Everton vs. Chelsea: Key Battles to Watch for in Premier League Clash
Jose Mourinho's squad have started the season in confident fashion, sealing two comfortable wins against a pair of newly promoted sides. Installed as early title favourites, a trip to Merseyside will better examine their trophy credentials.
In contrast, Everton's first two games have been far more frustrating affairs. Two leads have been squandered in the closing stages leaving the Toffees with just two points from games with Leicester and Arsenal.
Last season's 1-0 win was the first of Roberto Martinez's tenure and injected life into his inaugural campaign. Evertonians will hope for a repeat scenario as they chase a fifth Premier League win in six home games with Chelsea.
Here's a look ahead to this game's defining matchups.
Romelu Lukaku vs. John Terry
The biggest talking point of this game will be Romelu Lukaku's tussle with his former employers.
For many, Chelsea never gave the Belgian a fair crack at breaking into the first team. Despite outscoring their strikers for the past two seasons in loan spells, Lukaku made just one league start during three years in London.
Saturday is a prime opportunity to ridicule Mourinho's decision to sell him.
Left footed, Lukaku will spend more time drifting over to Everton's right, inside the left centre-back's channel—presumably occupied by John Terry.
This will be a physical clash between two powerful players. The Toffees will try and create space for Lukaku to run at the 33-year-old and test his pace.
Eden Hazard vs. Seamus Coleman
Eden Hazard has began the season on fire. In just two Premier League games he has already completed an incredible 15 successful dribbles—more than double that of any other player—as well as creating nine chances.
He recorded seven chances on his own against Leicester, the highest individual return of any player this season and, remarkably, more than Everton created as a team during either opening fixture.
In short, the Toffees must find a way of significantly reducing his threat.
Roaming in from the left, Hazard will come up against one of Everton's most attacking players in Seamus Coleman. The right-back will be keen to maraud forward but must be wary of leaving pockets of space for the Belgian to exploit.
Gareth Barry and James McCarthy vs. Cesc Fabregas
Chelsea will be confident of finding success in central areas against the Toffees.
Martinez rarely instructs his wingers to track back, putting responsibility on the side's midfield pivots—of James McCarthy (right) and Garth Barry (left)—to cover any overlapping full-backs.
If Chelsea can maintain a swift tempo and work the ball out wide before switching it back, they will find extra space in the middle for attacking midfielders to expose. This may well prove an avenue of success for Cesc Fabregas on Saturday.
The former Arsenal man has wasted no time settling back into English football, orchestrating most of Chelsea's play in their opening two games.
By the same token, Everton's possession game relies heavily on Barry moving his side around the field. If Fabregas can get close to the former England man, the hosts will struggle for fluency.
Branislav Ivanovic vs. Leighton Baines
Another absorbing contest will be Branislav Ivanovic against Leighton Baines.
Never the most aesthetically pleasing footballer, Ivanovic has proven himself as one of the Premier League's best defenders and has been in top form at the start of the season, particularly in the final third.
Aside from already scoring, he's been hugely prominent, creating three chances and making five successful dribbles from right-back—contributions that no Everton player can yet surpass.
As with Coleman, it will be interesting to see how much the Serbian is willing to attack against stronger opposition. Everton's left-sided midfielder often drifts in, meaning Ivanovic will see more of Baines than any other player.
With the left-back also renowned for his attacking contribution, this should be an entertaining duel.
Chelsea's Striker vs. Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin
Is Diego Costa fit enough to start? In the build-up to this game there have been various rumours around a possible hamstring injury for the former Atletico man that could potentially keep him out.
It's fair to say he has hit the ground running in England, scoring twice from his two shots on target, and Chelsea will want to keep that run going. This news would be a bonus for the Toffees, if accurate.
Everton's normally reliable duo of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin have been unconvincing during their side's opening games and Chelsea will be keen to aggravate any issues by starting their main man.
If it's not Diego Costa, then Didier Drogba may start his first game of his second spell at Chelsea. The powerful forward has an impressive record against the Toffees (seven goals in 11 games) and will be encouraged by Olivier Giroud's late equaliser for Arsenal, where he out-muscled Distin to score.
Statistics via WhoScored.com.
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