Everton v Chelsea. The Everton Forum preview

There isn’t really a lot to write about from Monday night. I don’t think Everton were great by any stretch of the imagination, but we did what we had to and barely even got out of second gear to beat Swansea City 3-1.

I guess the main positive I took away from that match wasn’t the performance itself, but more the frame of mind we’re in and the thought of how far we’ve come in such a short space of time…

A month ago we didn’t know where our next win was coming from, when we’d next reduce a team to less than 2 goals scored against us, yet here we are, keeping things tight, winning games with relative ease and not even playing well to do it.

I know we’ve had some poor opposition of late, but let’s take nothing away from the impact Sam Allardyce and his team have had on this Everton squad.

One question I keep seeing off the back of this Everton revival is; ‘Was it that bad we had to resort to Sam Allardyce?’. Well, any blue with some time on their hands could write an article on that question alone, but I’ll just say that it’s very easy to have short memories as football supporters – no matter how considered we think we are, when it’s matters of the heart, we don’t think straight from time to time.

We were diabolical before Sam came in and although I have been frustrated by our playing style under Allardyce, I like to see Everton winning football matches above all – so 4 wins out 5 (with 0 defeats) will do me.

Can we make it 5 wins out of 6? We’ll have to find out on Saturday when we welcome Chelsea to Goodison Park for a 12.30pm kick off (Sky Sports).

The Chels

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side arrive at Goodison Park in excellent form having taken 25 points from the last 30 available.

That run over 10 matches puts them 2nd on the form table, behind only Manchester City and what’s more, they’re also the 2nd best away side in the league (also behind City), having achieved 19 points from 27 available.

So basically, in a ‘normal season’ (i.e if there wasn’t a runaway excellent side like Pep Guardiola’s current Manchester City team), Chelsea’s form of late could easily be deemed form of Champions.

As everybody knows, Chelsea play a very distinctive way, with 3 centre halves, 2 wing backs, 2 central midfielders and 3 forwards (3-4-3).

They play football in a way that congests the middle of the pitch, enabling their strong technical operators (Fabregas, Hazard, Pedro, Willian etc) to work neatly in confined spaces, whilst their wing backs provide the width and the constant out-ball.

They’ll play from the back with confidence (Christensen and Azpilicueta especially, with the latter very good at cross-field passing either to Alonso on the opposite flank or, into the penalty area) and have a number of athletic players who thrive with the ball at their feet so are encouraged to dribble when they see space they can get to.

Looking at their likely starting line up, I think we’ll see…

Thibout Courtois in goal with a central defensive trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and probably Gary Cahill (unless Antonio Rudiger is given a run out).

Marcos Alonso at left wing back, with Victor Moses on the right (with the possibility of Davide Zappacosta).

In the centre of midfield, N’Golo Kante with Cesc Fabregas alongside him (although Drinkwater and Bakayoko are also available), which leaves the attacking trio of Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard to complete my predicted 11.

Conte could drop Willian or Pedro in favour of more midfield steel in the form of Drinkwater or Bakayoko, freeing Fabregas to play further forward, but aside from that I don’t think the team I’ve selected there will be too far off.

The only absence of note from a Chelsea point of view is Spanish striker Alvaro Morata who misses the game for a controversial fifth booking sustained celebrating his winning goal in the mid-week Carabao cup tie against Bournemouth.

Despite Conte recently commenting on the Spaniard’s supposed struggles with the demands of the English game, Morata has been a success in the Premier League, so from an Everton perspective, his suspension is a welcome bonus.

Morata was one of two Spanish scorers when the sides met in August in a game that Chelsea strolled, winning 2-0 against a really lackluster and tired-looking Everton side (it was our 3rd away match in 6 days after Manchester City and Hajduk Split).

I’d like to think Everton will be much-improved from that late summer’s day and hopefully, we’ll even be better than our valiant showing in the Carabao Cup in October under David Unsworth when we left Stamford Bridge really unfortunate to lose.

There’s no doubt about it, Chelsea are a strong side, who, in my opinion, can finish 2nd in the Premier League this season. They’re notoriously hard to play against, technically gifted, physically strong and have the type of match winning players who can edge tight games.

I usually pick out one or two players to watch in these previews, but with Chelsea, they really are strong all over the pitch; Hazard and Fabregas are both excellent ball players capable of unlocking any defence, Willian can score goals and is in a good run of form, Pedro can score from nothing (as we saw last season at Goodison), Kante covers every blade of grass and the wing backs offer the ability to take a man on from wide (Moses) and deliver accurately (Alonso).

Conte is an excellent manager and his squad of players have the winning mind-frame that makes them very difficult to beat.

The only weakness I see with them ahead of this match is that suspension of Morata. They don’t really have a like-for-like replacement and if they do play a ‘false 9’ as I think they will, they could struggle to penetrate us if we play them correctly.

If I recall correctly, their defeat at West Ham earlier this month also came in Morata’s absence so it’s not out of the question that he could be the missing piece.

Anyway, all things considered, I think the Londoners will have to have an off-day on Saturday for Everton to win. But still, stranger things have happened…

The Blues

It was lovely to win Monday night’s game so comfortably whilst really not being on it, but make no mistake, Everton are going to have to play a lot better than we did against Swansea if we want to get a result from Chelsea.

I thought we really started the game very poorly on Monday. In the run of results we’re in, we should’ve been the confident side out to show our superiority against a bottom of the league side, but instead we stood off and let them settle in.

Swansea were allowed to play their football, they popped the ball around the midfield and what bemused me was that we seemed happy to let them do it, there was no intensity about Everton. I think we were all waiting for Everton to gain the upper hand in the match, but the half went on the same way so it really was no surprise when we fell behind.

If we start Saturday’s match like that, I’d be amazed if we didn’t lose. Playing like that against the bottom of the league is one thing, but against Chelsea? Forget it.

Saturday will be another chance for Sam Allardyce to prove himself against a ‘fancy foreigner’ (as you could imagine him saying).

I don’t know about you, but listening to Sam’s comments down the years (how he could manage any club in Europe etc) I get the impression he really relishes these games against Champions League clubs with foreign managers. It’s Sam’s time to shine and I think he tries extra hard; more preparation, more motivation and more desire.

We saw against Klopp’s Liverpool, Everton were committed and resolute. Obviously, we weren’t good from an attacking standpoint but for once, we didn’t shy away from the fight at that hell hole (like much better Everton teams have for years) and we limited them to bits and pieces, so to a manager who doesn’t have the passion for the shirt, the pride a supporter has, he’ll see that as a job well done.

I think we can expect similar on Saturday, it definitely won’t be expansive, it will be a match where we focus on frustration; keeping the defensive shape, showing the right intensity, breaking the game up, looking to outwork them and force them to run out of ideas.

So whereas I felt Monday was crying out for a more attacking line up from the off, I think the same team as started that night almost picks itself for this one.

The defensive unit of Pickford, Kenny, Holgate, Williams and Martina – despite looking like a mix and match on paper is performing well so should be retained.

Who’d have thought, Williams and Holgate would be keeping things as tight as they are now. I know Williams isn’t the most popular among blues, but fair play to him, he’s improved for keeping things simple and Holgate, well, the lad goes from strength to strength and is rightly keeping out the club captain and a £30m summer signing.

Cuco Martina has done his best and whilst we do lack a left footer down the left flank, I don’t think he’s been any worse than Baines has this season. Jonjoe Kenny, you’ve got to love him, the kid could be class someday and is already looking the part.

Schneiderlin has been playing so deep you can almost include him as a part of the defence, so he’ll stay in and Gana, back to something resembling his energetic best recently definitely deserves to continue

Last season, Gana was tasked with man-marking Eden Hazard. However, considering it’s probably the Belgian who will be upfront for this, I don’t see a need for Gana to change from his usual brief.

I thought Rooney had his worst game in a while on Monday, but he certainly won’t be dropped for a big game, he’s proving to be a great captain (shock horror) and has a knack of finding the net at present (not to mention has 9 career goals v Chelsea).

I’d have Rooney in a deeper role where he can get in the thick of it here, meaning a central midfield 3 of Schneiderlin, Gana and Rooney.

Sigurdsson has been much improved in recent weeks playing from the left and whilst everybody talks about his shooting (what a goal on Monday, by the way) and his crossing, it’s his work rate that I’ve come to admire. You can rely on him to put a big shift in, so that’ll be required on Saturday.

Aaron Lennon is likely to continue out on the right and I feel his defensive job of tracking Marcos Alonso will be very important here.

On the topic of Lennon, I’ve got to say, I think he’s badly underrated by some Evertonians. It’s very easy to overlook his influence on the Everton team and it’s recovery – he came in straight away under David Unsworth, from the Chelsea cup game onwards and despite having next to no football this season (so he was nowhere near match fit) he’s been one of the few players who’s basically played ever since.

He’s very good defensively, gets up and down the flank all day, contributes in the attacking third (more than he’s given credit for) and whilst people are very keen to praise Jonjoe Kenny (who undoubtedly has been a breath of fresh air) I think it’s unfair on Lennon not to mention him and the relationship he’s struck up with Jonjoe. For a young full back finding their way, Lennon must be an absolute dream to have in front of you.

For all the hard times he went through last season, it’s been great to see Lennon back in the side and really flourishing. It’s testament to him as a professional that managers put him in during times of need, they know what they’ll get.

Completing the line upon Saturday will be another of our impressive youngsters, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, again asked to lead the alone.

It was always going to be a tough one for Dominic. We had our best striker of the Premier League era in Romelu Lukaku last season and if we’re honest, Calvert-Lewin should never have been the replacement.

However, the lad is blossoming, he gives absolutely everything; he chases down lost causes, runs in behind, holds it up, wins headers, threatens from set pieces, contributes to others – it’s all coming along really nicely.

Of course, he isn’t the finished article and needs to work on his composure in front of goal, but if you think, he came on against Arsenal almost a year ago to the day, he’s come so far and let’s hope it continues – he could be one hell of a striker someday.

Chelsea won’t be an easy game for him, faced with 3 quality defenders, but you know he’ll give it his best and you wouldn’t be that surprised if got change out of somebody.

So here’s my predicted 11 –


We will have attacking options on the bench including Bolasie, Sandro, Davies, Lookman and Vlasic, so if we do go behind, I would expect changes.

One man who might not be on the bench is Oumar Niasse.

I’ve recently gushed a bit over ‘prince’ Oumar in these previews and I think it was deserved at the time, but it seems he’s been a casualty of the change in manager.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s sad for the player and you have to wonder if it’s just not meant to be for him in this country. I could type out the whole story, with all it’s ups and downs, but I just think it’s very unfortunate a nonsense ban for ‘diving’ sustained at a time when he was playing really well has cost him like this.

I don’t usually like to hear of players being frustrated and storming out (if you believe the rumours) but In Niasse’s case I can understand, there’s only so much anybody can take.

However, if Niasse being ushered to the background brings Sandro Ramirez to the forefront, you’d have to say the Spaniard probably does have the higher ceiling, so whilst I would wish Niasse well if he left, every cloud and all that.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve gone on enough in this preview.

I think this will be a very tough game for us and certainly a good test of where we are under Allardyce. It’s the start of 4 games in no time at all, so hopefully we can get off to a good start, even if that’s just a draw to keep the run going.

The referee for this one is Bobby Madley, a man not shy of a card, having already sent off Morgan Schneiderlin this season (Manchester City away). He also gave Leicester City a ridiculous penalty on Tuesday night.

To everybody who reads this, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, let’s hope Everton can usher this one in better than last year’s injury time disaster.

Unfortunately, with the weight of games and family commitments over the festive period, I can’t do a preview for West Brom and Bournemouth is also looking doubtful (I know, shite fan me, lad).

I expect 2 wins from those 2 there, but anything can happen over the Christmas period and if West Brom not winning since August (17 odd league games) and Alan Pardew being yet to win a game as West Brom manager isn’t making your ‘Everton, that’ sensor go off wildly, frankly I doubt your allegiance to Everton!

Anyway, have a good one, folks! Eat and drink lots and go big!

COYB!!!

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