Following a breakout start to the 2012-13 campaign—and after surviving a slight stutter of eight draws in 11 matches—Everton find themselves fighting for potential Champions League football next term and have been hugely impressive, triumphing against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, while drawing away to defending champions Manchester City.
However, David Moyes' already threadbare squad has suffered from the typical problems that come with the high intensity of the league, losing important players such as Phil Neville, Darron Gibson, Tony Hibbert and thrilling new signing Kevin Mirallas for a number of games already this season.
Against Chelsea, the Toffees will once again be without suspended midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who will be serving the final of his three-match ban for a vicious headbutt on Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross earlier this month.
Most supporters felt absolutely deflated after the ban was handed out and it seemed that losing the giant Belgian would finally mean the end to the dreams of achieving top European football. However, the side have once again hit their stride with Victor Anichebe and club captain Phil Neville coming into the lineup, and Everton have managed consecutive victories against Wigan Athletic and West Ham United.
Now, Moyes must engineer another triumph against a resurgent Chelsea under controversial manager Rafa Benitez. Then, the squad would welcome back Fellaini for their trip to Newcastle United on January 2nd, once the dreaded January transfer window opens and brings with it the risk of Everton losing their more important players.
The most troubling rumors at this moment revolve around the Belgian, who last year committed himself to the Blues with a five-year contract, but has this term received attention from various top clubs as a result of his brilliant performances.
Speculation regarding the potential transfer of Fellaini has been making the rounds since an interview with a Belgian newspaper in the summer purported the player wanted to join a more ambitious club as soon as this January.
The rumors only intensified after the midfielder-cum-forward made the best of his new position—occupying the "Tim Cahill role" that was left open after the Australian left for the New York Red Bulls in August—and single-handedly destroyed opposition with his dominant, skillful and chesty style. In fact, Fellaini has performed so well in his new role that he leads the club with eight league goals this season,
For now, he is at a club chasing Champions League football. But it has been made obvious by both chairmen Bill Kenwright and Moyes that Everton simply do not have the funds at their disposal to compete with rials clubs like Manchester City, Liverpool and even Tottenham Hotspur, who can pay larger wages and build their squads with less of a focus on bargain purchasing.
Fellaini still has a lot to prove in an Everton kit before anything is made concrete. His absurd headbutt placed him on the sideline at a crucial time in the campaign for his side, and the Belgian has shown signs of ill-discipline and lethargy in the past.
On the other hand, while a potential sale in January—or more likely this summer—might bring well over £20 million in available transfer money to Moyes (who has still not renewed his contract due to expire in May), the large midfielder would imply a huge sentimental and quality loss to Everton.
While the majority of Evertonians might be more concerned this weekend with defeating Chelsea, the potential loss of Fellaini—even with all of his faults—will leave many with at least a few sleepless nights before the transfer window closes on January 31st.