Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Matic, Willian, Oscar, Ramires, Costa
Everton: Howard, Stones, Jagielka, Funes Mori, Baines, Besic, Barry, Deulofeu, Barkley, Koné, Lukaku
“We all like to look forward and to the top of the table, but also don’t be unrealistic – you’re six points off the line of relegation” – Guus Hiddink, Interim Chelsea Manager
When you look back on both clubs season’s so far. Oh how they read differently. Chelsea have essentially lurched from disaster to disaster. Fabregas has gone missing, Diego Costa is seriously challenging Charlie Adam for his one man bar brawl award and Eden Hazard seems to be dreaming of sunnier climbs. Throw into the mixer the sacking of Eva Carneiro and Mourinho’s sacking, and Chelsea’s season is more akin to a soap opera.
Everton on the other hand have received gushing reviews when their attacking trident of Deulofeu, Lukaku and Barkley are in full swing. Yet football punditry is a fickle beast and whilst going forward they have seemed imperious at times, Everton’s defence has been coming up short. Martinez’s philosophy whilst admirable at times seems unpractical in getting the results necessary in the Premier League so it is with surprise you see that Chelsea are only 4 points behind Everton after 21 matches played.
With Hiddink even managing to utter such words, to say relegation is a ‘reality’, the Dutchman is treading an interesting line. Is this a genuine concern? Or more a message to the players that performances are key and that they haven’t turned a corner as of yet? Either or, it is a hell of a statement to be making in charge of the reigning Champions. Since taking over Hiddink has seen Chelsea unbeaten in his 5 games in charge, but with 2-2 draws with Watford and West Brom, you would have to expect this Chelsea side to be doing better. A key issue for this January is the very nature of Hiddink’s appointment. Only interim in nature, you have to wonder who is making any potential signings this month and with who in mind.
Any transfer window activity that may affect Everton’s starting XI is more than likely to be outgoings rather than incomings. Rumours of Steven Naismith’s next destination continue to circulate with Swansea and Norwich continued to be interested in the Scotsman, and whilst Sam Byram might be on the move to Goodison Park, Martinez will be much more welcoming of Jagielka’s return. Whilst Funes Mori could potentially be a good Premier League centre half, in an ideal world Martinez wouldn’t have the Argentine playing so much in his first full campaign in England. The partnership of Jagielka and Stones (once Coleman is available again) is the foundation for this Everton team to go forward, and definitely, Tim Howard has felt the loss this season without Jagielka in front of him.
Chelsea’s next four games are Everton (h), Arsenal (a), Watford (a) and Manchester United (h). Does Everton at home represent the easiest game in this run? Maybe and that is, a testament to how hard a job Hiddink has over the next couple of weeks to pick this Chelsea side up. For Everton, their much improved defensive performance against Manchester City saw them draw a blank at the other end. Finding that compromise of solidarity at the back as a means to harness the attacking flair is Martinez next task. If done successfully this weekend, Hiddink might see the proceeding games much less favourably.
Match Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Everton