A team stuck in transition, creating little and resorting to lacklustre long-range attempts instead; struggling to qualify for the Champions League and out of the title race by February; Fernando Torres misfiring up-front. It’s, frustratingly, becoming a lot like watching Liverpool at the moment. Perhaps fittingly then, it’s their rivals from across Stanley Park, Everton, who are up next for a Chelsea side looking to escape their latest ‘difficult moment’ and progress to the next round of the FA Cup.
Stamford Bridge hosts the fourth round replay following a disappointing 1-1 draw at Everton back at the end of January. Following that game, Chelsea managed an impressive 4-2 win against Sunderland before losing against Liverpool and playing out a drab 0-0 at Fulham on Monday.
Everton, meanwhile, have been almost as bad, losing 1-2 against Arsenal before squeaking past Blackpool 5-3 in a match which could have gone either way. Most recently, David Moyes saw his side surrender against Bolton, going down 0-2 in a defeat which the fiery Scot labelled one of Everton’s worst in recent seasons.
Chelsea will be buoyed by the news that Everton are missing a couple of key players ahead of the match, with rumoured Blues target Jack Rodwell injured following his display for the England U21s. Louis Saha, who invariably scores when he plays against Chelsea, is a major doubt. Tim Cahill will return to the starting line-up for only the second time following his return from Qatar’s Asian Cup, where he participated for Australia.
Carlo Ancelotti will be able to put his striker selection headache to one side this weekend, with Torres cup-tied, so Didier Drogba should return from his spell on the bench to headline Chelsea’s attack. Yuri Zhirkov and José Bosingwa are back in training, but neither should feature against Everton.
Chelsea have a sketchy record of late against Everton, only winning one game of the last seven played. Two 1-1 draws so far this season followed a 1-2 defeat and a 3-3 thriller in the last campaign, while the solitary victory came, of course, at Wembley in May 2009, when Saha (inevitably) scored an opener, only for Drogba and Frank Lampard to turn the game on its head and clinch the FA Cup for the London side.
In the 2005/06 season, Everton held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park in an FA Cup Fourth Round tie. The subsequent replay saw the Blues thump the visitors 4-1, with goals from Arjen Robben, a penalty from Lampard, Hernan Crespo and John Terry, while Mikel Arteta added a spot-kick of his own to send Everton home with at least some credit.
After Monday’s draw against Fulham, even the optimists are now looking forward to next season’s Premier League campaign rather than holding out hope for the trophy this May. However, the FA Cup still presents a realistic opportunity for silverware, and the Blues recent strong record in the competition should see the holders through to the fifth round. The Champions League returns on Tuesday for Chelsea; these two tournaments are quite clearly the priority now.