The biggest challenge of Roberto Martinez brief toffee reign presents itself this weekend in the shape of Jose Mourinho, previously known as The Special One.
The Portuguese began a careful re-positioning exercise earlier this year designed to reinvent himself as ‘the happy one’ or ‘the humble one’.
In reality he hasn’t changed much, he has just developed new and more under the radar skills to avoid detection. A bit like Noel Edmonds with Operation Yewtree.
Equally, he is a still chief exponent of condescending praise when he has won, and tiresome, bitter sourness when he doesn’t get his own way. When the heat is on, as it was recently against old foe Guardiola – someone he rarely gets the better of – Mourinho showed he is still as bad a loser as ever.
That said, he remains the best manager in world football and as a professional in his trade is top dog, with his 71% win ratio in the Premier League still the benchmark for others to aspire to.
Perhaps the evil genius would be a more accurate description.
His diligence and ability to exploit opponents weakness both in the dugout and out on the pitch, whilst maximising his own playing staff to its full potential, is ruthless. This was evident in his cunning operation over the summer to de-stabilise Manchester United with his hoax pursuit of Wayne Rooney.
In terms of this weekend’s game, Mourinho will care little if we look to control possession as we have done in the opening fixtures.
Infact I believe he will look to exploit this with his selection.
En route to his second Champions League title his side famously overcame a Barca possession barrage of 76%, making 600 fewer passes with only ten men to make it through to the final.
He will look at quick transitions as the best way of turning us over. Whilst he inherited a superb squad it was perhaps lacking in counter attacking speed. This has been reflected in his retention of De Bruyne and the acquisitions of Schurle and Willian.
Is there an area we can look to exploit? That’s a trickier question as his squad has so few weak links.
Last season Moyes targeted Azpilicueta’s aerial deficiencies at right back, sticking Anichebe on the left wing and playing diagonals onto the Spaniard for Anichebe to win and then hoover up the second balls in dangerous areas. Noticeably Azpilicueta has been on the fringes of things since Mourinho returned to high office.
I think the likely central defensive axis of Cahill and Terry is a tad too immobile and susceptible to decent movement in the alleys between their fullbacks. I also think we will get more space to operate in comparison to our initial 4 games against more limited operatives who have been happy to retain shape and defend en masse. Chelsea midfielder’s are generally more offensive and less nimble and streetwise going back towards their own goal. Mourinho’s sides aren’t all out attack but they do have a more fluid shape which should give us room to exploit.
- Possession based game and will look to rest in possession to retain energy levels rather than press. Off the ball there isn’t much of a pressing game, in fact Chelsea have regained possession fewer times than anyone so far this season
- For dead balls, Lampard will predominantly take the lot although Mata can sometimes get involved. Ivanovic will be the main target and along with Terry and Cahill.
- Injury wise, Oscar / Luiz have been on their travels to South America and Hazard has a slight Achilles injury but all should be fit to take part. Willian, Mata and Torres have enjoyed a two week break and would therefore appear good shouts to figure at the top end of the pitch.
- Chelsea had the better of us last season edging both games 2-1 after the score had been 1-1 at half time. Chelsea’s early form has been good with 7 points from 9 games although they did lose the super cup on pens last time out.
Line-up Appraisal (4-2-3-1)
Petr Cech – Reliable keeper who has won the lot at club level. An excellent shot stopper who can come and claim the ball from crosses better than any of his peers in the league. In terms of playing the ball out he is ok although Howard last season distributed more accurately and to a greater distance. Last season Cech made 1.85 saves to every goal, which was fewer than Howard (2.08) but crucially Cech made nearly twice as few errors.
Brainslav Ivanovic – Balding but ruthless defender who can play on the right or centre. Great aerial option in both boxes and will get under forwards skin. Terry’s return to automatic selection status has firmly ensconced him at right back this season.
Gary Cahill – Sheffield born jarhead who has been on the winning side in 2 of our last 3 L4 defeats, and scored the winner for Bolton last year. Very right footed which forces Jagielka to play on the left when the duo link up for England. Good covering defender and ideally matched to a more aggressive accomplice like Terry. More intelligent than people give him credit for.
John Terry – The benchmark for any aspiring football gobshite, ‘JT’ – as he is known by fellow biffs – is still a commanding presence and is great at sniffing out danger and plugging holes. Less mobile than he once was and susceptible to pace in behind. The kind of bloke who bullied kids at school but now wears a NERD t-shirt cos its ace.
Ashley Cole – Morally repugnant but highly decorated left back. Few weak points to his game; is a good tackler, is positionally spot on and whilst not as good in the final third as Baines, he is still a useful forward outlet.
Frank Lampard – All round midfielder whose goal scoring record and general productivity against us is ridiculously good with 9 goals and 5 assists in 34 games against us. Will look to drive forward into the space created by the three attacking midfielders and get on the end of things in the final third, as he did with the two goals that sunk us last season.
Ramires – Played on the right last season to negate the threat of Baines and did this to good effect, also teeing up Lampard for one of his goals. Given Mourinho’s early selections he is more likely to play as a DM in this one. Not great on the ball particularly in switching play and is more suited to driving forward.
Eden Hazard – Quick footed midfielder who is equally competent with either foot and who can glide anywhere across the attacking mid slots. Will probably start on the left but can drop off and create space for the deeper midfielders. Less adept at the defensive phase of play and was anonymous at Goodison last season before being subbed. Hazard did miss the Scotland game but is expected to be fit.
Kevin De Bruyne – Very direct Belgian right sided midfielder who will shoot on sight given the opportunity and is adept with either foot. Very good in transitions and providing precision service to forwards.
Juan Mata – Cute and intelligent left footed midfield schemer who can do serious damage if you let him. Equally comfortable in scoring goals as creating them but has been suffering from injuries over the summer hence his limited game time thus far under Mourinho. Given that he hasn’t been on international duty he could come into play in this fixture ahead of Oscar who has been over in Brazil.
Fernando Torres – Has been deployed in the false striker role in recent games at Goodison with repeatedly anonymous displays. Particularly spineless in his recent outings at our place with no goals in his last five starts at L4. He has been booked against Everton (8) more times than any club in his career – a figure double the amount of goals he’s scored against us.
EB Verdict: I fancy this to be a tight affair. Chelsea are the only side to beat us at Goodison in 18 months, but both games were incredibly tight last season. With no goals conceded in just under 10 hours at Goodison its hard to see us getting rolled by anyone, but Chelsea are bubbling along nicely this season and therefore I’m going for honours to be even. 1-1.