We may be in the middle of September but Everton’s season can finally start in earnest against Chelsea on Saturday. The transfer window remaining open after the Premier League has kicked off, then an international break immediately after it closed, has given the campaign a disjointed feel but now Roberto Martinez knows the make-up of his squad until January at least.
The persistent question over the future of Marouane Fellaini was eventually answered on transfer deadline day and it was that as much as anything which gave the early season an odd feel. Watching the Belgian was a curious experience in the early matches, never knowing which appearance would prove to be his last in Everton colours and ready for any mistake to be pounced on as proof his mind was already at Old Trafford.
Everton will face Chelsea without a single Belgian in the squad, a cardinal sin in today’s Belgium-dominated Premier League, as Romelu Lukaku is unable to play against his parent club. That means either another chance for Nikica Jelavic to recapture his best form, or a first league start for Arouna Kone.
Chances are there will be a home debut or two, though, with both Gareth Barry and James McCarthy available after completing respective moves from Manchester City, on loan, and Wigan. Starting the pair together in midfield might be a little too much of an overhaul for Martinez – who has been cautious in blooding his new signings so far – so Leon Osman is liable to continue. The knock McCarthy picked up while playing for Ireland may mean he misses out, with Osman partnering Barry, as Darron Gibson has only just returned to training.
If there are uncertainties surrounding the XI Martinez will select there can be little doubt this is the most difficult game thus far the Spaniard has faced as Everton manager. As such it’s also the perfect game for Everton to record their first win under the new boss; the evening kick-off as the nights are drawing in should create a feisty atmosphere to help towards that end. But Jose Mourinho’s team are hardly shrinking violets and it’ll take more than that to pick up the three points.
Chelsea were the only Premier League opposition to leave Goodison with three points last season and under Mourinho you would expect the London Blues to be even better equipped today. Martinez’s Everton were a work in progress prior to the international break and having his players flung across all corners of the map is hardly going to help team cohesion. But Martinez has had time to examine what worked and what didn’t from Everton’s first three fixtures and can now put his discoveries into practice.
A fourth drawn game in succession wouldn’t be a disastrous result but a defeat would change the mood of the supporters greatly. There still exists that early season optimism, thanks to the late transfers and the international break, but losing – going a fourth game without a win – would bring in the dark clouds.
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