Chelsea – Everton (Premier League)
Premier League is back to Stamford Bridge on Saturday and José Mourinho will be expecting a clear statement from his men to erase the failure in the FA Cup against their title rivals Manchester City. Roberto Martínez, on the other hand, will take Everton’s progression in the competition to motivate his men for the final stretch of the season, all goals still intact.
People say it is lonely at the top. Chelsea beg to differ, it’s not lonely enough. The lead the Premier League table with 57 points, 1 more than Arsenal, 3 over Manchester City. But the Citizens are one game shorter due to that extreme weather postponed tie. José Mourinho continues to dismiss his side’s chances to win the title but nobody takes him serious. Being atop, however is more stressful that coming from behind, especially for a young squad that is not yet tempered with the killer instinct of champions.
Last weekend Chelsea fell to City at the Etihad (2-0) and ended their run in the FA Cup. So, no more cup fixtures this season. One might say it was probably for the best, a blessing in disguise. Now the Blues can concentrate spirits and efforts in the two remaining front, the the Premier League and Champions. Other than this recent misstep Mourinho’s men have been quite exemplar, 12 matches unbeaten in all competitions (9W, 3D). If you consider home form alone the track-record turns even more impressive. No losses this season (11W, 2D) and José Mourinho is yet to fall at Stamford Bridge in a League tie, so far 73 times unbeaten in his two tenures combined.
No mid-week action was just what Captain John Terry needed to fully return to fitness following muscular strain. The three games he missed out due to it were his only absences from Chelsea’s starting XI this season and he was surely missed. Cahill did his best, even when limping through, but the whole team misses his vocal leading on the pitch. Having him back will certainly boost the Blues for their immediate fixtures and in the longer run. On Wednesday they will travel to Turkey for the first leg of Champions League last 16 against Galatasaray. In theory Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool are the toughest opposition they will face in their remaining 12 League ties. The other will be facing bottom half sides but at that point they will be fighting for dear life, it can be messy.
Marco van Ginkel is now the only customer in the treatment room.
Probable line-up: Cech – Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta – Ramires, Matic – Willian, Oscar, Hazard – Eto’o.
Roberto Martínez is invested in the FA Cup has a way around it to secure an European spot next season, in case 4th spot in the Premier League escapes the Toffees. A plan B if you will that is taking it’s course now Everton progressed to the quarter-finals. They had no trouble beating the Swans 3-1 at home in a match that brought the Spaniard at least two excellent appointments. Lacina Traoré made his debut in the line-up and only took him 5 minutes in to score his first goal. Steven Naismith brook the equalizer in the second-half and between the two of them you could sense a refreshed attack strength for the Merseysiders. Can that element help revive their aspirations to be number four? They are now in 6th with 45 points, 8 adrift Liverpool that holds the spot and with Spurs in between. The gap seems to wide, considering the form the two sides in front of them have been showing. It’s true they are a tie shorter, but still. To make matters worse they have some tough fixtures ahead in this final third of the League: Chelsea, Newcastle and Southampton away; Arsenal, United and City at Goodison Park. They’ll just have to play it one game at a time, believing they can collect the points.
Martínez was happy to announce Steven Naismith had recovered from the concussion he sustained in the FA Cup fixture and will be back to action at Stamford Bridge. Romelu Lukaku is fit but ineligible to face his parent club. Arouna Kone, Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo are long-term casualties.
Probable line-up: Howard – Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines – McCarthy, Barry – Mirallas, Barkley, Pienaar – Traoré.
In the reverse fixture, back in September, Roberto Martínez found a way to beat them so he must be thinking it can be done. However, the last time Everton pulled one over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge Morrissey was leading the charts with the best stalker song ever, “The more you ignore me the closer I get”, and the year was 1994. Twenty years later the Blues have an amazing unbeaten record in their home turf under Jose Mourinho, 73 and counting. Or not?