Club Focus – Everton – Toffees prepare for midfield battle of Stamford Bridge

Everton take on Chelsea on Saturday with both sides struggling for form. The hosts have won just one in five while the Toffees have gone since October 30 without tasting victory.

A trip to Stamford Bridge is always a fearsome prospect regardless of the recent results endured by Carlo Ancelotti’s men, but even more so when Everton are in an even worse pattern themselves. The source of Chelsea’s woes can be seen by their injury list – no John Terry, Frank Lampard or Michael Essien, enough to rip the heart out of any side. Together with Didier Drogba continuing his recovery from malaria, the Blues of London have been forced to cope without their captain and premier centre-back in Terry, the insatiable drive of Essien, the goal threat of Lampard and a first-choice striker playing at far from 100%. Their replacements, particularly the cover for Lampard and Essien in midfield – Ramires and Yuri Zhirkov – have been unable to maintain Ancelotti’s high standards.

The root of Everton’s problems is much less clear cut. Unlike their weekend opponents – and unlike during past rough spells – Everton cannot claim that an extensive injury list has hampered them recently – the Toffees have even had players returning, including Jack Rodwell, Louis Saha and Victor Anichebe. Instead, the Blues from Merseyside have only themselves to blame. The performances on the field have been bereft of almost anything positive, particularly in the defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion, when a routine Baggies’ corner was met by Paul Scharner alone and as the ball brushed the back of the net Everton’s confidence seeped away too. Senior players – players with experience at the highest level of the game – looked away when a teammate searched for a willing recipient of the ball and West Brom soon overran the midfield.

In the absence of Essien and Lampard Chelsea are also vulnerable through the middle – evidenced by the ease with which Sunderland strode through the centre of the league champions a few weeks ago – and whatever success Everton hope to have on Saturday may rely on them taking similar advantage. Mikel Arteta is suspended but Marouane Fellaini returns and the Belgian impressed in his last outing, against Bolton Wanderers, before being sent off late on. The 23-year-old gave Everton the mix of ball-winning and ball-playing they had been lacking from midfield all season, looking remarkably sharp in his first appearance since early October, a stark contrast to the aimless John Heitinga, whose future in the Everton XI and at the club in general grows murkier with each substandard performance – the Dutchman has been linked to Bayern Munich and David Moyes, forever having to sell before he can buy, may be tempted to cut his losses with the underperforming World Cup finalist should an offer materialise. Rodwell is pushing for a first start since he returned to fitness and the energetic midfielder may be Everton’s best bet of disrupting Chelsea’s weakened engine room.

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