After a difficult Merseyside Derby last week, Everton have another really trying tie on Sunday when Chelsea come visiting. Burnley continuing to win has only amped up the pressure on Frank Lampard and company as they attempt to save themselves from relegation next season, and might have better luck dragging Leeds United into the 18th spot than Burnley at this point.
Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea have not been the same machine they were earlier this season. With trophies under their belt this season and still a chance for one more via the FA Cup, Chelsea has done well through a trying year in their own right. Everton will look to spoil their positive season just a bit on Sunday while improving their own chances at another Premier League season next year.
RBM: Firstly, while this team has been cruising in third place for most of this season, things have been more difficult recently in both England and, of course, in Europe; what are the feelings around west London, this team, and the supporters as May is now beginning?
WAGNH: Seeing our title challenge fade away before Christmas - thanks largely due to injuries and of course, Manchester City and Liverpool being next level - as well as our European campaign ending how it did, with such self-inflicted wounds against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, were certainly both disappointing; those disappointments also speak to the level of expectations that have been engendered by the team’s successes over the past 12-18 months, however.
Overall, it’s been a good season, with a Super Cup and a Club World Cup added to the trophy cabinet; it could get just a little better with a win against Liverpool in the FA Cup final in a couple of weeks though.
RBM: What has substantively changed regarding Chelsea since the earlier days of this season - apart from the obvious ownership circumstances?
WAGNH: Other than Ben Chilwell’s ACL, the thing that’s affected the squad more than anything has simply been fatigue, both physical and mental; a 63-match campaign when all’s said and done will do that to you though.
RBM: Will Thomas Tuchel be safe with Chelsea, given that the man who so routinely fired Chelsea managers no longer has that power? Surely no one is calling for his sacking after a season like this current one?
WAGNH: Indeed, no one’s calling for his sacking. If anything, everyone’s calling on the new owners to make sure Tuchel’s supported, both in terms of a new contract and in terms of investment in the playing squad. He’s seen as someone who can carry on the Abramovich Era’s winning habits and expectations, which we need to ensure are maintained under the new ownership.
RBM: Will Big Romelu Lukaku be at Chelsea next season, given his lack of influence this season and apparent lack of cohesion with the team or coaching staff? What about Timo Werner? With Antonio Rudiger moving on reportedly as well, is there any fear among supporters that the team could look very different next season?
WAGNH: It’s hard to see Lukaku leaving, simply because of his massive contract and transfer fee. Werner might be an easier exit to engineer, though he’s found a good run in the team as of late, and has changed some of that expected narrative. Neither leaving would create much “fear” among supporters, and while Rüdiger leaving is a big hit, we have confidence that Tuchel will find a good solution. After all, he turned Rüdiger into a world-class defender from a fifth-choice benchwarmer under Lampard.
RBM: What is the status of the Chelsea sale at this time, after the fallout regarding Roman Abramovich?
WAGNH: As of Friday, it looks like the consortium led by Todd Boehly have won the race, with a total bid reportedly in excess of £4b and solid plans for the club and stadium. An official announcement is expected on Monday. A late-late bid of a similar amount from billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliff, well after any deadline and outside of the confines of the established process, has added some extra drama, but it’s unlikely to change the outcome.
RBM: How do you expect Chelsea to set up on Sunday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems in the match?
WAGNH: I don’t think Tuchel will stray from his trusty 3-4-3, and I expect we’ll roll with mostly the same lineup that ran Manchester United ragged at Old Trafford, and just forgot to actually score more than the one goal by the end of the match.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
WAGNH: Goodison has not been a happy place for us for many years, and I suspect we’ll somehow contrive to drop points again. 1-1.
Our thanks to Dávid for his time.