Focus: The Everton duo who can heap more misery on Chelsea
Chelsea cannot afford another bad result. After a tumultuous three weeks of petulant outbursts and chaotic performances, an ominously familiar pattern of third-season syndrome is emerging for Jose Mourinho. The disintegrating partnership of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas is their primary concern and, up against the direct and powerful duo of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku this week, it is here that Everton will strike.
Roberto Martinez is an excellent adaptive tactician, meticulously studying his opponent in the hope of exploiting their weaknesses; the image of Fabregas roaming listlessly forward while his overworked partner, Matic, scrambles across the breadth of the pitch in exasperation will be familiar to Everton’s manager. Indeed, Martinez’s key tactical tweaks this season could already have them set up for another damaging defeat for Chelsea.
This season Everton have played with greater directness, adapting their patient, short-passing approach to include long balls forward towards Lukaku. Perhaps surprisingly, Everton complete more long passes than any other Premier League team (43 per game) with the majority of these aimed towards the Belgian giant.
The second key feature of Everton’s season has been the powerful dribbling of a reinvigorated Barkley, who – collecting knockdowns from Lukaku – drives through the heart of midfield; he has averaged 3 dribbles per match this season, up from 2.1 in 2014/15.
As such, the central zone of Everton’s attacking third is where Chelsea must show greatest defensive solidity, and where Chelsea are currently weakest. Fabregas’s positional indiscipline and Matic’s poor form are now well documented, but the consistency with which their mistakes lead to goalscoring chances is truly alarming.
All four of their league opponents to date have flourished in the enormous pockets of space that open up around the edge of the 'D', and have taken full advantage of the ease with which simple passes can be played through the centre of the pitch.
Barkley and Lukaku should find huge amounts of space within which to build towards goal, and – now that Mourinho’s scowls no longer strike fear in the opposition – will be confident of darkening the mood further in west London.