Chelsea travel to the blue half of Merseyside to take on an in-form Everton, who remain unbeaten under Sam Allardyce
Whether it is the ‘new manager syndrome’ or simply things working out to plan for Big Sam, the fact remains that his side are one of the form teams of the league. They are unbeaten in five games, including four wins and a morale-boosting derby draw against Liverpool. Wayne Rooney has rolled back the years recently, and in Dominic Calvert-Lewin, he may have found the perfect strike partner.
Chelsea are also in good form of their own. They have won four out of their last five in the league, have progressed to the Carabao Cup semi-finals and have managed to keep up pace with Manchester United in second place. A month ago, this fixture would have seen the Blues as the definite favourites, but now things seem to be a bit more even.
Team news and tactics
Sam Allardyce has the good news of Yannick Bolasie returning to fitness after over a year out, but he may only be fit enough for the bench. James McCarthy, who was also a long-term absentee, is likely to make the matchday squad too. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and Ramiro Funes Mori, however, remain unavailable.
The former England boss has hinted that the team from their 3-1 win over Swansea could well be retained for this one. That would mean Calvert-Lewin leading the line in attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the home side, with Rooney just behind him as an attacking midfielder, a role he has relished recently.
Manchester United and England’s top goal-scorer has found his feet after a slow start back at his boyhood club. Rooney has been involved in 50% of Everton’s league goals this season (10G, 2A) and is proving to be the perfect foil for the more pacy youngster playing ahead of him. Everton are, in fact, only behind Manchester City in the number of home goals scored in 2017.
The renaissance of form under Big Sam, though, has been built from the back. In his reign so far, they have conceded just 2 goals, kept 3 clean sheets in the process and have scored eleven at the other end. They will be feeling confident against a relatively inexperienced Chelsea defence in the continued absence of David Luiz.
Probable lineup (4-2-3-1): Pickford (GK), Martina, Williams, Holgate, Kenny; Gueye, Schneiderlin; Sigurdsson, Rooney, Lennon; Calvert-Lewin
Antonio Conte looked to spread the Christmas cheer among Chelsea fans by announcing no new injuries ahead of this match. David Luiz remains out with a knee problem but Charly Musonda may be back available in the squad. Alvaro Morata, however, picked up a yellow card against Bournemouth and is suspended from this match.
A much-changed lineup from the Bournemouth match could be expected here. With Morata absent, the question of who will lead the line in the 3-4-2-1 formation remains to be seen. After only a bit-part appearance in the last match, Eden Hazard could be the one to perform that role. Michy Batshuayi, though, could be left pondering if he is not even the second-choice behind the Spaniard, maybe his future lies elsewhere.
In midfield, a more familiar looking lineup including N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso would be expected. The latter returns to the squad after serving his suspension and the Nigerian and Frenchman come back after being given the night off in the Carabao Cup quarter-final victory.
Up ahead of them, the in-form Willian would be expected to retain his place on the wings alongside Pedro who also started in midweek. In defence, we could see Andreas Christensen slot back into central defence, with Antonio Rudiger and the omnipresent Cesar Azpilicueta alongside him. Ethan Ampadu, the youngster who impressed many, could make a place on the bench.
Probable lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois (GK), Rudiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Kante, Fabregas, Moses; Willian, Pedro; Hazard
Player to watch out for
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
The young England under-21 international has been involved in 7 (4G, 3A) of Everton’s 24 goals this season in the Premier League. Along with Rooney’s recent influence, the youngster’s rise as the leader of the attack has been the reason for Everton’s recent turnaround.
Under Big Sam, he has played every minute of the 5 matches and has been entrusted with a role that his much-decorated partner did earlier, with much aplomb. With the voices for a senior England call-up fast gaining noise, much would be expected of him between now and the end of the season if he wants to be on that plane to Russia.
- Chelsea have lost just 1 of their last 10 Premier League matches (W8, D1)
- Wayne Rooney has 10 goals in 16 appearances for Everton so far, the quickest he has reached the mark since the 2011-12 season
- Cesc Fabregas has three goals and four assists in his last 5 PL appearances at Goodison Park
- Everton have won their last 4 matches in the Premier League
- Chelsea are 8 points worse off than they were at this stage of the season last year, they were leading the league then
1. Everton Asian Handicap +1.0 @ 1.675
2. Under 2.5 Match Goals @ 1.75
1. Everton Draw No Bet @ 3.75
Everton 1-1 Chelsea
It is expected to be a tough outing at the ever-raucous Goodison Park, however Chelsea should do enough to hold on for a draw. Conte would consider this to be a good point away from home, especially considering the form Everton are in.
Even defensively, the home side have been solid and would do well to keep Hazard in check. Chelsea, though, will look to the Belgian talisman to lead the attack, even if he is heavily man-marked by the opposition defence. All in all, a tough contest which should end up with both sides being happy with the result.