After the gritty wins against West Ham and Wigan comes the festive period’s stand-out toffees fixture as Chelsea and their portly new boss Rafael Benitez waddle down to L4.
The Spaniard is a known tactical schemer and will have had our strategy studiously examined for potential gains with the same meticulous detail he would regularly scrutinise the All you can eat buffet menu in Tsos during his time on Merseyside.
The Spaniard’s petty jibes at us down the years were designed to ingratiate himself to the Anfield faithful which funnily enough is the same reason for the level of hostility he has received from the Chelsea faithful since docking in West London. Initially four points from the top spot when he arrived, they are now 11 points adrift but after a few wins in the past week look to be coming into some form…
Chelsea’s side will be something like a 4-2-3-1 with Cech in goal and a defence consisting of Azpilicueta, Cole, Ivanovic and Cahill. As with any Benitez side they have shipped few goals with 4 clean sheets in 6 in the league since his arrival. An example of the portly Spaniard’s attention to detail in tracking runs and at set plays is below….
Predicting their midfield setup will be much trickier. David Luiz has started there lately and although Mikel partnered him against Norwich on Boxing Day I fancy Lampard’s experience will see him preferred for this one.
“Hazard has won 45 fouls, second only to Pienaar in the ‘most fouled’ stakes in the Premier League”
Both Lampard and Luiz prefer to push forward which could give us an area to exploit. In the advanced midfielder slots its anyone’s guess but I’d go for Mata central, Hazard left and Moses right although the trio can all interchange so don’t be surprised to see them popping up here, there and everywhere. The trio all bring something to the table offensively. Mata is the league’s chief creator with 7 assists whilst Hazard has won 45 fouls, second only to Pienaar in the ‘most fouled’ stakes. Moses is impish and direct, will look to dribble and basically be a pain in the arse to defend against.
Up front, ‘Nando’ Torres hit 17 shots on target in 17 games under previous boss Roberto Di Matteo this season, compared to 16 in the first 5 games under Benitez. Clearly they are getting the ball forward quicker and more regularly to the striker who is thriving off the service with his excellent goal against Villa last week a decent example. This should all be countered by the fact that Jagielka usually does very well against the forward.
If the Wigan game showed us anything it was that placing Osman as close to the Baines/Pienaar axis is crucial to instigate pint sized mayhem. In the first half, stranded on the right flank, Osman was peripheral whilst in the second period when he switched to the centre he was afforded more space to instigate his trademark shimmies on the edge of the box and was positioned closer to link up with Baines and Pienaar. It was no coincidence that this resulted in our most fluid period of the game after the interval. For this reason I’d start him centrally alongside Gibson if the Irishman is fit to start after his red card was rescinded earlier today. Naismith will most probably come in on the right flank with Coleman still sidelined due to injury. Otherwise it’s probably going to be a similar 4-4-2 with Jelavic and Anichebe up front.
Moyes record against Benitez at Goodison isn’t as bad as you’d think, winning 3 and losing 4 of the seven games at L4. All 3 wins were secured with clean sheets, something we are incapable of doing this season. Most of the matches between the duo have been cagey affairs with both bosses liking to tweak to negate the threat of the other and the game promises to be a tight, tactical joust.
Betting wise, we’ve won our last three at home in the league against Chelsea and have only lost at home twice in 2012. Given their resurgence and the attacking personnel we have missing I’m going for a 1-1 draw, best offered at 6/1 by Ladbrokes. I’d stretch this a bit by looking at Chelsea to score first (probably Mata) and for us to come from behind, after all we’ve recouped 17 points from losing situations this season, only bettered by Taggart’s mob (24). You can get 9/2 on Everton to come from behind to either draw or win with Ladbrokes. The both teams to score option is as usual the ‘dead cert’ choice for our games; Chelsea have scored at least one goal in 89% of their away matches and we have scored in every home game and not kept a clean sheet at Goodison since the first day of the season.