19:45 BST, Wednesday 25th October, Stamford Bridge, (London, England), ESPN 3
The stakes are high for Everton as they begin life after Ronald Koeman away at Chelsea in the EFL Cup. This continues to be a transitional season for Everton, who have offloaded 18 players in the summer. Talismanic striker Romelu Lukaku was the most high profile departure and, predictably, the Toffees have struggled for goals with only the bottom two teams in the league having scored less. Having won only two of their 11 games this season across all competitions, they sit 18th in the Premier League.
Chelsea are not without their own problems. A run of two Premier League losses against table-toppers Manchester City then table-proppers Crystal Palace, was swiftly followed by a Champions’ League draw against Roma, who came back from 2-0 down, giving rise to talk of a player mutiny at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have conceded 6 in their last 3 games and their midfield continues to look porous without the injured N’Golo Kante who is not expected back before November. At the weekend, though, the Blues came back into winning ways with a display of character and attacking fortitude in a 4-2 come-from-behind victory against Watford. It remains to be seen whether their ship is steadied.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 4-2 Watford (Premier League)
Having not won in the October by the time this fixture came around, things didn’t look like changing for Chelsea by the time Watford had gone 2-1 up in the 49th minute, well-taken goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure and Roberto Pereyra putting the Hornet’s in the lead despite Pedro’s beautiful curled finish early on in the game. In fact, Watford should have been out of sight: the Brazilian teenager Richarlison missing two gilt-edged chances to stretch the Watford lead to two goals.
In the end, though, Antonio Conte’s team managed to turn the match around through the unlikeliest of sources. Michy Batshuayi replaced the still-struggling Alvaro Morata on the 61st minute and, ten minutes later, had pulled the scores level. When Cesar Azpilicueta popped up at the back post to steer home David Zappacosta’s cross, it looked game, set and match to the home team. An injury-time finish for Batshuayi put the game out of Watford’s reach and himself back into contention for Chelsea’s plans going forward.
Everton 2-5 Arsenal (Premier League)
In a game that proved to be the final nail in Ronald Koeman’s coffin, Everton actually were the team who went ahead. Against the run of play – Everton having been cut open on a number of occasions in the opening minutes – Idrissa Gueye bundled Granit Xhaka off the ball, giving it to Wayne Rooney who gleefully lashed it home. The home team managed to hold onto the lead until the 40th minute where Nacho Monreal managed to fire home from close range after Jordan Pickford could only palm away a fierce shot from Xhaka.
In the second half, though, it was one way traffic. Goals from Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette put the game beyond the Toffees and, when Aaron Ramsey scored in the 90th minute, many thought the scoring was over. 3 minutes later, though, the recently-prolific Oumar Niasse picked up a consolation goal for the home team but there was still enough time on the clock for Alexis Sanchez to get a share of the spoils.
With Chelsea looking ahead to away games at Bournemouth and Roma within the next week, expect Antonio Conte to rotate his squad heavily. Danny Drinkwater is still recovering from a calf strain while Victor Moses and N’Golo remain out of contention, having picked up hamstring injuries earlier in the month. Keep a look out for youngsters Charly Musonga and Kenedy who appeared in Chelsea’s last outing in the EFL Cup against Nottingham Forest.
Everton Starting Lineup
With Everton under the control of caretaker manager David Unsworth, it’s hard to know how they will set up for this EFL fixture. Only Morgan Schneiderlin is unavailable for the Toffees and so, given that Unsworth will be keen to impress, it is likely that Everton will go into the game with a strong starting XI.
Key Battle: Oumar Niasse (Everton) vs Andreas Christensen (Chelsea)
Oumar Niasse’s return to the Everton first team is somewhat of a left-field development for the Merseyside team. With Ronald Koeman scraping the barrel for goal-scoring options in the wake of Romelu Lukaku’s departure to Manchester United, he eventually dipped into the reserve team and brought the Senegalese striker back into the fold. Four goals in five games, though, have proven the Dutchman to have been correct in some respects at least. If he can come out firing on all cylinders, Everton could be in line for an upset on Wednesday night.
Andreas Christensen will be faced with
the task of marking Niasse. After a successful loan spell at German club Borussia Monchengladbach, the Danish international has quietly been making a case for his inclusion in the Chelsea starting XI. Possessing both pace and an innate capacity to read the game, the youngster will be more than happy keeping the Senegalese striker at bay. If he impresses here, it may be the case that Chelsea end the season preferring him to Gary Cahill.
Change of Koeman-der in Chief
Having already endured the hardships of a transitional season, Everton have gone into a tailspin with the sacking of Ronald Koeman. After winning only two in eleven matches across all competitions, though, Everton’s board had seen enough. With the Toffees in the relegation zone, caretaker manager David Unsworth, would have preferred an easier opponent to start with. However, he has made it clear that he wants the role full-time and this baptism by fire presents the perfect stage upon which to stake his claim. Although names like Carlo Ancelotti and Sean Dyche are being bandied about, an impressive interim performance by Unsworth could make him the preferred option.
Last weekend, Michy Batshuayi staked his claim to lead Chelsea’s line. In light of the fact that Alvaro Morata performance against Watford was sluggish and generally ineffective, it begged the question whether his return from injury was premature. With Chelsea 2-1 down, Batshuayi’s introduction on the hour mark coincided with a spark of life on the part of the league champions. The Belgian youngster grabbed the equaliser with a deft glancing header, before helping to stretch Watford’s defence as a free Cesar Azpilicueta made it 3-2. Adding a final injury-time goal to his equaliser was the icing on the cake.
Given the situation, Batshuayi’s performance in the last 30 minutes on Saturday has to go down as one of the top performances by any striker in the Premier League so far this year. With Morata normally rested in the Carabao cup, Batshuayi should start and an impressive performance could solidify his place in the starting line-up. With his recent injury woes, though, Antonio Conte will be happy that he finally has a positive selection headache.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Everton
With David Unsworth desperate to make an impression, coupled with Michy Batshuayi’s red hot form from the weekend, expect goals in this one. However, of the two defences, Chelsea’s looks the stronger. This, matched with the fact that Antonio Conte will be fielding centre backs keen to impress him, means that Chelsea should run out comfortable winners. The Premier League champions showed the character and grit that has been missing a lot of this season at the weekend and this should spark a well-needed renaissance.
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