Both sides that usually lineup in blue will have their hopes up come Saturday’s newest version of Everton against Chelsea. The Blues of Merseyside have done surprisingly well against those London Blues in recent years, but both sides could really use three points at this point in their respective seasons.
Chelsea is in the middle of the Premier League table - far from where they are used to being - while Everton is out of the relegation zone, for now, and looking to secure themselves in that position further. The Toffees are not used to being in this position either, but have made a mess of the last two campaigns to make it feel more regular an occurrence than it actually has long been.
For Everton and Chelsea, two new managers prowl the sidelines of each club since their August meeting up in the north of England. While Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel are no longer the bosses of either side, Sean Dyche and Graham Potter will have to do battle all the same; for one side it is about staying up in the Premier League, and for another, its simply about building chemistry and cohesion towards next season - with a few objectives still scattered to pick up along the way.
Who will come out of Saturday three points the richer?! We shall certainly see.
RBM: Straight away, what is happening right now at Chelsea FC? What is the feeling around the team and its supporters right now?
WAGNH: After hitting a nadir last month, the mood at Chelsea has been on an upswing of late. Spring has sprung, and so has renewed hope! Three wins on the bounce will do that - including a rousing and impressive comeback against Bundesliga co-leaders Borussia Dortmund last week in the Champions League Round of 16.
After a horrendous few months, with the team on our worst run of results in some three decades, we were desperate for some better results, and the last couple of weeks have delivered in that aspect. The key now is to keep that going, of course, to prove that this is indeed a turnaround rather than just a brief respite.
RBM: The team is in the middle of the Premier League table - but is continuing on in the Champions League for now. What has gone wrong with this side since the team sacked Thomas Tuchel to hire Graham Potter? Did whatever is happening begin under Tuchel or is this a different set of issues for Potter?
WAGNH: A better question might what hasn’t gone wrong? In some ways, the issues that have plagued the team on the pitch this season (lack of scoring, lack of mental fortitude at crucial times, inexplicable collapses, and key injuries) have been brewing for some time. Results under Tuchel had been trending downward for much of 2022. There were plenty of reasons and excuses for that of course, including the uncertain future (and eventual forced sale) of the entire club following the sanctions against Roman Abramovich.
The subsequent massive changes to the squad and to the operations behind the scenes under the new ownership have exacerbated all of that, and Graham Potter has looked ill-equipped to deal with all of that effectively for much of his time here.
But things in every regard do appear to be settling down, turning around, and we’re all hopeful of better days ahead (and maybe less dramatic in some ways, too).
RBM: Is Graham Potter safe as the boss? After firing Thomas Tuchel, and with the money that has been spent by Todd Boehly, will his administration have the patience that Roman Abramovich would never have shown?
WAGNH: Graham Potter has already been shown more patience in 19 weeks by Todd Boehly & Co than Roman Abramovich had shown in his entire 19 years as owner. The new ownership had made it quite clear that Potter is their man, and while some of that goodwill did drain away in the last five months, his job was never really in doubt — and the current three-match winning streak has erased any doubt that might have started seeping in.
RBM: What are the expectations for this side for the rest of the year - in England and Europe alike?
WAGNH: The league is gone and has been for some time. Top-six may be a possibility if we can put together a good run of wins; top-four would probably require us to run the table over the remaining dozen games. We’re probably safe from relegation, so it’s all about using the remaining games to start building chemistry and understanding for next season.
In Europe, we are five games from a third Champions League trophy. Why not us?
RBM: If Graham Potter is safe for the rest of the year, will he still be on the sidelines for them next season? If so, how will Chelsea look to strengthen his chances this summer?
WAGNH: Yes. The owners are looking to and hoping to be able to give Potter all of next season as well to show what he can do. So unless he royally messes up, he’s got an opportunity that no other coach is likely to have at the top levels of the game — patience and practically endless support (financial and otherwise) to make his vision work. To his credit, he’s kept the dressing room on side during the recent bad run, and players seem to like working with him and for him. Now we just need to turn those into results on the pitch.
And yes, despite record spending in the last two transfer windows, Chelsea are reportedly not done frolicking in the transfer market just yet — though we will need to start jettisoning some players first from what is a massively bloated squad at the moment (not to mention balancing the books).
RBM: How do you expect Chelsea to set up this Saturday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems in the affair?
Graham Potter seems to have settled on a back-three setup of late, with wing-backs and a three-man, very fluid forward line. I’d expect something similar on Saturday, with Mykhailo Mudryk and João Félix surely looking to impress.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
WAGNH: I don’t usually predict victories, but I’m feeling fairly confident about this one. 2-0, Chelsea.
Our thanks to Dávid for his time.