With the international break now out of the way, Football Fancast are delighted to announce that we will be returning to the dramatic, unpredictable, intoxicating and exciting world of Premier League football this weekend.
And the English top flight’s fifth round of fixtures kicks off with a fantastic encounter as reigning champions Chelsea travel to Goodison Park to face Everton at 12.45pm on Saturday.
Last season, the fixture threw up an absolute classic as the Blues claimed a 6-3 victory on Merseyside to help kick-start their successful Premier League title bid, but we could see a change of fortunes this time around.
Indeed, the Toffees are currently four places higher in the Premier League table than the champs – who currently own the second-worst goals conceded column in the division after bottom-place Sunderland – and appear to have amended the turbulent form that saw them finish in 11th last season.
With that in mind, who will leave Saturday’s affair as the victors? It could come down to who dominates the key individual battles, so Football Fancast have listed FIVE we view as the most important.
Having been the subject of three failed Chelsea bids during the summer, so much attention will be focused on the Everton defender this Saturday that the fixture may as well be renamed ‘The John Stones Derby’.
Indeed, Jose Mourinho was desperate to sign the 6 foot 2 centre-back during the transfer window and it’s not hard to see why, especially amid concerns that John Terry may no longer be fit for purpose at the heart of the Blues’ defence. More on that later.
The England international has behaved admirably throughout the saga, separating on-field and off-pitch matters to claim two clean sheets in four league fixtures with the Toffees, but he now faces a media field day and it remains to be seen if the 20 year-old can shoulder that kind of pressure.
At the same time, he’ll have to contain Diego Costa; a shadow of his former self so far this season but still easily one of the Premier League’s biggest goal threats and most prolific wind-up merchants.
The Spain international has netted just once so far this term and will be desperate to improve on that tally at Goodison, where he bagged a brace in a 6-3 win last season.
If there’s one Chelsea star still producing the goods at the moment, it’s £22million summer signing Pedro, who has amassed one goal and two assists in his first two Premier League appearances.
Many tipped the Spain international to become an instantaneous success in the English top flight and that’s exactly what’s happened, providing energy, trickery, netting prowess and industriousness from the right-hand side of Chelsea’s attack.
Unfortunately for Everton, they’re suffering quite the injury crisis at No.3. Resident left-back Leighton Baines is out until November, whilst understudies Bryan Oviedo and Brendan Galloway are both serious doubts after suffering knee injuries in recent weeks.
Roberto Martinez has suggested that could pave the way for Ramiro Funes Mori, a left-footed centre-back sourced from River Plate for £9.5million during the summer, to make his Premier League debut in a secondary role.
Whether you’re a half-fit full-back or an out-of-position centre-half, however, there are few wingers in world football you’d want to face less than the three-time CL winner.
Although Everton have put in a number of impressive team performances this season – particularly during their 3-0 thumping of Southampton last month – there’s no question that attacking midfielder Ross Barkley has been the star of the show.
This term, the 21 year-old has claimed two goals and one assist in four appearances whilst averaging an impressive 3.3 shots and 3 dribbles per match and will feel further encouraged by bagging his first goal for England last weekend, netting one and assisting another against San Marino.
On the other hand, Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, who will be primarily left with the task of nullifying Barkley as the Blues’ deepest lying midfielder, has endured a rather troubled start to the campaign compared to the impeccably high standards of his first 18 months at Stamford Bridge.
Indeed, the Serbian international is yet to truly assert his authority on a match this season and that lack of defensive protection has undoubtedly contributed to Chelsea enduring the second-worst goals against column in the Premier League after bottom-placed Sunderland.
Now facing one of the division’s most in-form No.10s, the 27 year-old will have to show remarkable improvements on Saturday if he’s to stop Everton’s biggest attacking threat from running riot.
He and midfield partner Cesc Fabregas have been dribbled past on 15 occasions already this term. Rather worryingly, Barkley’s aforementioned three successful take-ons per match is the third-best return in the Premier League.
Although James McCarthy and Willian will be fielded in slightly different positions on Saturday, the former a deep-lying midfielder and the latter more at home in the attacking third, they share one important characteristic – duracell-charged industriousness.
Indeed, both are the energetic dynamos of their respective sides, providing surge going forward and plugging gaps with almost world-class dependability when shifting back towards their own penalty area, and seem to cover every blade of grass at least twice over the course of 90 minutes.
Willian has been moved into a more central role of late to accommodate star signing Pedro out wide, so he could find himself directly up against James McCarthy – along with midfield accomplice Gareth Barry – when attempting break from midfield.
But in a more holistic sense, the outcome of Saturday’s match could well depend on who brings the most energy and enthusiasm to the table – and how it best serves the star-studded cast playing around them.
Nobody has suffered more from the poor start to Chelsea’s Premier League title defence than captain John Terry.
He featured in every minute of the Blues’ league campaign last season but has managed the full 90 minutes just once this term; subbed off at half time against Manchester City for the first time in 177 starts under Jose Mourinho and controversially sent off after 54 minutes against West Brom for a last-man foul on Salomon Rondon.
Resultantly, it remains to be seen if Mourinho will reinstate his skipper but Chelsea’s defensive woes without the 34 year-old – losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge two weekends ago – suggest he probably will.
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, will be determined to exploit any weaknesses in Chelsea’s backline and continue his strong start to the season, scoring twice in four outings, by finding the net against his former employers.
The Belgium international is best famed for his power and height but it’s his speed that could cause real problems for a Blues back six abundantly lacking in natural pace.