13:00 KO (BST); Sunday 27th August; Stamford Bridge (London, England)
What a difference a win makes. Antonio Conte now cuts a much calmer, more relaxed figure following the win at Wembley over Tottenham – unless anyone in the same room dares to mention the word Costa, I imagine – with his team now apparently back on track to defend their Premier League crown.
As he looks to get hierarchy within the club to spend yet more money on new players, Everton are the latest obstacle to come across his radar and the next source of possible headlines and anger.
What a difference a £45m Icelandic Midfielder makes. Ronald Koeman too has a calm demeanour prior to the club’s final game before the upcoming international break. So far, so good seems to be the general verdict in the blue half of Merseyside, with Everton filling the potential that their investments and new signings have placed on their collective shoulder at this stage.
One of the last hurdles for Koeman to face in his team’s quest to push up the table is the results they pick up against the top sides. A trip to London could well be the start of a new dawn in this area too.
LAST TIME OUT
Tottenham 1 – 2 CHELSEA (Premiership)
A true backs-to-the-wall display from Chelsea helped them mastermind an unexpected win against their title rivals. It was almost the only tactic available to Conte after his squad has been ravaged by injuries, disciplinary problems and transfer dealings. It was also a tactic which came off perfectly for the Blues and left Tottenham to rue what could have been.
David Luiz was pushed into midfield to add solidity to their overall formation, something their threadbare selection left them sorely lacking. While the stats will show that Luiz only won 38% of the 29 duels he faced during the game, he provided an energetic display that was a real nuisance to the Tottenham game plan.
His 83% passing accuracy in a very cluttered part of the field should also be taken into context as many of the good parts of Chelsea’s organisation and execution of their plan was delivered through the performance of the centrally positioned Luiz.
Hajduk Split 1 – 1 EVERTON [agg 1 -3] (Europa League Qualifying Play-off – 2nd Leg)
The Toffees progressed into the group stages of the competition mainly due to the industry provided by their players on the night. The game will be forever remembered as the match which Gylfi Sigurðsson made his Everton debut and managed to score a goal 16 seconds into the second half which will surely receive many repeat viewings from most football fans.
What was perhaps more impressive than the fact that Sigurðsson meant exactly what he did, was the fact that the goal came at exactly the right time for Everton. After conceding to the Croatians just before half-time, they would be naturally buoyed as they re-entered the field of play after the interval only to have the wind quickly removed from the sails.
Following the goal, the crowd was significantly subdued and Everton went about closing up the shop and heading back to the Premiership with some footage for their end-of-season showreel.
Eden Hazard is the only player not expected to be match-fit for Chelsea this weekend, although Gary Cahill is unavailable as he continues to serve his suspension for the red card picked up in the opening game of the season. Cesc Fàbregas will be available again after his suspension for the two yellow card sending off has now been completed.
Ramiro Funes Mori (knee) Seamus Coleman (leg) and Yannick Bolasie (knee) Davy Klaassen (foot) James McCarthy (knee) and Ross Barkley (groin) will not be available for selection. Morgan Schneiderlin is also missing after being suspended following his red card in the game against Manchester City.
Key Battle: Cesc Fàbregas vs Gylfi Sigurðsson
This game will probably involve a midfield battle with both defences being the basis of their team’s respective game plans. In such a tight game, the creative force player becomes an increasingly important factor and the playmaker for each team will most likely hold the key to victory.
Cesc Fàbregas returns to the Chelsea squad after his out-of-character but deserved red card from the opening game. He has been pushed into a more important role within the team since Nemanja Matić’s departure, and a new way of playing for Chelsea is slowly evolving under Conte this year.
Sigurðsson is a player who needs little introduction following his much-publicised transfer to Everton and his stunning debut goal from all of 50 yards in the Europa League qualifier. Whichever of these players are afforded the most time on the ball is likely to be on the winning team and they will probably have something to do with their sides winning goal
A return to strength
Chelsea have some of the star players back and available for this fixture, while others like Bakayoko and possibly Morata too are nearing full fitness after a pre-season which left them behind the levels of others in their team.
While Antonio Conte has made it clear that he has every intention of seeing his Chelsea squad further bulked before the transfer window closes next week, the options available to him now will provide him much more scope to continue his development of Chelsea into a shape which he will expect to see them being competitive on several fronts this season.
The right tools for the job
Ronald Koeman has used four different starting formations in Everton’s last four competitive fixtures. While the Toffees are currently in the middle of a tough run of fixtures both in terms of the quantity and quality of the opposition they’re facing, Koeman is having to carefully manage the way he deploys his players throughout this fixture list.
It’s something that we all witnessed from Jose Mourinho at the end of last season when his side was faced with a congested fixture list. It’s also something which requires more than simply swapping like-for-like players and allows the manager to attack each game in a very unique and specialised way.
While this can leave the opposition guessing as to how they will line up against them, it appears to show that Koeman’s natural instinct at Everton is to use defensively minded formations against the more respected opponents.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 – 1 Everton
Chelsea will have the major advantage of coming into this game after a week to prepare, while Everton only arrived back into the country around 48 hours before kick-off. I expect it to be a tight and cagey affair between these two sides, with both managers setting up not to lose rather than to go for the jugular.
Chelsea should have enough to take a win from Koeman’s side and continue to shake off the ridiculous story’s of a Chelsea implosion which surfaced after one whole game of Premiership football.
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