Off the back of a morale boosting victory at Wembley over Tottenham, we return to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to host Everton.
This fixture has historically been one of our most successful home matches. Everton have not recorded a victory against us at Stamford Bridge in 22 matches. A Paul Rideout strike in their 0-1 victory against us at the Bridge in 1994 being their last three point away haul against Chelsea. Combine that with 70 Chelsea victories in 177 matches between the sides, more than we have recorded against any other side, and two convincing league wins last season (5-0 at home, 0-3 away) and things look very positive for us. Indeed five of our last six home matches against them have seen us record victories. The last two meetings at Stamford Bridge have produced goals aplenty, with the aforementioned 5-0 rout last season seeing us tear them apart in wide areas, as Koeman attempted to use a back three, but wingbacks Coleman and Oviedo were overwhelmed by not only Hazard (2 goals) and Pedro (1 goal), but were afforded little support in dealing with the overlapping Moses and Alonso, who netted his first goal for Chelsea. A tough looking away match at Goodison Park in our title run-in was made to look anything but as we cruised to an impressive 0-3 win. Cahill, Pedro, and substitute Willian with the goals. The last two fixtures at Stamford Bridge have both been high scoring affairs, as preceding the 5-0 win of last season was a 3-3 draw in 15/16. Draws have not been out of the ordinary in the recent passed in matches between these two sides at Stamford Bridge. Six of the last eleven have ended that way, including a second 3-3 tie in 09/10. This is a high percentage given that their have only been 12 draws in 78 meetings at Stamford Bridge, meaning 50% of all draws at the bridge have been seen in the last eleven years. As the first match between the sides was here in 1907, and we have played each other pretty regularly since then, it shows how tightly fought recent matches between the sides have been. Especially when you consider our poor record at Goodison Park.
Statistics and previous results aside, this promises to be a tight encounter. Everton have started well, with a 1-0 home win over Stoke City, and a 1-1 draw away at Manchester City. The returning Wayne Rooney with both their goals. Koeman has begun with a back three so far, with Keane, recruited from Burnley after impressing last season, joined by last seasons defensive pairing of Jagielka and Williams. Whether he will opt for the 3-5-2 that we comprehensively took apart here last season, or a 3-4-3 will be an interesting point to look for tactically. Indeed the same question relating to these two systems can be asked about ourselves. The opening day defeat at home to Burnley saw the usual 3-4-3 employed from the off, (all be it for only 13 minutes till we went down to 10 men) while the away victory at Tottenham saw a 3-5-2 formation utilised. Perhaps this was more to do with the players available at the time, but with more options now than for both matches played so far Conte may be tempted by the 3-5-2 from the beginning again. Fabregas will return from suspension, and with Bakayoko now fit, Conte has his first decision to make with regards to these three. Will we see these two and Kante together in a three man central midfield? It is an exciting prospect. Cahill will also return, but Andreas Christensen is one to keep an eye on. Quite possibly the future of our defence, he impressed in the win over Tottenham, and deserves to remain in the first team squad.
If Everton do field a 3-5-2 as last season, and as they did on Monday against Manchester City, Conte would surely look to repeat last season tactics of exposing them in wide areas with the 3-4-3 system. Baines wasn’t available last season, but is this time round, which could change matters, and right wingback Holgate also didn’t feature before. What will be key though are not the individuals drafted into to these positions, it will be whether they are offered sufficient cover to deal with Moses and Alonso joining our attacks. With both roaming free for the most part in this fixture last season, Everton’s defence simply didn’t have enough players to cover the necessary areas. Koeman will need to tend to this to avoid defeat again. Possibly Calvert-Lewin will be asked to track back wide, along with one of their central midfielders coming out on the opposite side of the pitch. Even if this is done, it will be hard for them to prevent Luiz or Rudiger from playing out from the back, or indeed advancing forward if Rooney is left as their only ‘defender’ in our half of the pitch.
An intriguing tactical battle lies ahead.