Despite all of the Fernando Torres and David Luiz talk, we do indeed have a match tomorrow. Chelsea head to Goodison park to do battle against David Moyes' Everton in the fourth round of the FA Cup. After three consecutive wins by a combined score of 13-0, Chelsea seem to have turned the corner from their difficult spell, and will be going into the match full of confidence - and, if you believe Carlo Ancelotti, a full-strength team.
Everton, meanwhile, dealt with Scunthorpe fairly easily in their third round tie, demolishing the Championship team 5-1 away from home. In the Premier League, though, they're coming off two straight 2-2 draws, first against Liverpool at Anfield and then, more embarrassingly, at home against relegation-threatened West Ham United. The Toffees had to scramble to even salvage a point against the Hammers last weekend, but although the momentum looks to be with the Blues they shouldn't underestimate an Everton side that's proven their ability to hang tight against the big boys.
Everton, after all, did manage to hold Manchester United to a draw at Goodison earlier in the season, despite being down by two goals at the end of ninety minutes. They also drew one all against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in November, part of Chelsea's irritating run of games without a win that spanned for months. Everton have a good manager and a very good core of players, especially in the midfield with Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, so we need to be wary of their threat.
Jermaine Beckford scored the equaliser in our previous encounter, but despite that goal he's not really a very good player. Everton have been rather lacking in striking options this season, and that's probably the weakest part of their team. The defensive trio of John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel, assuming he starts, should be able to deal with any threat posed by Everton's forwards. Where it gets interesting is Chelsea's midfield trio against Rodwell and Fellaini. If Chelsea play the same team as they did against Bolton, they won't have a disadvantage in the power department, but deploy Frank Lampard there and suddenly the centre of their midfield could physically dominate our advanced players.
Fortunately for the Blues, the creative outlet of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines has been broken up by the former's £3M move to Tottenham Hotspur. The bad news is that Baines is still there, and while he's weak defensively, he's also very strong on the attack, and Chelsea's right isn't particularly special at either of those things. Nicolas Anelka will have to stay wide in order to disrupt the possible partnership between the Everton left back and winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
As for Chelsea's forwards, a healthy Didier Drogba should be more than capable of occupying both Johnny Heitenga and Sylvain Distan, which leaves Florent Malouda isolated against right-back Phil Neville in what looks to be on paper a fairly obvious mis-match. As usual, the Chelsea left is the flank from which we might expect our most penetrating attacks to come.
If I were Ancelotti here, I'd actually leave Lampard out of the squad. Pushing Ramires wide to the right solidifies the defence down that wing and allows for rapid counterattacks should Baines be dispossessed in Chelsea's half, and would also let Anelka take the roaming role that got Chelsea their goal against the Toffees in their previous match. While Lampard is a creative presence, Chelsea didn't seem to have a problem generating goalscoring opportunities against a good Bolton side without him in the lineup (although Bolton did make some appalling mistakes).
I'm slightly surprised that Chelsea are taking this so seriously, but then again the FA Cup is one of the club's few realistic targets this year, so it does make sense that they'd push for yet another cup win this year. In my previous preditions, I called for an Everton win, believing Chelsea would field a weakened squad, but if Carlo is really putting a strong side out there I think Chelsea will roll their hosts over.
Time: 12:30 PM GMT (7:30 AM EST), Saturday, January 29th.
Pick: 2-0 Chelsea.