Twenty-four hours before kick-off, the stakes on Everton’s season for the remaining four matches (they have played one more than Chelsea) had been effectively reduced to zero. West Bromwich Albion lost to Leicester City on Saturday, thus guaranteeing Everton seventh place in the Premier League — this is no joke, there’s a gap of 14 points between seventh and eight place at the moment. While Everton do have an outside shot at cracking the top six or even the top four, that would require far too many unlikely results between now and the end of the season. In short, the Toffees basically have nothing left to play for.
Zero stakes can either liberate a team and let them play with a freedom of no pressure, which might result in something spectacular and unstoppable, or it can destroy any motivation the team might have beyond just producing the perfunctory effort needed to satisfy the paying customers and avoid injuries. Chelsea would obviously prefer the latter.
For the Blues, this is yet another game that’s taken on extra importance with the gap to second remaining at just four points and Spurs kicking off against Arsenal following the final whistle here. Defeat for Chelsea would not be the end, but it might feel like it temporarily.
So let’s not do that.
Date / Time: Sunday, April 30, 14:05 BST; 9:05am EDT; 6:35pm IST
Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool, England
Referee: Jonathan Moss — this will be Mr. Moss’s fifth (5th!) Chelsea match of the season, all of which have been away from home and all of which were Chelsea wins (Watford, Middlesbrough, Palace in the league, plus Wolves in the FA Cup 5th round). A further good omen can be found in the fact that Moss also refereed the famous 6-3 win at Goodison at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Forecast: Warm but very windy.
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); CNBC, NBC Universo (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra; NBC Universo Now (USA); Hotstar (India)
Everton team news: Stuck in seventh between the top six and the rest of the also-rans, Everton have quietly put together a tremendous 2017 that’s seen them lose just twice in fourteen games since the 2-1 reverse against Leicester City at home in the FA Cup. Their home record in the Premier League since a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool in mid-December is played eight, won eight, scored 29, conceded 6, including a 4-0 walloping of Manchester City.
Ronald Koeman has had a few long-term injuries to deal with — Coleman’s broken leg, McCarthy’s hamstring, and knee injuries to Funes Mori and Bolasie — but the rest of the squad is as healthy as it’s been in recent weeks. Lukaku will of course be a huge threat to deal with, but Ross Barkley can be handful, Kevin Mirallas can be annoying, and Gana Gueye can be rather imperious.
Everton were the first team this season to try to match Conte’s 3-4-3. It went very badly for them (see below). They probably won’t make the same mistake(s) again.
View from the enemy: Royal Blue Mersey
Chelsea team news: Chelsea keep rolling, despite the mass extinction of clean sheets around Thibaut Courtois’s goal. The Blues have given up two goals in three straight games — credit to Hazard & Costa & Co that we’ve only lost one of those. Chelsea’s last clean sheet in the league was a 2-0 win against Hull City at the end of January. That’s three months and counting, if you’re counting.
But who’s counting? At this point it’s about winning at any and all cost. If that means another 4-2, or a 6-3, or a 15-11 water polo special, that’s all fine. Points is the only currency.
Chelsea are back to being fully healthy, barring any last minute illnesses or tempting basketball hoops.
Previously: The 3-4-3’s magnum opus.