Late Saturday afternoon, Chelsea make the trip to one side of Stanley Park to face Everton at Goodison Park in the Blues first look at the new Toffees. Over the past few seasons, Goodison has been a bit of a bogey ground, especially in the years since Jose Mourinho departed the club. Since his departure, Chelsea have recorded 2 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw against the Toffees, with all 6 matches being fairly tense affairs. Under the three years of Mourinho’s reign, Chelsea only dropped 2 points away from home against Everton.
However, times at Goodison have changed with the departure of longtime manager David Moyes for Manchester United. In his place is Roberto Martinez, the former Wigan manager and one of the more promising managers in the league, despite his win percentage at that club. Martinez, though, managed to rescue Wigan from relegation in three successive season and is now in a job where finishing closer to the top than the bottom has been a regular occurrence.
At Everton, as with most places, there has been an adjustment period to the new manager’s arrival with Everton having 3 draws from their first 3 matches. The lack of striking options has been a concern, and it will be interesting to see how Everton’s new signings gel into the squad, along with the squad adapting to the new passing rhythms from their new boss.
Chelsea, on the other hand, has not had such a period. Despite a bore draw at Old Trafford against United, which was a good point, the Blues have beaten Hull comfortably and ground out a win against a resilient Aston Villa side in the league. In addition, they took the European champions Bayern Munich to the brink of defeat, only to lose in penalties this time in the UEFA Super Cup.
Like Everton, new signings have come in, and it will be interesting to see how it affects Mourinho’s first 11 going forward. Perhaps we’ll get a taste of that on Saturday.
Under Roberto Martinez, a switch to a slicker style of play is under way.
Perhaps the biggest change under Roberto Martinez has been Everton’s transition to a shorter passing game from the more direct game that David Moyes brought to the club. Over the past seasons, it wasn’t as if Everton were really a long-ball team. However, they did play the ball rather quickly from back to front and relied more on their wide men to get crosses into the box. To facilitate that style of play, Marouane Fellaini was converted from a holding-style midfielder to a more advanced role as a second striker, sometimes target man, to supplement and eventually replace Tim Cahill, who was deployed in a similar way. Fellaini has departed to rejoin his new manager, and in steps James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, on loan, to strengthen the midfield in his absence.
That may actually prove to be a good move for the Toffees, with McCarthy able to provide a bit more energy in midfield and also allowing Ross Barkley, a more creative-type midfielder, to play in that advanced role behind the two strikers with the possibility that Leon Osman may play in that role, as well.
In addition, Seamus Coleman has been returned to his right back position, giving Martinez two attacking full backs in Leighton Baines and Coleman behind the two of three more inside-attacking wingers in Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar, and Gerard Deulofeu, who is on loan from Barcelona.
It’s given Martinez a more ball-playing side to play the types of short passes that he prefers to play, and with the addition of Gareth Barry, gives him the option of playing a 4-2-3-1 as the initial formation, but reverting to his tried and true three at the back since Gareth Barry started his career as a center back.
Expect Everton to attempt to come out and play at home to Chelsea, but not necessarily in the counterattacking/cautious way that David Moyes tended to set up his Everton teams. They were hard to beat, but much more direct in their play.
The clear danger man is Kevin Mirallas.
While Ross Barkley has finally gotten the opportunity to show that he’s quality at the Premier League level, it’s Kevin Mirallas that provides the biggest threat. Mirallas is the one player in that side that has established his ability to slice defenses open with his ability to run at the full back, create chances for others, and also score cutting in and running the channels.
The caveat to Mirallas’ game has always been, can he stay fit? He’s had a number of knocks and niggles over the past season that has kept him off the pitch, and Everton in his absence have struggled. Steven Pienaar on the opposite side is a capable creator, but doesn’t necessarily possess the scoring ability that Mirallas has from the right.
Mirallas’ contribution has been even more important given Everton’s struggles to find a consistent goal scorer over the past season, with both Nikica Jelevic and Victor Anichebe being less than convincing in the goal-scoring area.
Striking options are a huge concern for Everton going into this match.
As I mentioned, striker has been a huge concern for Everton over the past few years with no one really grabbing the chance to establish themselves as the main goalscoring threat. For that reason, Martinez brought in a player he was familiar with, Arouna Kone, to supplement his attack, and on deadline day, snapped up Romelu Lukaku on loan to replace the departed Anichebe.
The problem for Everton for this match is that Kone hasn’t quite made the impact that would see him start over Jelavic, and probably their most talented striker, Lukaku, can’t play against his parent club. This leads to the question, where do the goals come from?
Everton have scored just 2 goals in the league so far, both on the first day of the season, and have played to two 0-0 draws in their last two league matches. More worrying is that despite Jelavic’s goalscoring record from his first season at the club and his time at Rangers, he’s struggled over the past season to regain that form and his confidence seems to have waned. That doesn’t bode well for the Toffees, who are coming up against a Chelsea side who have conceded just once in the league and are displaying the kind of organization in defence that has been a staple of Jose Mourinho’s teams, but has been missing a bit over the past few years.
For Everton to win, they must get some sort of production out of Kone and Jelavic in the form of goals because given the matchups around the rest of the pitch, if they don’t score, it’s hard to see where the goals come from.
Will Sylvain Distin’s age and lack of pace catch up with him?
For many a season, Sylvain Distin has been a rock in central defence alongside his longtime partner, Phil Jagielka. However, Distin is now 35 and started to show signs towards the end of last season that quicker players could give him problems, specifically in one-on-one situations. neither Cardiff or West Brom had the player that could really threaten his lack of pace, Norwich were able to test him with new signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel and scored 2 goals as a consequence.
Against Chelsea, he will see the quickest group of players that he’s seen this season. Both Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o are decently quick, and any of the six behind him either have the pace or the quick feet and movement to give him trouble.
In addition, with the use of our striker to come deep to open up spaces for runners, Distin will also have to be aware of late runs from Ramires, who also isn’t lacking in pace, and Frank Lampard, who makes his runs intelligently.
In recent seasons, Jagielka has been able to cover for him quite well and he’s had the protection of two deeper midfielders as his shield. In Martinez’s style of building from the back, that lack of pace could be exposed more, forcing a decision on whether to play three at the back or not against tougher opposition.
How will the newest signings fit in?
After failing in his bid to sign Wayne Rooney, Mourinho turned his attention towards a more familiar face in Eto’o. At age 32, his biggest question mark is, obviously, is he still effective at the top level, having played for Anzhi for a couple of years? The interesting thing for me is that for all the question marks surrounding him, Eto’o still managed 9 goals in 16 Europa League appearances last season. Now, is that a barometer for success, especially given Torres’ record in Europa last season? Maybe not, but the one thing that Eto’o brings is the ability to play with the ball at his feet and link play better than either Demba Ba or Torres. I think he plays a significant role because Mourinho likes strikers that can play between the lines, but also score goals, a la Didier Drogba. Does Samuel Eto’o possess the pace and strength he once had? That remains to be seen.
The other signing is Willian, who we all saw a lot of during our meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk. Willian is a skillful player who runs at defenders, but he’s mostly known for creating goals rather than scoring them. However, he’s very quick on the counterattack and is much more comfortable playing on that right side than either Kevin De Bruyne or Andre Schurrle. Mourinho’s other alternative is Juan Mata, though I think his propensity for slower build-up play and his relative difficulty in a quick counterattacking style means that he’ll be saved for certain matches.
I’m not sure we see either of these signings start on Saturday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both are in the squad from the start, either.