The blue sides of London and Merseyside have been asked to wait but our midweek fixture is almost here, so a little later than usual club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton have their match preview…
The seasonal song reckons there’s no place like home for the holidays but this evening brings Chelsea’s final appearance at Stamford Bridge before a trio of away crackers in league and cup either side of Christmas.
The Blues entertain Everton with just three games to go before the halfway turn in the Premier League campaign. Earlier this week, Manchester City went five points ahead of the Londoners, who began the week eight clear of fourth-placed West Ham.
Thomas Tuchel’s side have slipped to the fourth most in-form side over the past six league outings, behind Boxing Day hosts Aston Villa and the top two. Eight of the 11 league goals conceded this term have come in that difficult half-dozen but victory tonight would keep the champions of Europe well-placed to regain leadership in due course.
Thursday is an unfamiliar night for league football, but Chelsea have the best Premier League win rate of all teams who have played more than once on this day: seven victories in 11 matches.
The visitors are winless in their past 12 matches against the reigning European champions, including eight defeats. Chelsea won both such games against them in 2012/13 – with current Toffees boss Rafael Benitez as interim coach.
Chelsea team news
The treatment room is emptying for Thomas Tuchel, leaving Ben Chilwell and Covid victim Mateo Kovacic sidelined this evening. Trevoh Chalobah and N’Golo Kante returned to training but may not be risked from the start while the Bavarian feels Romelu Lukaku now has enough in his locker to last 70-plus minutes.
The striker, a late substitute on Saturday against Leeds, may start against his former club, and other changes are likely as the coaching staff spread the burden over a packed schedule. Marcos Alonso has had a heavy workload and could be stood down, while Andreas Christensen may provide respite for Thiago Silva.One person who will not want a rest is Mason Mount, who has been back to his very best in recent performances. The midfielder has scored (and contributed two assists) in his last three top-flight outings and a goal against Everton would make him the youngest player to net in four Premier League games in a row for the Blues. Reece James must avoid a fifth booking in the next three league matches to avoid a one-game ban.
The tale of the tape against Leeds was of rising confidence deflated then – hopefully – emphatically restored by a thrilling ending. Thomas Tuchel again noted his team coming back to take the lead but fearing an equaliser and dropping off.
The visitors’ third meant it was a third successive game with a goal conceded in the last 10 minutes. The huge difference this time was to respond by earning and converting a penalty winner that tore the roof off Stamford Bridge.
Like Leeds, Everton arrive with plenty of problems and despite the time of year, Tuchel will hope his side are uncharitable. Liverpool showed the way to expose any Toffees’ defensive weaknesses and pounce on any errors in beating them 4-1 at Goodison Park earlier this month.
A fast start is always handy, and Chelsea have hit 11 goals in the opening 30 minutes in the league this season with just one in reply. In contrast the visitors have conceded the first goal in 12 of their 18 matches across all competitions.
Rafael Benitez will be missing at least five and up to eight of his Everton regulars when he returns to Stamford Bridge this evening for the fourth time since his spell as interim coach in 2012/13.
The Spaniard started well at Goodison, 14 points from seven league games representing the Toffees’ best opening since 2004/05. The past 10 has been a stickier period with five points earned from the 30 on offer.
For most of the campaign Benitez has been without influential frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin (who remains out) and now winger Andros Townsend and touchstone forward Richarlison have been ruled out, as has midfielder Tom Davies.
Equally significant is the loss at the back of Yerry Mina. With the Colombian centre-back starting Everton have conceded 1.3 goals per game this season while with Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey it is closer to two. The Merseysiders do not have deep cover for either full-back and the status of Seamus Coleman (bone bruising) and former skipper Lucas Digne (out of favour) is unclear.
In central midfield Allan is a doubt to partner Abdoulaye Doucoure, while Andre Gomes started for the first time under Benitez in the no.10 role but looked weary before the end and may be rested.
There have been flickers of hope for unhappy Evertonians, not least their handsome defeat of Arsenal (their sole success in the 10 matches). Even though they followed that with a passive performance at Selhurst Park, ceding possession and the initiative to Palace from the outset, Salomon Rondon (playing under Benitez for the third time) grabbed a comfort goal in the 3-1 loss, his first this season. Winger and leading scorer Demarai Gray and youngster Anthony Gordon have shown flashes of inspiration too.
The 70.3 per cent passing accuracy recorded against Palace was the third worst of the weekend after Burnley and Watford, and regularly undermined attempts to kick-start an attack. On longer distance distribution the success rate slipped to 38.4 per cent.
The Toffees score almost half as many goals on the road as they do at Goodison Park but concede around the same. They have conceded four times without reply in the closing stages of away games to date.
We have history
Everton’s loss on Sunday was a novel experience – their first at Selhurst Park for 27 years. That contrasts starkly with their travails at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea have remained unbeaten against them in 26 league matches since November 1994.
The Merseysiders have not found the net in any of their past five league visits. The run started in November 2016 with Chelsea’s effervescent 5-0 display, rated by veteran commentator John Motson the best he had ever witnessed.
Everton coach Rafael Benitez has lost all three returns to Stamford Bridge in league and cup since ending his association with the Londoners in 2013. In fact in 19 visits no former Blues manager has ever come back to take all three points in the Premier League, though six have earned draws.
The pen is mightier
No club has been awarded more spot-kicks in this season’s top flight than Chelsea and whatever the Brazilian-Portuguese/Italian is for cojones, Jorginho has it. The midfielder held his nerve to net a crucial added-time winner despite the Leeds goalie pointing to where he thought Jorgi would place his kick, an act that earned a yellow card.
It was the Chelsea man’s second penalty of the game, his sixth success across all club competitions this season, and the fourth occasion he has bagged a 12-yard brace for the Blues – the most by any player in our history. He has netted 21 of his 24 takes, an 87 per cent success rate.
The last time three penalties were scored in a Chelsea game and we claimed two of them was against Manchester United in the League Cup on hallowe’en night 2012.
On this day…
Nine years ago today Rafael Benitez, recently installed as interim successor to Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo, coached Chelsea against Corinthians in the Club World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan.
The Brazilians were compact and aggressive but the Blues fashioned easily enough chances to lift the trans-continental crown, despite starting with in-form Brazil midfielder Oscar (and Cesar Azpilicueta) on the bench.
Instead, a 1-0 defeat meant the opportunity that so rarely knocks was missed. Happily, the Londoners are back with a chance to make amends in February 2022.
Matchweek 17 Premier League results and fixtures
TuesdayBrentford v Man Utd - postponedNorwich 0 Aston Villa 2Man City 7 Leeds 0
WednesdayBrighton 0 Wolves 1Burnley Watford - postponedCrystal Palace 2 Southampton 2Arsenal 2 West Ham 0
ThuesdayLeicester v Tottenham 7.30pmChelsea v Everton 7.45pmLiverpool v Newcastle 8pm