Everton return to London for the second time in four days to face high flying Chelsea with an injury list which seems to be increasing day by day. After the defeat to Crystal Palace it was revealed that Seamus Coleman, Andros Townsend and Richarlison all picked up knocks which could potentially see them all ruled out of this midweek fixture. It doesn’t get any easier for Rafa Benitez’s men who, as I write this, sit 14th in the table with exactly half the points of this week’s opponents, Chelsea.
Although they are third in the Premier League, Chelsea have been far from convincing in recent games. Last time out, it took two Jorginho penalties, with one of them in the last minute, to squeeze past Leeds United. This was after defeat in their previous game away to London rivals West Ham. There isn’t too much point reading into these performances to give yourself some hope for the game, as all you need to do is read Everton’s results from the past few months and you’ll be knocked straight back down to earth.
Thomas Tuchel’s men set-up with a three-man defence plus two very attacking wing backs. They then usually have two central midfield players with two attacking midfielders in front, who normally sit in the half spaces with the wing backs providing the width. This is where most of their goals come from, with seven league goals shared between Reece James and Ben Chilwell so far this season. Former Everton man Romelu Lukaku is slowly being eased back into the side after injury but hasn’t hit the back of the net in the league since September.
Chelsea are a possession based side, with an average of 58.9% this season. With Everton’s average of just 40.3% on the year I’d expect us to have very little of the ball once again. We will set-up in an extremely low block, absorbing pressure and hoping to hit them on the counter attack. With Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon expected to start on the wings (with Townsend out injured), we have a fair amount of pace to get in behind the space left by their attacking wing backs. This is a method of attack we often saw at the beginning of Rafa Benitez’s reign but certainly hasn’t been apparent in recent weeks.
The biggest threat of Chelsea’s campaign so far has been Reece James. Despite Thomas Tuchel preferring to rotate players often with the depth he has in the squad, the academy product has been heavily involved. With eight goal contributions already, you’d be forgiven for believing James is an attacking player by definition and not a full back. A lot of Chelsea’s attacks come through their wing backs, especially through James. He averages around four crosses per game and only Andreas Christensen attempts more passes per ninety minutes.
The youngster has also touched the ball more times in the attacking third of the pitch than any other Chelsea player, despite missing a few games and more importantly, being a defender. With the three centre backs and two sitting midfielders, this gives the freedom for the likes of James and Chilwell to play as extremely advanced wing backs. With Lucas Digne out, the responsibility is going to likely be on Ben Godfrey to deal with him.
I’ve seen a few comments on social media saying they keep forgetting Everton are even playing in this bundle of midweek fixtures. This is simply due to the number of injuries and sheer doubt of getting any kind of result at Stamford Bridge. Leeds were very unfortunate to not get a result against them after conceding very late. Marcelo Bielsa’s side are very well known for their high pressure and high energy style. Chelsea have shown weakness at the back when put under pressure and have made several errors leading to goals this season.
Although a fantastic goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy has made two errors leading directly to goals this season. The only way I can see Everton getting a result is by playing an extremely high press. I’d be tempted to play the likes of Ellis Simms or Lewis Dobbin up front, rather than Salomon Rondon, to give more energy and movement in the press. Chelsea are a fantastic possession based side but they’ll certainly not expect a high energy performance from Everton so it will be great to spring that surprise on them.
Along with other fans, I’m also very doubtful of getting a result. With Townsend, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Coleman, Yerry Mina, Digne, Tom Davies and Richarlison all out injured, it doesn’t give us much hope. Personally, I believe we’d struggle with a fully fit squad so with the depleted, out of form eleven we’re likely to field, I’m struggling to find a way in which we’re going to win. I hope Rafa sticks with the three man midfield this week. Although it didn’t work against Crystal Palace, I don’t believe it was due to the shape but the way we applied the shape. We played way too deep and didn’t press them high up the pitch like we did against Arsenal. If we apply pressure to Chelsea, show fight, determination, and don’t wave the white flag and accept defeat, Everton fans will be satisfied that we’ve been beaten by the better team, no matter the scoreline.