It's difficult to gauge just how I feel about Chelsea right now. On the one hand, they've earned a grand total of three points out of the last nine. On the other... wait a second, that's terrible. Alright!
Chelsea managed to avoid losing against Manchester United last weekend in pretty much the worst possible way, giving up three goals in the final forty minutes to end up with a draw when a win looked certain. That put pretty much everyone in a bad mood, but it's important to remember that we were a spectacular David de Gea save away from getting a win against the defending champions. No matter how you slice it, coming that close to beating United is a good thing. Failing to actually do it? Not so good.
And now we're faced with Everton at Goodison Park, a ground we haven't won at since 2008*. Yes, we managed to break our Toffee duck at Stamford Bridge, but that was during our 'we're a good team' spell rather than the 'you can't score against Norwich?!' one. Also, Everton are for whatever reason far more competent now than they were back in autumn.
*Pretty sure this is BC.
Expect the Toffees to line up in a defensively-minded 4-5-1, with Landon Donovan and Royston Drenthe/Steven Pienaar looking to pin back the fullbacks on the flanks while three midfielders block off the middle. The main threat, as ever, is Leighton Baines's presence at left back - he's more than capable of shutting down Daniel Sturridge while still providing support to the attack on that side.
Everton's midfield triangle is typically a 2-1, and I'd expect the deeper two to be Marouane Fellaini and Darren Gibson. Chelsea are faced with the dilemma of either matching their shape with two attacking midfielders anchored by Oriol Romeu or fielding more or less the same 4-2-3-1 that they did against Manchester United, which would feature the defensively useless Juan Mata up top.
If possession was going to be an issue, I'd be concerned about the Gibson-Fellaini vs. Mata situation, because that would leave (as we saw with Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs for United) the opposition midfielders time and space to control the game. Since were probably safe in terms of possession, I'd go for a 4-2-3-1, relying on that band of two to dictate the tempo of the match.
Who plays there? Raul Meireles and Michael Essien did ok for much of Sunday's match before falling apart completely towards the end (Essien has the excuse of being extremely tired; Meireles doesn't). I think there's a better option for Andre Villas-Boas - playing Frank Lampard deep. We're not going to get any late runs into the box, but Lampard's passing is underrated, his defensive awareness is better than Meireles, and he's experienced enough to ensure that Chelsea don't simply panic in the middle of the pitch.
As for the forwards, it'd be nice if we had any choice in who gets played. But we probably don't. Florent Malouda on the left, Daniel Sturridge on the right and Fernando Torres in the middle. Goody gumdrops. I miss the Ivorians quite a lot. We're in a similar, but less depressing position at the back - the return of Ashley Cole means that the main selection dilemma is between Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa, and despite the latter's masterful performance against Antonio Valencia last weekend I'd be inclined to go Serbian here.
Here's the lineup you get when you shake that all up, set the oven to 450° and roast for 45 minutes (don't forget to turn halfway!):
I'm not hugely confident that we're going to get three points here, because we almost never do and I'm conditioned to be sad about these games, but we're the better side and the only reason we'd be unable to grind out a win is if we misfire in front of goal the whole match while making silly errors in positioning and defending. What're the chances of that happening?
Anyway, Everton vs. Chelsea is on at 3:00PM GMT (10:00AM EST). Join us here for the game thread. We'll provide a full refund if it's not totally awesome.