Tough test for Everton against Chelsea

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Pedro of Chelsea breaks away from Michael Keane and Djibril Sidibe of Everton to score his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Everton FC at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Pedro of Chelsea breaks away from Michael Keane and Djibril Sidibe of Everton to score his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Everton FC at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /
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Following a frustrating draw at Burnley last weekend, Everton face a big test as they take on Chelsea this Saturday.

If Everton play like they did last weekend or indeed in most of their recent Premier League matches, they will almost certainly get well beaten.

Last season’s visit to Stamford Bridge was the final fixture before the season was suspended. That day, as on too many occasions at Chelsea, Everton simply didn’t turn up and they were horribly thrashed 4-0.

That game also marked the end perhaps of the initial honeymoon between the team and Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian had enjoyed a good run since taking over in December last year, but that defeat and the manner of it, was a sobering reminder of how much work had to be done.

Now almost exactly a year on, there still seems a lot to improve on. Although the Blues attacking prowess is significantly better and there can be no doubt that the summer signings have bedded in well, chronic defensive deficiencies and a tendency to produce lacklustre and inconsistent displays remain.

Too many times the Toffees still seem to lose concentration and fail to press home an advantage in a game. They did this and almost were pegged back at Fulham and they couldn’t make their second half superiority count at Burnley either.

The most concerning issue though is the constant leaking of goals. Everton just don’t seem to be able to find a way to stop the opposition scoring.

Ancelotti has tried every possible combination of players and both a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3 formation in an attempt to stem the flow of goals. So far nothing seems to have really worked.

It’s true the Blues have only lost one goal in each of their last two matches rather than the customary two a game before that! But a team that has only managed one clean sheet all season, is not likely to be challenging for honours.

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Last weekend at Burnley, the Toffees defence couldn’t do much about the Clarets early opener, but it took a several fine saves from Jordan Pickford in the first half to keep them from adding to it.

The team ended up back in a 4-3-3 after Fabian Delph’s injury forced Ancelotti to reshuffle his side and this helped. I think because of that and for the sake of stability, Everton should just stick with the team that finished at Turf Moor unless Seamus Coleman is fit in which case perhaps he should return at right-back.

As for their opponents, Chelsea started the season playing a bit erratically, but they have since found much more stability and defensive resilience and are on a good run, which has seen them climb the table to third place while Everton have been passing them going the other way.

Frank Lampard seems to be finding his feet as a Premier League manager and his team is starting to respond well.

Chelsea are a potent attacking force on paper with an array of excellent forwards. Mason Mount, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham and Hakim Ziyech have all been in pretty good form recently.

Strangely though despite all this expensively assembled forward talent, it’s been the defenders who have often been the biggest goal threat. And it’s a former Everton player who is the team’s joint-leading scorer with four goals: Kurt Zouma.

The former Blues centre-back has been a revelation in attack showing a side to his game that wasn’t much seen when he spent the season on-loan at Goodison Park in 2018-19. He and his team-mates are a real threat in the air and from set-pieces, which of course is an area where the Toffees have been very weak for a long time.

Zouma’s also been strong defensively in recent matches too. Chelsea looked vulnerable at the back in the early games, but Zouma and his fellow defenders have been better in recent weeks and the side was also improved by bringing in new keeper Edouard Mendy.

This has resulted in a much tighter defence and they’ve only conceded two goals in their last six Premier League matches after letting in ten in the first six.

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So all-in-all this looks like a really stern test for the Blues on Saturday. Given past history and Everton’s defensive vulnerabilities I’m struggling to feel any optimism. I can’t see the Toffees keeping a clean sheet so they’re probably going to have to score two or three goals to get something from this match, which seems a tall order.