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Chelsea vs. Everton: Game Preview

I don't really know what's going on in this photo but it's nice and symmetric.
I don't really know what's going on in this photo but it's nice and symmetric.

Time: 3:00 PM BST (7:00 AM PST)

Location: Stamford Bridge, London

Preamble: We've really got to win this one. Chelsea have been dropping an insane number of points, and we've fallen behind Manchester United in the title race. With John Terry and Michael Essien returning, there's no reason that we shouldn't outplay Everton, despite the Toffees being no pushover. We're at Stamford Bridge, two of our first-choice XI are back in action, and we're playing against a team in crisis. Since the Guardian has announced that we're likely to be in crisis we can be pretty sure said crisis is already over, right? Right! Time to get back to our winning ways.

Opposition: Everton have had major troubles this season, primarily of the injury variety. They've played several matches with no recognised striker on the pitch, and several more with Yakubu and Jermaine Backford, who are only recognised as Premier League forwards out of some cosmic sense of pity. The Toffees are coming off a 4-1 loss to Roberto di Matteo's West Bromwich Albion (at Goodison Park, no less), so they're not exactly on the best of form right now. In fact, they boast only three wins all season. To make matters worse, midfield playmaker Mikel Arteta picked up a straight red in the match against the Baggies, ruling him out for this match. England defender Phil Jagielka is a slight doubt for the match after picking up an ankle problem last week.

Expected lineup (4-4-1-1): Tim Howard; Leighton Baines, Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville; Stephen Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman; Tim Cahill; Yakubu Aiyegbeni.

Chelsea: Captain John Terry and midfielder Michael Essien return to bolster a stuttering side, weakened by injuries, suspension, and protists. Terry's return to 'full fitness' means that Alex is able to undergo much needed surgery in Brazil, a procedure that will keep him out until some time in the new year. Branislav Ivanovic will partner with Terry in the centre of defence. Meanwhile, Yuri Zhirkov is still missing, necessitating Florent Malouda's extended stay in midfield, and Ramires drops to the bench to accommodate Essien. Salomon Kalou is expected to start in Malouda's typical spot.

Expected lineup (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa; John Obi Mikel, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka.

Key Battles: Chelsea's midfield has been a weakness as of late and it receives a huge boost with the return to action of Michael Essien, who'd been both suspended and injured for the past three games following a toe complaint and a silly straight red for a lunge on Clint Dempsey. Although Ramires had been showing signs of life, Essien is far more capable of both dominating the centre and driving forward to create a focal point for Chelsea's more creative midfielders. He will be facing Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, both of whom have had their problems this year - Rodwell missing significant chunks due to injury and Fellaini suffering a catastrophic loss of form. The talent's there to make it difficult for the Blues to control the centre, so let's hope this isn't the day Everton decide to wake up.

Prediction: That Everton have drawn four times in a row at the Bridge is an interesting piece of trivia but hardly prophetic of tomorrow's outcome. Chelsea are the better side, less injured, and at home - there's no reason to drop points in this situation. I'm going to go for a win here, and I don't think it'll be close. 3-0.

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