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Everton at Chelsea: The Opposition View

We spoke to Chelsea fan and writer Dávid Pásztor prior to Monday’s clash at Stamford Bridge

Everton v Chelsea - Premier League
Everton beat Chelsea 1-0 in December’s reverse fixture
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

Everton travel to Chelsea on Monday in a particularly crucial game in their quest for Champions League qualification.

Under Carlo Ancelotti, who led Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double in 2010, Everton sit fifth, one point and place behind Chelsea but with a game in hand.

Chelsea have not lost in their ten games in all competitions since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as manager in late January, and are unbeaten at home to Everton in the Premier League since 1994.

Monday’s meeting will mark a year to the day since Everton’s last trip to Stamford Bridge, when they were thumped 4-0 in the final game before football’s COVID-enforced three-month suspension.

Ahead of Monday’s game, we spoke to Dávid Pásztor, writer for SB Nation’s Chelsea blog, We Ain’t Got No History:

RBM: Firstly, when Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea six weeks ago, they were ninth, with one win in their last five league games. Did you agree with the decision at the time?

Dávid: The move was rather unpopular, and has remained so in many ways, but a lot (if not most) of that was down to Lampard’s status as one of our greatest legends.

But his record was just about the worst of any manager in the Roman Abramovich era, and while there were extenuating circumstances, especially last season, eventually we all knew this was going to happen.

The fact that Abramovich, as much a fan as a benefactor, provided his own statement for the official sacking notice - something that has never happened before - underlined just how tricky this situation and decision was.

Chelsea v Luton Town: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
Lampard was sacked by Chelsea on January 25
Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

RBM: It feels like Chelsea tend to appoint managers who are the polar opposite of their predecessors (e.g. Ancelotti to Villas-Boas, Conte to Sarri, Lampard to Tuchel).

Is that a fair comment? And does that make it harder as a fan to know what identity Chelsea want to have as a club?

Dávid: Not really. Chelsea’s identity isn’t necessarily tied up in a style of playing. The club identity in the Abramovich era has been fairly clear: win at all cost, and win now.

Appointing managers of such diverse styles has led, however, to a ton of bloat in the playing squad, and that has been affecting our winning aims - especially as it’s become harder and harder to shift unneeded players.

RBM: Thomas Tuchel is yet to lose as Chelsea boss since replacing Lampard. What are the biggest differences between Chelsea at the end of Lampard’s reign and now?

Dávid: Tuchel seems to have sorted out Chelsea’s defensive structure, something that Lampard couldn’t quite manage at any point in his 18 months.

The switch (back) to a 3-4-3/3-5-2 similar to the one used by Antonio Conte a few years ago has had a lot to do with that, but the team also seems more focused and less error-prone than before.

Tuchel has also brought back the idea of controlling games through possession, which we saw as a primary tactic under Maurizio Sarri in 2018-19. It can be boring, but so far, it’s been quite effective.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg One
Tuchel is unbeaten as Chelsea boss so far
Photo by Cristi Preda/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

RBM: It often felt like Lampard seemed unsure of his best team at Chelsea. Has this become clearer under Tuchel?

Dávid: A little bit, yes. What we’ve seen so far is that Tuchel likes to rotate his attacking five (the three forwards and the two wing-backs), except for Mason Mount, and keep steady partnerships in the defensive five (the three centre-backs and the two midfielders).

The only change to the back three has been caused by Thiago Silva’s injury (with Andreas Christensen stepping in quite capably), while the ‘double-six’ pivot has generally featured Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić; though N’Golo Kanté has been stepping in more now that he seems to be fully fit.

RBM: Chelsea have yet to score more than two goals in a game under Tuchel. Is this of particular concern to you?

Dávid: Yes, but it seems to be very much a secondary concern - as long as we keep up the defensive record that’s so far rivalling José Mourinho’s Chelsea teams of 15-17 years ago.

Tuchel set out, in his own words, to make Chelsea ‘tough to beat’ and then build from there to find a good balance that would allow us to maybe win more easily in the future. But given his mid-season appointment and thus very little time to actually work on the training ground, that plan is unlikely to see significant progress until next season.

Liverpool v Chelsea - Premier League
Timo Werner has just two league goals in the last four months for Chelsea
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RBM: Tuchel’s decision to substitute a substitute in Callum Hudson-Odoi in Chelsea’s recent draw at Southampton made a few headlines. What did you make of that?

Dávid: It was an odd move and certainly against footballing ‘norms’, but the reaction to it was way overblown.

Tuchel has played (and has given starts to) Hudson-Odoi more regularly than just about any first team Chelsea manager to this point, and the 20-year-old started the next two games as usual.

Tuchel did say afterwards that he expects more from the youngster as a substitute (as well), not just as a starter.

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

Dávid: I’d expect the Tuchel standard back three with Jorginho and Kovačić in midfield, and Hudson-Odoi and Alonso at wing-back.

The rest will depend on whether Tuchel expects a high line from Everton or not, with Olivier Giroud likely to get the start in the case of the latter and more speedy options (Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, etc.) in the case of the former.

Chelsea FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Everton’s trip to Chelsea on Monday will be a year to the day since their 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last season
Photo by Stephanie Meek - CameraSport via Getty Images

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

Dávid: Mount is in excellent form, and when he plays well, we tend to do well.

Chelsea have not been able to cause teams consistent problems throughout much of the season, but it also feels like we’re way overdue a good game from Pulisic or Kai Havertz, so here’s hoping.

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

Dávid: Expecting another tight game, and it would be surprising to see more than a goal or two scored.

Our thanks to Dávid for his time.