EVERTON

v

CHELSEA

LIVE from Goodison Park, Liverpool

December 30, 2012; 13;30 GMT

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Chelsea will travel to Merseyside on Sunday to take on an Everton side that’s high on confidence and unbeaten at home this season; with both teams fighting to cement a place in the top four, this fixture becomes all the more important. Chelsea haven’t won at Goodison Park in four years, but Rafa Benitez has won five of the six games against Everton, so the match on Sunday is delicately poised. One thing is certain though; the home fans wouldn’t fail to remind Benitez of his Liverpool days, but boos seldom affect him, as he has proven during his short stint at Chelsea.

Unbeaten in seven games in the Premier League, Everton have recently drawn games against the likes of Man City and Arsenal while defeating Tottenham and this is their best start to a league campaign after 2004-05 season. Everton are known to start poorly and finish strongly, season after season, but such a resounding start have raised the hopes in the blue half of Merseyside of Champions League qualification. That, coupled with their recent impeccable home record against Chelsea, tilt the odds slightly in their favor for the game on Sunday.

After being knocked out of Champions League and seeing their league campaign derail in November, Chelsea have started to steady the ship. The loss to West Ham has been followed with impressive wins, albeit against slightly weaker opposition, but the swagger is back and more importantly, the European champions aren’t leaking goals left, right and centre anymore. Chelsea will look to bank on their interim manager’s experience of competing with and prevailing over David Moyes’ side during his tenure at Liverpool.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Everton

Marouane Fellaini, Everton’s standout performer of the season, will serve the last of his three match suspension for violent conduct against Stoke City, but Darren Gibson is available again after winning an appeal following his red card against West Ham. He is said to be struggling with a thigh strain and a late fitness test would be conducted to gauge his fitness. Tony Hibbert and Kevin Mirallas remain sidelined due to injuries, while Seamus Coleman may shake off a minor problem to take field against Chelsea.

David Moyes will line his team up in a 4-4-2 system, with misfiring Jelavic and Anichebe leading the line. Gibson and Hitzlsperger are expected to start in central midfield, flanked by Pienaar and Osman on the wings. The back-four will consist of Baines, Distin, Jagielka, and Neville, with Howard in goal.

In the absence of Fellaini, also Everton’s top scorer this season, the home team may not be able to dominate the central midfield as they could have, so will rely on the prowess of Leighton Baines on their left flank. Most of their attack is channeled through the left flank,  and Moyes will hope that Benitez doesn’t start Moses, who offers the most defensively. Despite starting as a left-back, Baines has created the most number of chances in the league and is arguably the most potent weapon in Everton’s arsenal. His positioning on the left, link-up play with Pienaar and overlapping runs from the deep, and how their potential opponents – Moses and Azpilicueta – cope with him may decide the fate of this tie.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Howard; Baines, Distin, Jagielka, Neville; Gibson, Hitzlsperger, Pienaar, Osman; Jelavic, Anichebe

Chelsea

John Terry, Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu aren’t available for selection, but Ramires is expected to shake off a minor injury before the match. Daniel Sturridge could again be left out of the squad in the face of his impending move to Liverpool.

Rafa Benitez is likely to continue with the David Luiz experiment in the double pivot of his favored 4-2-3-1 formation, which would see the back-four of Cole, Cahill, Ivanovic, and Azpilicueta being retained in front of Cech. Benitez is again expected to resist starting Oscar, Mata and Hazard together, as securing the right flank and lending balance to the side should be high on the agenda. Fernando Torres will continue to lead the line for Chelsea.

Chelsea should look to fully capitalize on the absence of Fellaini, who could have put some serious pressure on the somewhat unsettled midfield combination. David Luiz, for all his technical qualities, tends to occasionally lose the ball while attempting something audacious and the Belgian would have seriously put his reputation to test, had he been available. His absence is a major blow for the Toffees, so if Benitez is able to carve out a strategy to restrict the movement and involvement of Baines on Everton’s left, Chelsea will be better placed to secure a favorable result this Sunday.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):  Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Mikel, Luiz; Hazard, Mata, Moses; Torres

Key Facts

  1. Everton are undefeated in their last 13 home matches in the Premier League.
  2. Chelsea have won their last 3 matches in the Premier League.
  3. Chelsea haven’t won a game at Goodison Park since April 2008, losing on their last three trips to Everton in the league.
  4. Everton are unbeaten in 13 home games, their last defeat coming at the hands of Arsenal in March. ( Facts courtesy Whoscored.com and BBC Football )

Player To Watch Out For

Juan Mata (Chelsea)

Juan Mata has been absolutely phenomenal ever since Roberto di Matteo did the right thing by giving him an extended break  around October. He has scored or assisted 14 goals in 16 Premier League appearances this season, and is the joint top scorer for Chelsea. Against a solid Everton side, his set-pieces, movement, creativity and link-up play especially with Eden Hazard may determine his team’s fortunes.

Prediction

Everton 1-2 Chelsea

Incentive is there for both teams to push for a win. While Chelsea will try to close the gap at the top with a first victory at Goodison Park in four years, Everton will look to win their forth consecutive game at home against the Londoners. Eventually, the absence of Marouane Fellaini in midfield may just tilt the balance in Chelsea’s favor.

Blast From The Past