Thursday, 24 August 2017

Chelsea vs Everton Match Preview (27/08/17): Conte’s Men to Make Up for Lost Time at the Bridge

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Beating one of your fiercest rivals is one thing, but to do so in a fashion as convincing as Chelsea’s 2-1 triumph over Tottenham is all the more satisfying.

Okay, so the scoreline doesn’t read as a comfortable victory, but don’t forget that Spurs’ ‘one’ came from an inexplicable own-goal from Michy Batshuayi, while at the other end of the pitch Willian rattled the woodwork and Alvaro Morata missed a glorious chance to nod the Blues in front.

Given how the season began with the 2-3 defeat against Burnley and the suspensions suffered by Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, and with the ongoing riddle of Diego Costa’s future, this victory showed tremendous character from the boys from the blue.

But one man should take the majority of the credit, and that’s Antonio Conte. He knew that with key players missing he would need a Plan B against Tottenham, and so he did exactly that: deploying an old Italian favourite, the ‘Catenaccio’ defensive shape.

Catenaccio translates in Italian as ‘the chain’, and basically revolves around all eleven players playing their part defensively before counter attacking as a unit. Andrea Christensen dropped deep to sweep up any lose balls, while David Luiz – starting ostensibly as a midfielder – would drop into the backline to help deal with Harry Kane and Dele Alli. In midfield, N’Golo Kante and Timeous Bakayoko fought fire with fire against Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, while Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses went man-to-man against their counterparts down the flanks.

The result? Spurs’ attacking threat was counteracted, and as mentioned Chelsea looked more likely on the counter.

It’s not a system that Conte will deploy all that often this season, and frankly he won’t need to as his side will dominate most matches, but what a treat it was to see the grand old master tactically outwit Mauricio Pochettino.

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Conte will duke it out with another highly respected manager this week in the form of Ronald Koeman, who guided his Everton side to a decent draw against Manchester City on Monday night after an opening day win over Stoke.

Chelsea will be desperate to get back to winning ways at Stamford Bridge, and a return to the 3-4-3 system should help in that quest no end.

Chelsea Team News

The good news for Conte is that Fabregas will return from his one game ban, and while the temptation might be to name an unchanged line-up from that which beat Spurs, the talk is that Bakayoko was rather rushed back from his thigh injury and needs more time to get fit for the new campaign.

The manager will be keen to revert back to his tried and tested 3-4-3 shape as well, so the return of Fabregas will enable that.

David Luiz will revert back to his central defensive position, probably at the expense of Andrea Christensen, while in attack Pedro – who came off the bench to assist Alonso’s winner at Wembley – will surely be given the nod.

Up front, Conte will presumably stay loyal to Morata, who missed a sitter against Tottenham but whose movement and link-up play has been excellent so far. He is a much more rounded player than Batshuayi is, at present.

Chelsea vs Everton Head to Head

These two perennial top flight outfits have met an incredible 178 times in their respective histories, with Chelsea enjoying the upper hand with 70 wins to 54 (53 draws).

Perhaps the most illuminating statistic heading into this fixture is that Everton haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in six years – that’s a record of W0 D1 L5 in the intervening period. Indeed, the Toffees have only scored in two of those half-dozen matches.

Last season Chelsea did the double over the Merseysiders and by some margin too; the home leg was won 5-0 followed by a 3-0 victory at Goodison Park.

How the Match Will Be Won

The fact that the Blues so dominated Everton last season cannot be overlooked, and while both teams have been re-shaped, to some extent, over the summer, there is no reason to suggest that Chelsea can’t prosper once again.

Everton’s set-up is rather basic and lacking fluidity: there’s three centre halves, wing backs, two midfielders marshalling the defence and then Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies dovetailing behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

It’s not a system that should cause us too many headaches. Everton recorded an Expected Goal count of just 0.68 against Stoke – highlighting their inability to create chances, and their tally of 0.7 against Manchester City, and just two shots on target, is paltry given that the Citizens played the second half with just ten men.

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So you could perhaps accuse Everton of a lack of ambition going forward, and that will certainly aid Chelsea’s cause.

Perhaps the key battle will come out wide, with Alonso and Moses fancied to have the beating of Evertonian counterparts Mason Holgate and Leighton Baines, while in midfield Rooney may be pressed into action deeper on the pitch to counter for the loss of the suspended Morgan Schneiderlin.

It will be a game in which the onus will be on Chelsea to provide the attacking impetus, and as long as Morata has his shooting boots on we should record our first home win of the campaign.

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