Chelsea v Everton | Saturday 16 January | Stamford Bridge | 17:00
Premier League Champions Chelsea will welcome Everton to Stamford Bridge on Saturday in what should be a thrilling encounter. The Toffees won the reverse fixture 3-1 at Goodison Park, while the Blues won the corresponding fixture 1-0 last season. These sides also played to a nine-goal thriller last season with Chelsea winning 6-3 in what was later voted the game of the season.
To Win (90 Mins)
Guus Hiddink’s side come into the clash unbeaten in six matches in all competitions with three wins, including three clean sheets. Despite his side being held to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday evening, Hiddink still looks to have turned things around at the club with the Blues beginning to look like a real team again.
Following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Chelsea came out with a convincing 3-1 victory over Sunderland with boos echoing around Stamford Bridge with anger directed at players who cost 'The Special One' his job. The game followed with an unlucky 2-2 draw at home to Watford, with Oscar slipping before taking his penalty that would have ensured a vital victory. Hiddink’s side then travelled to Old Trafford without Cesc Fabregas (sick) and Diego Costa (suspended) in their goalless draw against Manchester United. The Blues then got 2016 off to the perfect start by beating Crystal Palace 3-0 in what was undoubtedly their best performance to date. The players were solid as a defensive unit and deadly on the attack, with the pair of Fabregas and Costa arguably their most impressive performers, while the previous boos turned to loud roars. Chelsea then eased to a 2-0 win over Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup. The result was sealed when 19-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek – a half-time substitute – netted his first senior goal for the club. Their last outing was a slight blemish on their impressive run of form. Having taken the lead twice in their game against West Brom, the Blues will be rather annoyed that they twice let their advantage slip.
Despite the recent blimp, It’s fair to say that Chelsea are back. Diego Costa, who was guilty of not giving 100% for Mourinho, has been one of Hiddink’s best performers. The Spain international has scored four goals in his last three appearances to suggest his early-season malaise might just be behind him. He looks sharp, more direct than usual and isn’t getting drawn into any ugly confrontations. Costa caused the Everton defence all kinds of problems last season, scoring a brace in Chelsea’s 6-3 victory – containing him will be extremely difficult. Eden Hazard remains a doubt with a groin injury, but the trio of Oscar, Willian and Pedro have all been in top form.
Everton are unbeaten in four matches with two wins and two draws. Their last league match saw them earn a vital point in a 1-1 away draw at Manchester City.
The Toffees are unbeaten in five league matches on the road, but have managed just one victory in that run. The victory came against a struggling Newcastle outfit. Their last defeat away from home came at the Emirates in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal back in October.
Like Chelsea, they’ve only won six times this season and Roberto Martinez will be hoping to leave the Bridge with maximum points. They know they’ll face a much different Chelsea to the one that rolled over in their 3-1 win at home. Chelsea look rejuvenated under the guidance of Hiddink and the champions will come out with vengeance on their minds.
The Toffees play an exciting flexible style of football, adept at pressing high up on the pitch and also sit deep if need be and catch teams on the counter with ruthless efficiency. They work extremely hard and have a boundless energy which is capable of overwhelming opponents. Ross Barkley runs the show in midfield with his quick feet and fantastic dribbling skills. He can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds and has the ability to create something out of nothing. Barkley brings creativity and invention to Martinez’s side and he could be a nuisance for Hiddink’s men on Saturday.
Up front, Romelu Lukaku will be looking to make his former club pay for not giving him the chance to lead their frontline. The powerful Belgian striker is the top scorer in the league – along with Jamie Vardy – on 15 goals and he’d love nothing more than to add to his tally on Saturday.
Everton will be hoping Hazard doesn’t recover in time with right back Seamus Coleman ruled out with a calf injury. Replacing him is going to be a big test for Martinez. Youngster Tyias Browning, who deputised well for Coleman earlier in the campaign, is recovering after surgery while veteran Tony Hibbert is also a long-term absentee.
Verdict: Chelsea 7/10
Chelsea are in good form since the arrival of Hiddink and their superb home record against Everton bodes well for their chances. The Toffees have failed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 24 attempts with the London club victorious on 13 occasions, including four on the spin. I’m going for the League Champions at 7/10.
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