After a small break from writing over Christmas, I return to take a look at Chelsea’s trip on Sunday to Goodison Park, a place that hasn’t always been very kind to us over the years. Chelsea head there looking to consolidate their hold on third position in the table, having a three point lead over the Toffees with a game in hand at the midway point of this season.
Three points would be vital to cementing the gap between the race for third and fourth, while also ensuring that the Blues take another step towards keeping the pressure on the teams above them by not dropping points during the crucial festive period.
For this match, Chelsea will still be missing the services of captain John Terry, but Ramires should be available after missing the 1-0 win over Norwich with a knee problem. Everton have a bit more concerns with injuries and suspensions, missing Tony Hibbert and Kevin Mirallas definitely and Seamus Coleman and Darron Gibson possibly. The biggest absence, perhaps, is the suspension of Marouane Fellaini from his red card against Stoke.
First point: This is a David Moyes side. It will not be easy.
Everton are good enough to be a top four team this season easily. With the drop off in play of Arsenal and the inconsistency of Tottenham, fourth place is there for the taking if someone wants to grab it. This season, Moyes may have assembled a team that has a bit of depth to it. That’s been his major problem in past seasons. He’s always had teams whose first 11’s were very good. The problem with Everton was once you got into their squad, the players weren’t quite up to the required standard.
That’s not really his problem, though. Everton aren’t in a financial position to buy players like Ramires and Oscar and rotate them on and off the bench when needed. For that, Moyes must be applauded because he’s had his team consistently in the top six or seven without a budget that you could argue really warranted that spot. Now how does he do it?
Simply put, his teams know how to play football, they know how to control tempo, and they know how to make it very hard for you to impose your style on them. If you look at Everton’s side, they are a team that can play physical, but they can also play a counter game, and they can pass it around. They are very good at adapting to the conditions of the match and figuring out exactly what’s going on out there.
The second major factor is that his teams work extremely hard to maximize every last ounce of effort that they can. One thing Moyes’ teams have always epitomized is the “willing to run through walls for the manager” mentality. While talented footballers, the big thing that separates them is their willingness to also work as hard as they can to maximize their talent and stay in the match mentally.
That combination has made them a real thorn in the side of the top teams, and the only time it’s failed him in results is when he hasn’t quite had the overall squad to deal with injuries and such.
This squad will now be tested on the injury front and the suspension front.
Make no mistake about it. Everton are going to miss Fellaini in this match. Against Wigan, his absence was felt, but they still got a result. Against Chelsea, Fellaini’s abilities will be missed against a side that will have ball players all over the park.
The two big things about Fellaini are the two things that epitomize the type of player Moyes loves. He’s a big, strong guy, but he’s got great skill to his game. It’s the combination of the two that’s allowed him to play striker, attacking midfielder, or holding midfielder, despite his natural position being the latter. The biggest miss will not necessarily be his threat on set pieces or his ability to unlock a defence. The biggest miss will be his ability to come deep and break up play, and then pick the pass that gets the ball out of danger and into a position where Everton can counter. Against the likes of Juan Mata, Victor Moses, and Eden Hazard, that type of player is vital.
Further on the injury list, Kevin Mirallas’ absence is also a big one.
Most of Everton’s creativity in recent years has come from the abilities of their wide men. The likes of Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, and Seamus Coleman have been the main creative hubs for the team, though Mikel Arteta did have a say in things before he left for the south of England.
However, while the three above have different abilities: Pienaar with a bit of craftiness on the ball, Osman with his ability to cross and put in a shift, Coleman with his ability to beat a man for pace, none of the above quite offered that little bit of trickery that, when fit, Kevin Mirallas has offered this season.
Mirallas has been a fantastic buy in that he can play as a tricky winger, but he also offers depth at the center forward position. The problem with Mirallas is keeping him fit, as he’s missed a number of matches due to injury or been subbed off because of one. I think what epitomises Mirallas was this season’s Merseyside derby. He absolutely roasted poor Andre Wisdom for the first 45 minutes down the right side. Then he picked up a knee problem and went off. Liverpool turned it on in the second half.
Nikica Jelevic: The ultimate goal poacher.
Jelevic is an absolutely fantastic study for me because he literally does nothing but score goals. I’ve always found the role of goal poacher an interesting one because in the modern game, I’ve been a proponent that your striker should contribute something more to the overall play besides just poking the ball home from inside 18 yards.
Well, that’s what Jelevic does, and he’s very good at it. However, this season has been a bit of a struggle for him because he’s not gotten the goal ratio that he’s accustomed to getting. In addition, he’s been caught offside a lot more this season from positions where either the opposition’s defence outwitted him and stepped out, or he simply wandered offside for no apparent reason.
Because of his form this season, the enigmatic Victor Anichibe has gotten another lease on life at Everton and has contributed 4 goals in all competitions this year to Jelevic’s 6. Expect both to play Sunday, especially in the absence of Fellaini.
Beware the Goodison Park factor.
Goodison Park has not been kind to us over the last few seasons. We haven’t won there in four matches and have lost the three. That’s not a comforting sign, as Goodison is one of the grounds that have seen the demise of one or two managers, such as Andre Villas-Boas last season. Rafa Benitez should be well aware of the surroundings and the atmosphere from his time at Liverpool, and the players should be as well.
Credit to the Everton supporters; they create an atmosphere that’s every bit as hostile as any ground in Europe, and they’re right on top of the pitch as well. Three points at Goodison will be a great boost to the team, especially given Chelsea’s recent run of form.