We have a midweek matchup with the league leaders, Chelsea. The last time that Everton met the London club on the pitch as Goodison Park was in September and we witnessed a wild 6-3 loss. To preview the second matchup of the season, our friend Steve Schmidt over at We Ain't Got No History answered a few of our questions.
RBM: Chelsea's season has gone pretty much according to plan; with the club currently holding first place by a seven point margin. What are some of the things that have gone right and what must they do to finish strong and win the league?
WAGNH: Everyone knew Chelsea had a quality squad this season, but one major area of concern was always the depth of the squad. Jose Mourinho prefers a smaller group and doesn't rotate heavily, but luckily for Chelsea, the core players have stayed relatively healthy thus far, and that depth hasn't really been tested. The Blues probably have both the most talented and most balanced starting eleven in the league, so if they can avoid the injury bug, I have a hard time seeing anyone catch them.
RBM: Chelsea paid a considerable fee for Filipe Luis last summer but he has not seen much action. Now there are rumors that he regrets making the move to England and is looking to return to Spain. If true, do you see any potential impact on the team, specifically with Diego Costa?
WAGNH: The Luis and Costa rumors came from AS and The Express, respectively, so to be honest, my only reaction thus far has been to laugh. If it looks like garbage and smells like garbage...
RBM: This week's match pits Didier Drogba against his former (future) replacement Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku has struggled during his second season in Merseyside while the thirty-six year-old Drogba has put together a solid campaign. Any thoughts on what may behind the Ivorian's late resurgence?
WAGNH: First, as Roberto Martinez doesn't like to sit deep and play long balls, I'd be fairly surprised to see Drogba start over Loic Remy on Wednesday. I honestly believe Drogba's success is largely attributable to this sort of use, with Remy and Drogba being very different options behind (or in the absence of) Diego Costa, Mourinho has done a pretty nice job of choosing the situations in which to use each of them. Drogba is obviously no longer the club's first choice, but he's seemingly content with his new role, and he's generally being deployed in situations where he's more likely to succeed.
RBM: The club's big moves in the January transfer window included bringing in Juan Cuadrado and shipping out André Schürrle. How have/will these move affect the club going forward?
WAGNH: Personally, I like the move. Schurrle wasn't overly versatile, and aside from his speed and shooting, didn't bring a whole lot to the group. Cuadrado brings just as much speed, while possibly being less of a threat to score himself, but his all around game is light years in front of the German at this point. That versatility should prove far more useful in a squad with plenty of goal scoring threats.
My larger concern was probably the loan of Mohamed Salah, without bringing in another body to replace him. As mentioned earlier, the Blues' bench is already a bit light for a team competing on multiple fronts, and now there's one less experienced player in the squad. That said, Salah's loan should have no effect on Wednesday's match, as the entire attacking unit is healthy at the moment.
RBM: The Special One has become known for winning as well as saying and doing some unusual things - usually to get into the head of an opponent. Do you have a favorite stunt or statement from Mourinho in either one of his stints in London?
WAGNH: The whole Mourinho experience is non-stop entertainment, and it's awfully hard to pick just one moment that stands out above the rest. That said, I've always disliked managers with a very dogmatic approach to the game, so any time Jose has a poke at Arsene Wenger, I smile.
RBM: What is your prediction for Wednesday's match? Do you have any key players or matchups to keep an eye on?
WAGNH: I'll certainly be watching Romelu Lukaku closely, assuming he gets a start. He's got the size/strength combination to cause problems for the center backs, and it wouldn't shock me to see Mourinho give Kurt Zouma another start because of Lukaku's athleticism.
As for a prediction, I'll go 2-0 to Chelsea, in a considerably less chaotic match than our last meeting. I think the past weekend's results probably have the group focused on grinding out three more points before the Champions League gets back underway, so I'd expect a pretty typical, organized performance with Chelsea looking to make the most of any Everton mistakes.
Speaking of Europe, good luck with Young Boys, I'd love to see you guys make a deep run this year. I love the fact that there's now a Champions League place for the Europa League winner, and seeing Everton earn that spot would be fantastic.
Thanks to Stephen for taking the time to answer our questions. Enjoy the match and COYB!