Thursday, 21 December 2017

Everton v Chelsea Match Preview (26/12/17): Blues to Tough It Out Against In-Form Toffees

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If you can make seven changes to your starting line-up and still win a game of football, then you must be doing something right.

That’s exactly how Chelsea fared on Tuesday night in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth….although the truth is that the performance was befitting of a much-changed side.

The Blues looked disjointed at times as they struggled to see off a game Bournemouth outfit, although that’s not to say there weren’t bright spots. Willian and Cesc Fabregas’ link-up play was excellent all night, with the Spaniard laying on the pass for the Brazilian to open the scoring.

And when we signed Ethan Ampadu from Exeter, there will have been plenty of raised eyebrows, but the dreadlocked defender was outstanding on Tuesday night. He slotted into the sweeper role in the heart of the back three and looked like a seasoned pro, performing his defensive duties admirably and distributing the ball with aplomb. This is a kid with a bright future.

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Antonio Conte clearly wasn’t happy with his side though, and that’s perhaps why he sent on Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko within the space of ten second-half minutes. It worked – Morata bagging a late winner – but he then foolishly celebrated like he had just won the World Cup and was booked for his troubles. That means he will miss Saturday’s trip to Everton.

And that’s a huge shame, because Sam Allardyce’s men are in a fine run of form since the burly gaffer took charge. We could have done with our full compliment of players to make the trip, but will have to make do without our prized frontman.

Can the Blues kick on regardless?

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, Morata is out after accumulating five yellow cards this season – hopefully a moment of madness that won’t come back to haunt him/us.

In brighter news Marcos Alonso will come back into the starting eleven after missing out against Bournemouth courtesy of his own suspension, and others that missed the game against the Cherries – Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor Moses, Thibaut Courtois – will presumably walk back into the side.

Everton like to pack the centre of the pitch, so don’t be surprised if Conte reverts back to that modified 3-5-1-1 system this week. A midfield trio of Bakayoko, Fabregas and N’Golo Kante combines brains with brawn, while in attack Eden Hazard – becoming more and more comfortable in the false nine role, should be ably supported by the in-form Willian.

Everton v Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea’s recent resurgence in form against Everton is most welcome, with four straight wins coming at a goal difference of +11. The most recent of those was the 2-1 victory in the Carabao Cup clash just a matter of weeks ago.

The history books are generally rather kind to us as well, with 72 wins compared to the Toffees’ 54 and 52 meetings ending in stalemate.

That said, we’ve never overwhelmingly taken to the Goodison Park turf: a formline reading W4 D1 L5 tells its own story.

How the Match Will Be Won

The Everton we take on this week will be a very different outfit to the one we beat in the Carabao Cup back in October, that’s for sure. Big Sam hasn’t reinvented the wheel there, but clearly gone back to basics with his tactics and, from a psychological point of view, reminded his players just how talented they are.

So even without a recognised frontman, the Toffees have been able to compile a five-game unbeaten run in the Premier League with four wins and a draw.

What perhaps should be mentioned, for the sake of balance, is that the four victories have all come against sides in the bottom half of the table, and the one match in which Allardyce-era Everton have played a top-half team was the 1-1 draw at Anfield; where they were very lucky to escape with a point.

The bottom line here is that the Merseysiders are much improved under their new management team, but far from unbeatable.

That Liverpool game was eye-catching because Everton’s left back, Cuco Martina, was ripped to shreds by Mo Salah. Now, there’s no shame in that as Salah is an extraordinary talent, but it shows that Martina hasn’t quite adapted to his switch of sides. Hopefully Willian, if he starts, can ensure another nightmare afternoon for the full back.

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Defensively the Toffees have improved – just two goals conceded in five games under Big Sam, which has been driven by the return to form of Ashley Williams, the emergence of Jonjoe Kenny, and a hard-working midfield shield in Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin/Tom Davies.

A front four of Calvert-Lewin, Rooney, Sigurdsson and Lennon has goals in it, but it’s not the kind of attack that will have the Chelsea defenders awake all Friday night. Instead, a clean sheet is likely for us, and victory will be determined by whether we can break down this Everton backline or not. Our guess is that we will.

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