Thursday, 27 April 2017

Everton vs Chelsea Match Preview (30/04/17): A Point Suits the Blues with Finishing Line in Sight

It’s not often that the team in pole position at the top of the Premier League table would be happy with a point at the side placed seventh, but at this stage of the campaign a stalemate at Everton will suit Chelsea down to the ground.

After the trip to Goodison Park, the Blues have home dates with Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland plus an away day at West Brom, so it goes without saying that this is Antonio Conte’s toughest assignment left this term.

Spurs, four points behind us of course, host Arsenal on Sunday; an outfit that is not going to hold back and who have won three on the spin since switching to three at the back. The Lilywhites also have to play Manchester United, Leicester and West Ham as yet, so even if they make ground at the top this week it is still very much advantage Chelsea in the race to the title.

The Blues maintained their cushion at the summit of the table with a 4-2 win over Southampton in midweek. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa showed the wisdom of Conte’s decision to rest them for the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday as they were key figures in this victory.

Hazard opened the scoring for Chelsea early in the piece but it was Costa, much maligned in recent weeks, who roared back to form with an excellent double strike. His first came after Gary Cahill had cancelled Oriel Romeu’s equaliser, while his second was emphatic low finish that confirmed the three points for the Blues. Another Chelsea old boy, Ryan Bertrand, halved the deficit in injury time, but the victors were never in doubt here.

Ignoring the unfortunate defensive stat which has now seen Chelsea concede in each of their last eleven Premier League games, this was another step towards the top flight trophy. Perhaps the biggest obstacle left to overcome will appear on Sunday.

Chelsea Team News

After the rollercoaster ride of the trip to Wembley followed by the win over Southampton 72 hours later, it’s good that the players can enjoy a quieter few days in the build-up to the trip to Merseyside.

Antonio Conte will be delighted that he has a full compliment of players to choose from at this crucial stage of the season too. All signs suggest that the virus that swept through the club last week has now dissipated, with the worst affected Gary Cahill back in the starting line-up on Tuesday.

As mentioned, Hazard and Costa returned also against the Saints, and so the only player to not feature who we might consider a first team regular is Pedro, who ran himself into the ground against Spurs on Saturday and thoroughly deserved his night off against Southampton (he came on as a 77th minute substitute).

With our wide players expected to have their hands full against Everton, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Pedro return head of his compatriot Cesc Fabregas as Conte names his strongest available eleven:

Everton vs Chelsea Head to Head

For a sort while Everton have enjoyed a decent head-to-head return against Chelsea; winning an FA Cup clash last season before going unbeaten in the two league games in 2015/16 (a 3-1 win at home before a 3-3 stalemate at Stamford Bridge). Hopefully, the 5-0 win in Chelsea’s favour back in November will help to redress the balance.

The overall theme is one of Chelsea dominance….but only just. With 69 wins to 54 (and 52 draws), the Blues have, historically, snuck past the Toffees.

Everton have won three of their four most recent meetings with Chelsea at Goodison Park, but as we
have written many times this season this is Chelsea 2.0 under Antonio Conte, and they are an altogether different animal.

How the Match Will Be Won

Establishing a sound defensive base is key when playing Everton away. They have won their last eight consecutive home games, scoring a whopping 29 goals. With Chelsea shipping in each of their last eleven, that has to be a concern.

So hopefully Conte will have worked hard in training on nullifying Everton’s threat; that’s not usually Chelsea’s way, but how well did that tactic work in seeing off Tottenham in the FA Cup!? We sat back and let them have the ball, confident that our quality would shine through in the end.

A similar theme could play out on Sunday, and as long as the Chelsea backline marshals the outstanding Romelu Lukaku effectively we will stand a good chance of taking all three points.

That confidence comes from Everton’s youthful backline, who have kept just one clean sheet in their last six. We all saw how deadly Chelsea were on the counter attack against Spurs, and there’s a chance that the Blues could prosper in such a way again here.

Even so, a point would please Antonio Conte no end.

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