For various reasons and most notably the long-term injury to Arjen Robben, Chelsea’s visit to Everton this weekend will be one of their most important games of the season. Despite a nine point lead at the top of the table the Blues need a result to silence the long queue of critics pointing at their goalless draw with Manchester City as evidence that they cannot get by without the flying Dutchman.
Indeed the meeting of the sides at Stamford Bridge in November illustrates the point in that only a superb Robben goal separated the sides following a disjointed Chelsea display. Manchester United will no doubt be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a second successive slip from Chelsea and Jose Mourinho’s side will need to show more of the character so evident this season.
Crucial to the final stages of Chelsea’s season will be their creative players. John Terry’s defence is as watertight as any in Europe and shows no signs of any dip in form. However Chelsea’s blunt performance against City last weekend showed that the likes of Joe Cole and Eidur Gudjohnsen must raise their game if the team is to make sure of its first title in fifty years.
Joe Cole in particular must begin to show exactly what Claudio Ranieri paid £6 million for. Undoubtedly over hyped since a young age, the former West Ham player has seemed a peripheral figure at times at Chelsea this season. Constant reminders from Mourinho regarding his defensive responsibilities have been met with obvious effort from Cole though his substitution at Blackburn two weeks ago publicly displayed his frustration at his recent form. With Robben injured, Cole has the opportunity to finally deliver on the vast promise he possesses and a few goals and assists at this critical stage of the season could be just the tonic he needs to revitalise his meandering career.
Gudjohnsen likewise has come in for criticism of late and must raise his game this weekend. Staying onside would help the Iceland international who in fairness has not recently received the service he enjoyed before Christmas. At this time of year however he will need to bury even the slightest of openings particularly in games such as Everton away.
David Moyes’ side is caught in something of a paradox; not knowing whether to look up or down the table. A win against Chelsea would put them within three points of third placed Arsenal, however the Merseysiders are more concerned with goings on below them in the table. Local rivals Liverpool are now only five points behind the Toffees in what is becoming an intriguing battle for the fourth Champions League place.
Everton will need to improve on their showing at Southampton last weekend when only a last gasp Marcus Bent goal saved them from an embarrassing defeat and he and James Beattie will be crucial to Everton’s efforts to live with the league leaders who will be looking to chalk up their tenth consecutive clean sheet in the league. Should they manage it, they ought to win, as even without Robben it is hard to imagine Chelsea failing to score once again.