visits since he came to England, culminating in his red card in the FA cup last season.
For all his faults and how much he does my head in, he’s an excellent striker when he’s on his game. He’s nasty, he’s a bully, he’s ruthless and importantly, he can finish. Whoever looks after him will need to be on form on Sunday.
Behind Costa is the best player in the Premier League this season. No, not N’Golo Kante, it’s Eden Hazard.
I’ve been critical of him before but he’s proved me wrong this season. He’s one of a handful of players who look like they walk on water when playing well. He glides past players, has great vision, good final ball and can score goals. I’d argue he doesn’t hit this season’s form often enough (yet) to be in that top bracket, but he’s definitely not far away.
Behind the forward players Chelsea have the two robust central midfield players that every good team needs. There’s the big, imposing destroyer, Matic and then there’s the leggy energetic one in Kante.
Width is provided by the wing backs, Marcos Alonso on the left and Victor Moses on the right. It’s a nice blend as one is your orthodox wing back who’ll make overlaps and get crosses in whilst the other is a converted winger who doesn’t mind having a go at his full back on the floor.
At the back there’s Cahill, Luis and Azpilicueta. Again, it’s an interesting blend. You’ve got your one ‘last of the corinthians’ out-and-out centre half (Cahill), one dodgy ball playing centre half (Luiz) and a right back converted to to centre half (Azpilicueta).
Despite having those three as well as the defensive talents of Kante, Matic and Courtois, Chelsea haven’t kept a Premier League clean sheet since 22nd January (12 matches ago).
With the blues more or less nailed on for 7th place and Europa League football, this match is a bit of a shot to nothing for Everton.
We’ve got the Champions elect rolling into town and it’s a chance for us to rain on their parade, banishing the demons of October’s 5-0 hammering at Stamford Bridge.
What’s more, it’s a match that Everton can win.
Our home record is well up there with the best in the league; played 17, won 12, drawn 5 and lost 1, meaning we average 2.35 points per home match.
We’ve won 8 home matches in a row, seeing off; Southampton, Man City, Bournemouth, Sunderland, West Brom, Hull, Leicester and Burnley.
It’s a run that hasn’t only won us 24 points, but one that’s seen us score 29 goals, which equates to well over 3 goals scored per home game on average.
If we look at our record against the other top teams at Goodison this season, it’s not bad. We’ve beaten Arsenal and Man City, drawn against Manchester United and Tottenham and lost to Liverpool (to a goal scored in the 94th minute).
Last season we beat Chelsea twice at Goodison, firstly thanks to a Steven Naismith hat trick and then in the FA cup thanks to a Romelu Lukaku double.
So yes, it’s a match we can win definitely win on Sunday. The question in late April though, is; how much do Everton want to win this match?
Last week we saw a really poor Everton display at West Ham. Okay, it was away from home and we’ve been substandard away all season but, it screamed ‘we’ll settle for 7th’.
If that is the case, I have no doubt that Chelsea will win on Sunday. It’s a game they need to win, whereas for us it’s just another game.
One player who will be up for Sunday’s match is Romelu Lukaku.
For Lukaku this is a big chance to impress a potential suitor for the summer. The player ‘supports’ Chelsea and as much as we don’t like to admit it, he’d probably jump at the chance to move back there.
There have been rumours that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte favours Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata over Lukaku so the Belgian will no doubt be keen to put on a show for the Italian.
Whether Rom can do it when faced with a back 3 is another matter. West Ham, a club who Rom has made his play thing in recent years, employed 3 centre halves last week and completely snuffed him out.
To get the best out of Lukaku on Sunday, I think we might see Enner Valencia starting. Lukaku looks a different player when he has a forward close to him, so Valencia or whoever gets the nod will need to stay near to Rom when we attack.
Behind Lukaku will be Ross Barkley (who concerningly still hasn’t signed a new contract) with Idrissa Gana Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin.
Tom Davies may well continue in the middle but I suspect the manager may go with the more experienced Gareth Barry for this match. The veteran was excellent against Manchester City at home and against Manchester United away. Whilst he definitely lacks the ability to play 90 minutes, he’s still one of our best at sensing danger.
It’ll be interesting to see Idrissa Gueye and N’Golo Kante on the same football pitch, however I think they’ll be given different roles on the day. Whilst Kante will have his usual ‘cover every blade’ mandate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gana tasked with man-marking Eden Hazard.
The Everton back four of Holgate, Williams, Jagielka and Baines picks itself at the moment. As I mentioned above, I think we’ll sit quite deep so Chelsea can’t exploit our lack of pace.
Jagielka and Williams will be tasked with picking up Diego Costa. It’s a thankless task but one I think both Everton centre halves can revel in. Neither like small, quick and tricky forwards (so Hazard may get some joy if he goes against either) but thrive in the more physical battle.
The Everton full backs will have also their hands full with Chelsea’s wing backs. Both of them get forward at every opportunity which allows Chelsea’s two supporting forwards to get into the hole between midfield and attack.
Having dropped Joel Robles, I’d imagine Ronald Koeman will stick with his compatriot Maarten Stekelenberg for the remainder of the season. I feel a bit sorry for Joel, I don’t especially rate him that highly but I think he’s better than Stekelenberg and he loves it at Everton.
Overall, this is a match both teams will think they can win. I’d expect both teams to score, but ultimately it’s often the team that needs the win that comes through in these games.
In many ways this fixture reminds me of the Manchester City home fixture a few years ago. City had to win to keep in touch with Liverpool and did so, beating us 3-2. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game went a similar way.
Hopefully we can ruffle a few feathers on Sunday, it’s bank holiday weekend so the dreaded Sunday early fixture might be a bit more atmospheric than usual.
If the crowd get into the game and Koeman gets his tactics right, Everton can win this game… it won’t be easy though!