ALL EYES ON AVRAM

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Jan 7th, 2008

Cup time again for Chelsea this Tuesday night, and after edging past billionaire neighbours QPR in the FA Cup, it’s Everton’s turn next to try to knock us out of an English cup competition for the first time since we lost to their Merseyside rivals Liverpool almost three years ago. That too was a semi-final, but we meet Everton in the League Cup, a competition we have won three times in the last ten years, and the Toffees travel to Stamford Bridge on the back of a major cup upset, an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to League 1 Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup. With David Moyes’ men probably still shell-shocked from their early exit, the first leg of this League Cup tie could see The Blues take advantage, and hopefully we will be on our way to Wembley once again.With the prospect of a youthful line-up against QPR never really materialising, expect a similar line-up to the side which Avram Grant put out on Saturday. Along with the well-publicised injuries we have, a handful of big names will also miss out because of the African Cup of Nations. Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba (both Ivory Coast), and Michael Essien (Ghana) must report for their respective countries’ training camps and are therefore unavailable for selection.

However, tenacious midfielder John Obi Mikel has been given permission to postpone his departure to the Nigerian squad along with Everton’s defender Joseph Yobo and their record signing, the dangerous striker Yakubu Ayegbeni. Nigeria boss Berti Vogts has ensured that he is in both managers good books by allowing them to play in the semi-final, and as Chelsea would probably have had to replace Mikel with the (to put it kindly) out-of-form Steve Sidwell, I think we all owe Berti! I know who I am now backing in the tournament in Ghana anyway.

Everton will be without Steven Pienaar however, as he is needed immediately by South Africa, while Leon Osman is out with a long-term injury. David Moyes was resting captain Phil Neville and first-choice ‘keeper Tim Howard for the Oldham tie so expect both to return.

Last season we were very fortunate as the semi-final draw pitted us against League Two Wycombe Wanderers. After making hard work of the first-leg and drawing 1-1 (with our goal coming from stand-in left winger Wayne Bridge) we saw the lower-league side off at the Bridge with an emphatic 4-0 win.

But earlier this season we played Everton at home back in November, and after looking the better side, and leading through a Didier Drogba goal, Tim Cahill ruined our day with a last minute bicycle kick to equalise. We have to go one better this time around, and make our chances count. After a dour win over QPR, improvement will be needed to knock out Everton. A first leg played at home gives us a chance to take a huge step towards another Wembley date, lets hope that by the 90th minute, it’s advantage Chelsea.

Prediction: Everton will have a point to prove to their fans after the humiliating defeat to Oldham but Avram knows that all eyes are on him in any big game. The Toffees will play well but we will take a two-goal lead to Goodison Park and the second-leg. 2-0 with a late-ish goal.

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