After getting their stuttering season back on track with a comfortable win over West Ham last weekend, Everton now face a tough trip to a resurgent Chelsea side before yet another tedious international break.
After going five games without a victory it was vital Everton picked up three points against the Hammers to boost confidence ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge – a ground where they haven’t won in the league since 1994.
It was solid without being spectacular, yet they are just the sort of wins we crave after the disorganised chaos of last season.
Koeman has yet to get the team playing well for a full 90 minutes, mainly because he hasn’t yet got the squad he desires. But the Dutchman’s tactical nous and game management (remember that?) has allowed us hold onto leads or turn games around when things don’t go our way.
The result is a very respectable haul of 18 points from the opening 10 matches to sit sixth in the table, just five points off the top.
A win at the Bridge on Saturday and Everton will move up to fifth and within a point of the Londoners, something made all the more remarkable by the fact they are yet to fire on all cylinders this season.
You have to go back to the 21st November 1994 for Everton’s last Premier League win at Stamford Bridge. I imagine it’s hard to believe for some younger supporters but the Toffees were seen as by far the bigger club back then.
Since then the two clubs’ fortunes have diverged dramatically. Chelsea have won 20 major trophies in the intervening 22 years, more than they had won in the previous 89 years of their existence (though they have still only won five league titles to Everton’s nine, despite our last league win coming 27 years ago).
Bankrolled by first Ken Bates and then Roman Abramovich, Chelsea were transformed into the Premier League’s nouveau riche, passing Everton on their way to English football’s top table.
The arrival of Farhad Moshiri and Ronald Koeman suggests Everton may finally be ready to claw their way back towards the top, with a win in west London representing a significant staging post in their revival.
The 21 games since that day in 1994 is Everton’s longest winless run at a Premier League ground, with Anfield and Arsenal (Highbury and the Emirates) not far behind.
Unfortunately Everton are encountering the Blues at a particularly inopportune moment.
Since switching to a 3-4-3 formation in the wake of back-to-back defeats Antonio Conte’s side have won four games in a row scoring 11 and conceding zero.
Mike’s excellent tactical preview talks about Chelsea’s formation change in detail, but in short it has brought the best of the team’s attacking players while tightening things up at the back.
Conte appears to have banished the ghosts of Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated final few months in charge last season and brought back the swagger that saw them sweep to the title in 2014-15.
Key to their good form are Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, who each have three goals in their last four league games.
Summer signing N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic and Victor Moses are also the main beneficiaries of Conte’s tactical turnaround.
Everton successfully deployed a defensive 4-3-3 formation to snatch a point at Man City a few weeks ago and it is likely Koeman will be equally conservative on Saturday.
However, the suspension of the influential Idrissa Gueye has left the Dutchman short of defensive midfielders, meaning he could play three centre-backs like against Tottenham on the opening day of the season.
A disciplined defensive performance will be required if Everton are to take anything from the game while the forwards will have to take any chances that come their way.
Romelu Lukaku will once again be a threat against his former club, as he was the last time the teams met in the FA Cup in March.
The consistency of the players around him though has been brought into question. At least Ross Barkley was much improved against West Ham last weekend, lets hope he can maintain that form for the trip south.
Maarten Stekelenburg is expected to replace Joel Robles in goal after recovering from a foot injury.
Enner Valencia is also available after being ineligible against parent club West Ham last weekend.
Gueye serves a one-match ban after collecting five bookings while James McCarthy and Leighton Baines again miss out with hamstring injuries.
Given Everton’s terrible record at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea’s imperious form it is hard to see anything other than a home win.
However, the team’s defensive improvement under Koeman has made them a tough nut to crack, as demonstrated by their backs-to-the-wall display at the Etihad last month.
Therefore a point is not beyond the realms of possibility. A win? Well, you can’t say we’re not due one…..
Expected starting XI: Stekelenburg, Oviedo, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Cleverley, Bolasie, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.