So we've gone and had a lovely little international break that saw nobody injured and most Chelsea players return happy with the results they've achieved. It's back to the grind now, though, and although we're just seven games into the Premier League season things seem to be in full swing. This time last year, Chelsea had played seven, won six and lost one - we're a little behind that with a draw at Stoke and a loss at Old Trafford, but it's hardly been a bad start to the season.
Anyway, Everton are coming to play at Stamford Bridge (Saturday Oct. 15th, 5:30 PM), which in years past hasn't gone very well. I'm not going to do the research on this but over the past few years since the 2009 FA Cup final, I don't think Chelsea have defeated Everton once, drawing four times and losing twice (once via penalty shootout). Why have they done so well against us? I'm not really sure - there's nothing they can do to exploit Chelsea that better teams can't do either, so if they've figured out a specific way of beating the Blues nobody else seems to know about it. I'm tempted to just assign the whole thing to luck, as weak an explanation as that is.
But whatever the reason, Chelsea have had trouble with Everton for a long time and Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to reverse that trend this month - we have two games against the Toffees in as many weeks coming up. David Moyes' side is hardly a juggernaut, but they do have some impressive players on their hands, including Australian Tim Cahill and left back Leighton Baines*. Fortunately for us, Cahill is a question mark for the game after picking up a minor ankle injury on international duty, but I'd suspect Chelsea will still plan for his involvement anyway.
*The best player ever whose initials are also his position. Fact.
I mention that pairing because Chelsea are probably in a position to deal with each - but not both at the same time. Replacing Jose Bosingwa with Branislav Ivanovic gives the Blues some extra authority in the air against Cahill but will allow Baines free reign to come forward. Bosingwa, on the other hand, could be used to peg back Baines and keep him on the defensive.
Given Chelsea's set piece problems, I'd be most tempted to use Ivanovic at right back and then Daniel Sturridge as a right winger. However, this will only work if Sturridge doesn't go missing - he did against Manchester United and Patrice Evra basically did whatever he wanted after realising Sturridge posed no threat whatsoever. Strong midfield passing is therefore paramount, which probably requires Raul Meireles as the holder rather than John Obi Mikel. Ramires would be the man to tail poufy-coiffed Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini, one would imagine, while Frank Lampard will certainly keep his place after a hattrick against Bolton.
Up front, Fernando Torres is still suspended so Didier Drogba will get the start, and Juan Mata is fresh and well rested after being given Spain's last qualifying game off, having scored against Petr Cech last Friday. There's no reason to leave him on the bench - his ability to move infield really helped to spark Chelsea's movement against Bolton at the Reebok two weeks ago.
Here's my projected lineup, then:
Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic; Raul Meireles, Frank Lampard, Ramires; Juan Mata, Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge.
It's probably just trauma from seeing Everton over the last few seasons, but I have a bad feeling about this. Chelsea to go ahead early, Everton to equalise late. Just like always. 1-1.