Marco Silva and Maurizio Sarri are both feeling the heat as Everton prepare to host Chelsea at Goodison Park this weekend. Both managers have had their long-term futures called into question of late after enduring difficult maiden campaigns with their respective clubs.
Sarri is under pressure to steer the Blues into the top-four this season, but a dominant win over Dynamo Kiev in midweek served as a subtle reminder that Champions League qualification could yet be achieved via the Europa League.
Meanwhile, Silva has failed to convince the Everton fanbase that he has the credentials to take the club forward; while his brand of football is well-aligned with the supporters’ expectations, results have been unsatisfactory.
That the Toffees are yet to record a single victory over one of the top-six this season underlines the tangible gulf in class between themselves and the elite bracket of Premier League clubs, so victory today would be psychologically massive for a club who are desperate to topple the established order.
Can Everton finally give their supporters a memorable giant-killing result worth salivating over? Here’s everything you need to know about the 16:30 kick-off.
There is absolutely no doubt that history points towards a positive result for the visitors. Since the inception of the Premier League, Chelsea have spent a considerable length of time fighting for honours at the summit of the division, so it’s no surprise that their head-to-head record is vastly superior.
However, home advantage could be vital for Everton today as the history books do not reveal a considerable dominance for either side. The last time the Toffees won this fixture was back in 2015 when Steven Naismith scored a hat-trick to clinch an emphatic 3-1 victory, a game in which Ross Barkley showcased his creative talent by laying on two assists.
The travelling side will naturally go into the game as favourites but, historically speaking, there hasn’t been too much to separate the two teams on Merseyside.
Two of the best central midfielders in the top-flight will go into battle this afternoon. A revamped N’Golo Kante, supercharged and re-branded by Sarri to become a forward-thinking box-to-box midfielder, will meet a stern test against the impeccably dependable Idrissa Gueye.
Statistics point towards a dynamic performance from Kante in his endeavour to influence the game at both ends of the field, while Gueye will be tasked with nullifying the threat from his opposite number. The World up winning midfielder has wracked up 23 shots, 47 dribbles and 38 key passes this season, a record which is vastly superior to the Senegal international’s modest return of 10, 22 and 11 respectively.
But the emphasis on attacking dynamism has relinquished some of Kante’s defensive responsibility, and that has been reflected in the comparison with the markedly robust and defensive-minded Gueye. Everton’s ever-present midfield anchor has made nearly double the number of tackles as Kante with 108, and he has supplemented his diligent approach to ball-winning by making 53 interceptions.
The France international will be aiming to penetrate the midfield all afternoon with intricacy, dynamism and sharp interplay, but Gueye could yet prove to be his nemesis.
If both of these players stay true to form it will be intriguing to watch the midfield battle unfold.
Anthony Taylor will be in charge of the final fixture of the weekend. There is not a strong history of bad blood between the two sides so he won’t be expecting to oversee a ferocious encounter, but there are a handful of hot-headed players on both sides who will need keeping an eye on, such as Richarlison and David Luiz.
Taylor’s place of 14th on the red cards per game table suggests that he is typically lenient with his decision-making, but the game is likely to be relatively stop-start in its nature due to the number of fouls he typically blows for per number of challenges made.
With a home win bias of 65%, statistics suggest that Everton have a peculiar advantage as they bid to end their torrid run of form against the top-six clubs.
Phil Jagielka is the only player who is guaranteed to be sidelined through injury today, while Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club per the terms of his loan agreement. Seamus Coleman has recovered from the illness which forced him out of the defeat against Newcastle United last weekend and Leighton Baines is also in contention to feature after missing the last five Premier League fixtures.
Zouma’s ineligibility should prompt the return of Yerry Mina to the starting XI. The Colombian colossus was in valiant form at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture earlier this season, and another performance of that calibre could provide Everton with a vital foundation to keep the visitors at bay.
There are no major concerns for Chelsea to mull over ahead of the trip to Merseyside. Marco Van Ginkel is the only notable absentee on the injury table, while Gonzalo Higuain is likely to return from illness.
The Argentine striker missed the midweek trip to Kiev with fever, but Sarri will be hoping he is well enough to return at Goodison Park. And, considering Eden Hazard has struggled to discover his goal scoring mojo on this ground during his last six visits, Higuain’s presence could be exactly what he needs to end his dry run there.
Mateo Kovacic has started back-to-back fixtures against Wolves and Dynamo Kiev, so Barkley could be in line to start against his former club in what promises to be a major sub-plot. The midfield powerhouse is a divisive figure amongst the Everton fans, and he will expect to be routinely booed every time he collects the ball.
Overall then, that’s eight changes from the side that thrashed Kiev in midweek, with N’Golo Kante, Kepa and Antonio Rudiger the only players to keep their places.