Chelsea FC host a strong Everton side that have thus far flattered to deceive in the Premier League, with both the hosts and the visitors looking to climb up into the top half of the table

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Since the arrival of interim manager Guus Hiddink, Chelsea FC have drawn both of their home games 2-2 — against Watford and West Bromwich Albion respectively — and will be looking to get their first home win under the Dutchman on Saturday, when they take on Roberto Martínez’s Everton.

Meanwhile, despite playing football that has been easy on the eye for much of the season, Everton find themselves at a lowly 11th, failing to show defensive robustness to back up their attacking flair.

The battle at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, then, is one between two teams who should be much higher in the table than they are at the moment, and one that has several interesting individual battles all over the pitch that could decide the final outcome of the game.

Guus Hiddink v Roberto Martínez

Unsurprisingly, the two managers have never crossed paths before in any capacity, with the Everton boss in charge of Swansea City — then a Championship side — when Guus Hiddink first arrived as the interim manager at Stamford Bridge in the 2008-09 season.

Hiddink might try to take advantage of Everton’s possession-based football

Hiddink has not made any significant changes in formation or tactics since the sacking of José Mourinho by Chelsea FC, and will probably persist with a 4-2-3-1 formation against the Toffees. Given that Everton are a technically sound side that like to keep the ball and that have pace in their midfield and attack, there is a possibility that the Dutchman might move to a 4-3-3 for the game, adding either Ramires or Nemanja Matić to the conspicuously slow first-choice midfield pairing of John Obi Mikel and Cesc Fàbregas.

Chelsea v Watford

Chelsea FC’s attacking play has improved under Hiddink, however, and that has largely been due to the return of form of striker Diego Costa. The Spain international feeds off balls played in behind the defence, and as such, the Blues will try to press Everton high, steal possession as the away side try and play out from the back, and then release Diego Costa as early as possible.

Their success in doing so depends on the presence of Oscar, whose inclusion necessarily means a 4-2-3-1, which in turn means Hiddink will have to shelve plans (if he has any) of playing three in midfield. The 69-year-old has to deal with this Catch-22 as best as he can, and get the Blues back on the winning track.

Martínez will look to expose lack of pace in Chelsea FC midfield and defence

A cursory glance at Everton’s standard starting XI from this season is enough to gain an appreciation of what the team’s key strengths are. The Toffees have a highly technical group of players and a manager that likes to play a brand of expansive, attacking football — ball playing centre-halves, an astute distributor in midfield of the experience and ability of Gareth Barry, and a lightning quick, technically gifted attack featuring the likes of Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu.

Martínez’s plan against Chelsea FC will essentially be to expose the Blues’ vulnerable defence by getting behind Mikel and Fàbregas with the likes of Barkley and Deulofeu. The away side will obviously pose a threat on the counter-attack due to their pace, but also have the ability to take the game to Hiddink’s men if necessary.

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The Toffees’ first win against the Blues came about precisely because they were successful in drawing the Chelsea FC midfield out, only to pass around it and expose the slow defence. As such, Branislav Ivanović and John Terry had a particularly difficult time, and the entire back four looked less than convincing.

Key Battles

Diego Costa v Phil Jagielka/Ramiro Funes Mori

Diego Costa has been among the Blues’ best players in the past few weeks, and that hasn’t just been reflected in the fact that he has scored four times since Hiddink’s arrival. His movement seems to be more intelligent, his link-up play is sharper, and in relation to the first half of the campaign, he seems more focused on trying to score than on getting under the skin of the opposition.

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion

A game against Everton is perfect for him in many ways, but mainly because of the high line the Toffees like to play when in possession. Fàbregas brutally exposed it at Goodison Park in last season’s fixture between the two sides, and will look to do so once again on Saturday. As such, Phil Jagielka and Funes Mori will have to be particularly wary of Costa looking for space in behind them.

The forward’s movement in the box also seems to be getting back to what it was last season, and the Everton centre-halves will have to make sure they mark him tightly in the box and deny him time to control the ball and get a shot away.

Kurt Zouma v Romelu Lukaku

The two physically imposing young footballers have already had some interesting battles in the past, and their clash on Saturday could prove to be decisive in the outcome of the game. It is increasingly obvious that Zouma has exceptional physical attributes — particularly the pace to make up for positional errors — that will make life difficult for the Belgian, but the Everton striker himself has improved quite a bit this season.

Chelsea FC duo Terry and Zouma did not look particularly convincing against West Bromwich Albion, and in particular, seemed to have difficulty with balls being whipped inside from the wings. Indeed, failure to clear from such an instance led to the away side’s equaliser.

Everton FC vs Manchester United

Deulofeu has been doing exactly that this season for the Toffees, and Zouma will have to make sure he is fully focused and aware of Lukaku’s position at all times to deny the 22-year-old space in the penalty area. The young Frenchman will also have to sweep away any attempts by the away side to play Lukaku in behind, given Terry clearly will not have the pace to do so once the former Chelsea FC striker gets goalside of him.

Oscar v Gareth Barry

Although this might not seem like a particularly important battle, Barry is the player who makes Everton’s midfield tick. The Premier League veteran is constantly dropping between the split centre-halves to pick up the ball and start play from the back, and in general, acts as the perfect conduit between defence and attack.

Chelsea v Watford

Oscar’s importance to the Chelsea FC side is essentially his intelligence and tactical awareness in terms of pressing from the front with Diego Costa, and it is vital that the Brazilian not allow Barry to settle into his rhythm. The home side’s success will largely depend on starving the Toffees’ creative players of the ball, and the key to doing that is cutting off their supply.

Chelsea FC strengths and weaknesses

  • One of the Blues’ key weapons last season was the Fàbregas-Diego Costa partnership, and there have been signs over the past few weeks that the international teammates are beginning to rekindle that near-telepathic understanding once again.
  • John Obi Mikel’s presence in midfield has added much needed balance to the side, and the Chelsea FC midfield now looks more compact and more able to protect the back four.
  • Willian’s threat from direct and indirect free-kicks cannot be underestimated, and the Brazilian will once again try to cause damage from set plays on Saturday.
  • The biggest weakness of the Blues this season has been the breakdown of their midfield, and if there is no cohesion against the Toffees, the away side have the players to take advantage.
  • Another obvious weakness is the lack of pace in the midfield two and among certain members of the Chelsea FC back four, and Everton will try and isolate the slower players as often as possible.
  • Pedro has been a weak link in the attacking three behind Diego Costa, and it was the Spaniard’s loss of possession that led to West Brom’s first equaliser.

Everton strengths and weaknesses

  • Roberto Martínez’s men are very good at playing the ball out from the back, and the likes of John Stones and Gareth Barry are crucial for such a system to be successful.
  • The Toffees are excellent on the counter-attack, where the pace of Lukaku, Barkley, Deulofeu as well as Lennon and Mirallas (when they are on the pitch) can be absolutely lethal.
  • Former Chelsea FC Romelu Lukaku has been among the best strikers in the league this season, and that has largely been down to his continued improvement in most aspects of his individual game.
  • Everton’s possession-based football can also be a weakness — as we have seen before this season — and they can be put under pressure in their own defensive third when they try to play it out from the back.
  • The Toffees’ defence has not been convincing this season at all, and goalkeeper Tim Howard has done little to help that situation.
  • Although Deulofeu is improving all the time as a footballer, his selfishness at times can cause attacking moves to fizzle out harmlessly.

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