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Everton vs Chelsea: The Opposition View

We spoke to Chelsea fan, podcaster and writer Jimmy Funnell prior to Saturday’s Goodison clash

Everton v Chelsea - Premier League
Everton beat Chelsea 2-0 at Goodison Park last season
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

Everton begin life after Marco Silva by facing Frank Lampard’s flying Chelsea side at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime.

The Blues will start the match in the relegation zone after Silva’s final game in charge, Wednesday’s 5-2 defeat at Liverpool, saw them drop into the bottom three following a third successive loss.

Duncan Ferguson will take charge for the clash with Chelsea, who have a six-point cushion in fourth place after their 2-1 home win over Aston Villa on Wednesday.

Lampard’s youthful team have exceeded the expectations many had before the season for Chelsea, who have had to face a two-window transfer ban (halved on Friday) and the summer departures of manager Maurizio Sarri to Juventus and star player Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Jimmy Funnell, writer and podcaster for SB Nation’s Chelsea blog, We Ain’t Got No History:

RBM: Firstly, by how much, if at all, do you think Chelsea have overachieved this season?

Jimmy: Given the circumstances with which Chelsea ended last year and went into pre-season, I think we are currently in a position that only few fans could have predicted. After Sarri’s departure, the imminent sale of Hazard and the transfer ban, I can genuinely say that I really did fear for the worst and, having spoken with several other fans at the time, I wasn’t alone.

However, the way things developed into these exciting times we’re currently enjoying with all the opportunities being given to our academy, I doubt that a single Chelsea fan can be unhappy with how things panned out, overachieving or not.

Lampard is doing a superb job at Chelsea in only his second season in management
Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: Lampard seems to be have far more support from Chelsea fans than Sarri did last season. Is that solely down to his history as a Chelsea player, or is he succeeding in areas where Sarri failed as a manager, too?

Jimmy: What Lampard achieved at Chelsea was and still is unchallenged. He truly is our greatest player if you ask me, and the joy we’re feeling having him at the helm cannot be described in words. As such, Frank was always going to have a far easier standing and introduction at the club than any other manager in world football.

To answer your question, though, yes and no. On the one hand, the endless, and often aimless, passing of the ball from last season, which was nice to watch but rarely saw much end product, now actually sees the players carve out a huge amount of chances and really pose a potent threat to any opposition.

On the other hand, defensive frailties continue to persist and while Lampard has addressed the zonal marking fiasco to a certain extent, opposition still regularly find it easy to hurt us and make us pay for nearly every single lapse in concentration. So, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

RBM: Among the youngsters Lampard is nurturing are Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham; all aged 22 or younger. Which of them has impressed and surprised you the most this season?

Jimmy: Each has impressed me in his own way this season. Hudson-Odoi’s serious injury at the end of last season has severely limited his opportunities and he’ll need time to get back to his best.

With the other four, Abraham sits comfortably in second place for this year’s golden boot, Mount has almost immediately become one of the most integral parts of our team and makes us tick, Tomori has taken to his new role as starter like a duck to water, and James has to be one of, if not the most exciting talents at full-back in world football.

Consequently, it’s difficult to pick a single one who has impressed particularly, but if I had to choose then it’d have to be Mount. What a player.

Chelsea FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Mount scored the winner in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

RBM: Many Evertonians hoped last season’s loanee, Kurt Zouma, would return permanently, but the centre-half has already made 22 Chelsea appearances this term. How has he done, and do you think there is any chance Chelsea would sell once their transfer ban is lifted?

Jimmy: I was and still am slightly sceptical about Zouma. Most Chelsea fans wanted to see him be given another chance after that horrible injury a few seasons back halted his rise in the pecking order prematurely, including myself.

Initially, Zouma didn’t take his Everton form into the season and calling him just shaky would be an understatement. Game after game, the French international improved, though, and he’s currently the one centre-back Frank Lampard doesn’t want to rest, showing his strength and pace continuously and even having improved in his passing. Assessing the ball remains one of his lesser qualities, but I’m sure he’s working tirelessly on improving in that area, too.

With the constant rumours of a new, world-class calibre centre-back being near the top of our shopping list and the Court of Arbitration for Sport reducing our ban on Friday, I believe that one of our current crop of them will leave at the end of the season. Whether or not that will be Zouma remains to be seen.

RBM: Meanwhile, former Everton midfielder Ross Barkley has played only nine times for Chelsea this term (albeit injured for some of it), and Lampard criticised his lack of professionalism recently after being picture shirtless in a nightclub.

Does he have a place in Lampard’s Chelsea team going forward?

Jimmy: At the moment, the less said about Ross the better. He’s been getting all the wrong headlines and has almost exclusively been at fault for them all by himself. When he has played well this season, it wasn’t in a Chelsea shirt and, unfortunately, Barkley hasn’t been able to replicate his England form at Stamford Bridge.

There’s a player in there; there always has been. However, consistency and professionalism have been severely lacking of late, something Everton fans will know all too well. If you ask me whether he has a place in Lampard’s squad for the future, I’d have to answer with a firm no.

Chelsea FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
Barkley has struggled to establish himself in Lampard’s Chelsea side
Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

RBM: Even if there is a reaction from Everton following Silva’s sacking, how confident are you that Chelsea will still have enough about them to see Everton off?

Jimmy: Unfortunately, recently-managerless teams tend to turn into prime Barcelona when playing against us over the years and we all know that Everton are capable of so much more than they have been showing this season; look at your squad.

Nevertheless, Chelsea have been in good form this season and especially away from home have shown some of their best football. The win against Aston Villa was a close one, but it has given the team another boost in confidence and I believe we are very capable of winning at Goodison Park. We’ll just have to see how you react to Silva’s sacking.

RBM: How do you expect Chelsea to set up on Saturday?

Jimmy: Same as always; 4-2-3-1. Lampard has occasionally surprised us this season, but I personally can’t imagine him using a different formation against Everton.

Who he picks in midfield will be interesting as N’golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić worked wonders on Wednesday, but there’s still Jorginho.

Chelsea FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Jorginho has been much-improved for Chelsea this season
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Jimmy: That man again; Kovačić. The difference to last season has been staggering and whether this has been down to Lampard’s influence, different tactical instructions, or him simply upping his game, I don’t know, but he’s currently in the most imperious form of his life.

If he plays and you give him enough time on the ball then he’ll drive through your ranks and be able to pose a big, big threat. Another name is Abraham for 11 obvious reasons and you’ll have to watch out for him, too.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Jimmy: I’ve been fairly careful with my predictions this season and have tried to stay humble, so I’ll go with a narrow and hard-fought 2-1 win for Chelsea.

Our thanks to Jimmy for his time.