Everton vs. Chelsea
Venue: Goodison Park
Kick off: 1:30PM
Chelsea make the trip to Goodison Park to face Everton having strengthened their grip of fourth position with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.
After witnessing his players under-perform against West Ham United at the weekend, Frank Lampard may have had concerns about the mentality of his young team ahead of an important run of fixtures.
However, despite the narrow margin of victory, Chelsea looked somewhere close to their best against Villa on Wednesday night as they maintained their six-point advantage over their rivals for a top-four spot.
Lampard was quick to allude to the Blues wasting numerous opportunities to put the result beyond any doubt heading into the closing stages, while the backline are still conceding too many chances to the opposition.
Nevertheless, Chelsea have now recorded 21 points from their last nine outings in the top flight, form which is on par with what second-placed Leicester City have produced all season.
Lampard’s immediate task is to find a way of achieving a result at a ground which has not always been kind to Chelsea, ahead of attempting to claim the three points which they require against Lille to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages.
The return of Tammy Abraham ahead of the upcoming double-header is a major plus for Lampard, with the academy graduate having now contributed 11 goals and three assists in the Premier League this season.
While Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud are quality deputies to the England international, Chelsea look more fluid with the youngster in the side, something which plays into the favour of the creative players around him.
The involvement of Abraham led to Mason Mount ending a two-month wait for a goal on Wednesday night, and the playmaker will be hoping to build on his performance against the Villans with Ross Barkley now closing in on a return after a seven-week layoff.
Meanwhile, with Wednesday night’s 5-2 defeat to Liverpool seeing the club drop into the relegation zone, Everton have decided to part ways with Marco Silva, replacing the Portuguese with Duncan Ferguson on a caretaker basis.
While the Toffees had their moments against neighbours Liverpool earlier this week, the manner of the defeat ultimately led to the majority of the club’s hierarchy feeling that a change was required if they are going to make headway up the table.
There will be those who feel a degree of sympathy for Silva, who watched his team suffer a last-gasp defeat to Leicester City at the weekend and miss out on earning what appeared to be a clear spot kick when 2-1 down to Liverpool.
Nevertheless, despite putting together a talented squad at Goodison Park, the 42-year-old makes his exit having lost as many games as he has won, something which has understandably been regarded as unacceptable given the club’s financial outlay over the past 18 months.
Club legend Ferguson must now find a way to unite and motivate a squad which is lacking confidence at the back, although the opportunity to take on a Chelsea side who have also been shipping goals at the other end has arguably come at the right time.
Fresh off the back of agreeing a new long-term contract, Richarlison has netted in his last two appearances to take his tally to five for the season, and Ferguson will be relying on the Brazil international to build on his recent streak.
However, becoming more solid in defence and midfield will be the Scot’s top priority, with just one clean sheet coming in 13 matches and nine goals being shipped in their three most recent fixtures.
Should Everton achieve their goal of shutting out this Chelsea attack, it may act as the catalyst that they have been looking for as they look to avoid any sort of a relegation battle.
Everton possible XI: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne, Schneiderlin, Davies, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Richarlison.
Chelsea possible XI: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Christensen, Palmieri, Jorginho, Kante, Willian, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham.