Chelsea’s midweek affairs at home to Apoel Nicosia were irrelevant to say the least.
Having already topped the group the game was merely a case of the Blues needing to go through the motions. The game can at best be described as insignificant, however the news that midfield engine Michael Essien will not play for the club until he returns from the African Cup of Nations is anything but insignificant. Squads are drawn to their entire depths during the Christmas period so losing anyone leaves a feeling of loss, especially a player at the heart of the midfield battles.
Essien will be pushing for fitness for the next month desperate to represent his nation in January, therefore is unlikely to be risked over the coming weeks. Obvious replacement Jon Obi Mikel is another expected absentee with the tournament next month and many will anticipate his being call upon this weekend. Michael Ballack may be employed in the role behind Frank Lampard and Deco, the midfielder has the physical capabilities of a defensive shield and although his pace may be lacking, his experience can counteract this.
The German has performed at the top level for a large sector of his career and is a well renowned individual, the player was a natural attacker with Bayern Munich but age may have prevented this former box to box legend carrying out such a demanding role. The Blues face a struggling Everton side this approaching weekend – a side leaking goals conceding 27 in their first 15 games and scoring just eight times. Lacklustre performances from Everton’s backbone i.e. Tim Cahill, Yakubu Ayegbeni and Joseph Yobo have failed to inspire a side plagued by injury. Therefore it seems Ballack instead of neutralising attacks will be drawn in to compete in a physical battle with yellow card victim Marouane Felliani.
After a mediocre away run Chelsea will be breathe a sigh of relief as they hope to unpick the Merseysiders from the comfort of their own home. Yet to drop a point at Stamford Bridge this season, the Blues have conceded a single goal and attained 20 of their own in the progress. Everton are missing their key centre back partnership in Phil Jagielka and Joseph Yobo both out with injuries and so Chelsea may capitalise on this. Didier Drogba has a good record against Everton; with a memorable and well taken volley past Tim Howard in the latter stages of a 3-2 ‘smash and grab’ and of course his goal in the FA Cup victory.
The Ivorian will look to string a good run together before momentarily departing the English game for Africa, his deadly form of late will certainly trouble an inexperienced Everton defence. With the Toffees likely to play an individual out of position or call on the youth team to inspire, the threat of Nicolas Anelka and Drogba will be venomous. Drogba’s superb finish to put Chelsea 2-1 up against Apoel Nicosia encapsulates his underlying quality that has been consistent this season and undoubtedly a major factor in Chelsea’s two point lead at the top.
A strong performance from Gael Kakuta is unlikely to warrant a start at Everton but the player is likely to feature at some point in the game. If an opportunity arises for the youngster he has already proven his fearless nature can terrorise defences. The transfer ban victim may face off against a naive Seamus Coleman this week and although the defender provided a respectable performance for the Toffees against Tottenham, he will have his work cut out to neutralise a skilful nuisance such as Kakuta.
A 2-2 draw against the Cypriot champions was largely surplus to the needs of the Londoners season ambitions but an opportunity to rest first teamers is always nice during a busy December. Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Anelka will all enter the Everton tie fresh from a mid-week respite and will look to induce more misery on an Everton side desperate for points. Everton languish precariously above relegation in 15th and Chelsea will do everything in their power to not lose any more ground to rivals Manchester United. Although key players are missing for both teams, Chelsea is much the stronger with an abundance of quality throughout the squad. Everton encompass more promise than presence and will hope luck favours the youth this weekend.