Now that the first inexplicably drawn out international break of the season is over, we can all re-set our minds back into club football mode, ahead of the return of the Premier League this weekend. Mercifully, it would appear the squad has returned without any particularly noteworthy fitness issues, giving Mourinho and the players every chance to pick up from (and build upon) what were an impressive opening four performances. The most recent of which, against Bayern in the Super Cup, demonstrated a level of quality and intelligence Chelsea fans will be desperate to see applied to our domestic form, starting with Everton this Saturday.
What Chelsea fans won’t be particularly desperate to see however, is a repeat of the quality of performance the English National Team provided against Ukraine. On what should have been the exciting occasion of Frank Lampard earning his immensely well earned 100th cap, his team could only muster up a level of play which in hindsight, very few people would’ve even gone to see for free. Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill started both matches and were the best players, in an English defence that looks light-years from the backline lead by John Terry and Rio Ferdinand not that long ago.
Belgium on the other hand continued to live up to the rapidly acquired hype surrounding their current generation, with a routine win away to Scotland. Eden Hazard was left out because of an Achilles injury, which it seems now was more of a precautionary decision than a necessary one. In his absence, it was Kevin De Bruyne who stepped up and led the team in attack, ‘strolling’ to yet another MOTM performance in the process. After the game, Belgium football writer, Chris Mayer called De Bruyne “the most (vital) player to (his country’s) continuing success”. Without doubt, he is a world-class international player in the making.
In Brazil there was a mild injury scare involving Oscar also. The now 22 year old played only 30 mins across the two games, struggling with an ankle problem but apparently is available for selection this weekend. Ramires however marked his return to the side, covering for Hulk on the right wing. David Luiz started and finished both matches. Full round-ups are on the official club website.
This weekend we participate in the only game of week 4 to feature two unbeaten sides. And though Everton may have not won a game so far this season either, it looks like we should be in for as tougher game as ever at Goodison Park. With over a decade of David Moyes’ good work to build upon, Roberto Martinez has immediately succeeded in implementing a more sophisticated, passing-based style of play upon his squad. The club’s business on Deadline Day has also arguably left the Spaniard in charge of the best all-round squad that Everton have had for years, even with the loss of Marouane Fellaini to contend with. Already he has what you could argue Moyes never did – quality and options in every position.
So far this season I’ve managed to predict the opposition line up more accurately than the Chelsea team 100% of the time. So here goes my latest attempt…
The Everton backline hasn’t been altered once so far this season, with Coleman, Jagielka, Distin and Baines all with first team places pretty much nailed down. Martinez flirted with idea of using Jonny Heitinga as a sweeper in a 3-4-3 formation over pre-season but has stuck to 4-2-3-1 so far. If it was a case of Heitinga not being up to standard however, an aging Gareth Barry (who started his career at centre half) could be another option for that position. Proof of the depth in Everton’s midfield these days can be witnessed with Leon Osman, who was in the England squad last year, potentially only making the bench on Saturday. With James McCarthy having been bought in for over £10m and with the exceptionally gifted young Ross Barkley having been made a key player in Martinez’ new side. Competition for places should be intense. The one obvious problem for Everton so far however has been a lack of goals. With Romelu Lukaku unavailable to play against us, Saturday looks like it’ll be the last opportunity for Nikica Jelavic to start for a long time, assuming Lukaku will walk straight into the team, which of course he will.
Now for the tricky part. As for Chelsea, our backline in comparison is considerably less settled. Cesar Azpilicueta is still yet to make a start and I imagine will have to wait a while longer. Cahill and Luiz played great together in Prague though, for some reason, I can’t see Terry being made 3rd choice for PL games by Mourinho just yet. Ashley Cole is the only guaranteed starter in defence.
Ramires and Lampard (who scored a brace at Goodison last year) will most likely both play. Had they been fully fit, Oscar and Hazard would’ve both surely played too. The depth we have in that position makes me sceptical both will start however. Is it of course also, well and truly time that Juan Mata’s season got under way. I’ve heard that having come from Russia, neither Willian nor Samuel Eto’o are sufficiently match fit as of yet. Both could potentially make their debuts from the bench.
Regardless of whether or not Mata or Oscar starts for Chelsea, the two key battles in this game will regard how well the #10s can create space and opportunities, up against the opposition’s holding midfielders. We know that Lampard and Ramires aren’t the most natural defensive players and you’d expect neither will be prepared to show Barkley too much respect. And whilst Mata is of course a genius, with his movement and creativity, Barry is a tough opponent for any Trequartista. It’ll also be interesting to see the extent to which Everton use their full backs to create width in attack. Usually two of their most important attacking players, it’s important that Hazard and De Bruyne keep them pushed back.
This is going to be a hard match and unlikely in my opinion to be settled by more than a goal. Even with his Wigan side however, Martinez was never afraid to try and play against us – I’ll be very surprised if Everton play for the draw. We’ve conceded very early goals in both of our last two games at Goodison Park however, and with the ability of this side to counter attack with the likes of Baines and Mirallas, it’s crucial that doesn’t happen again. I’m going for a 1-0 Chelsea win with Mata to play some sort of part in the goal. Martinez’ new side look good and I’d say Everton fans have every reason to be optimistic, for now at least, with the new signings and tactics still being implemented, they’re there to be beaten – this a great early chance to seal another good away result.