The title race is on in the Premier League with only four points separating Chelsea and Tottenham. Although they have been in the box-seat for the majority of this campaign, they have not been crowned champions yet and the Blues need to ensure that they remain focused on winning their remaining matches. This weekend sees one of their most difficult fixtures left to play as they travel to Goodison Park to face in-form Everton. They haven’t lost at home since December and there is a real chance that the league leaders could slip-up on Sunday.
Everton are set to qualify for next season’s Europa League and that would represent an excellent first season in charge for Ronald Koeman. The talent has been there for years, but the team lacked consistency under Roberto Martinez. That hasn’t been the case this season as they have been picking up wins with regularity and are on the tails of the top six. This was seen as a transition year at Goodison Park and there is reason to believe that they can push on further next season.
Although they would have liked to have wrapped the title up with more ease, the renewed challenge posed by Spurs can be seen as a good thing for Chelsea. Antonio Conte will learn a lot about those in the squad, especially whether they have the strong mentality required to win titles at the highest level. This will be a massive game for the side and if they get the three points, they will take a giant step towards lifting the Premier League trophy. They bounced back well from two disappointing defeats against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, once again giving them the positive momentum that they need in the run-in.
Everton have won two of the last four meetings in all competitions, but Chelsea won the return fixture earlier this season by a convincing 5-0 scoreline. This came when the Blues were playing their best football and the Toffees were in questionable form. Ronald Koeman will be keen for his team to perform a lot better on Sunday. The goal-scorers on that day were Eden Hazard (2), Marcos Alonso, Diego Costa and Pedro.
Everton have scored 41 goals at home this season, which is more than they have managed in any of their last 26 top-flight campaigns.
Chelsea haven’t kept a clean sheet in the Premier League in 11 matches, their worst run since 1996.
The Belgian is expected to leave Everton in the summer as he has developed into a Champions League calibre striker, a level that his current club can’t match. He is the current top scorer in the Premier League and he will be desperate to finish the season as the golden boot winner. This match offers the 23-year-old with the opportunity to play against his former club and that gives him extra motivation. He has failed to score in his last five Premier League matches against Chelsea, which is a poor record and one that he needs to correct. However, he has scored in the last nine home matches, the first Everton player to do so since Dixie Dean in 1934. Chelsea’s dodgy defensive record since the turn of the year is a real problem and the Toffees have an attack that will pose them real problems. In Lukaku, they have one of the most in-form strikers in the league and he has the attributes to dominate the defenders this weekend. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ends his poor run against his former club with at least one goal.
Many Chelsea supporters have questioned Diego Costa in recent weeks as his performances clearly dropped after the speculation regarding his future in January. He was excellent during the first half of the season and showed why Conte was keen to keep him last summer. However, the team became reliant on Eden Hazard for the last few moths as their first-choice striker wasn’t scoring with regularity. During the week, he returned to form with two goals against Southampton. It was important for the club that he was at his best for the run-in as they can’t depend entirely Hazard. Conte once again showed his excellent man-management skills as he ‘rested’ the Spanish international for the FA Cup semi-final, which may have been a tactical move to reignite the fire in the striker. It has worked and the 28-year-old striker will be keen to follow up his mid-week performance with another good showing at Goodison Park.
Enner Valencia is available after missing out against his parent club West Ham. Aaron Lennon, Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori all remain sidelined. If Leighton Baines starts as expected, the left-back will make his 350th appearance for the club.
Chelsea will be full-strength this weekend and Conte is likely to return to his favoured starting eleven this weekend, which will mean a return for Pedro. Cesc Fabregas will be the one to drop back down to the bench.
This could be the most entertaining match this weekend as Everton have the quality in attack to cause Chelsea real problems. The Toffees have been incredible at home in recent weeks and can take great confidence into the match. They have nothing to lose and that makes them even more dangerous to the league leaders. There will be goals scored and it will be a great game for the neutral ahead of the North London Derby. If the home side manage to take something from the game, that will give Tottenham extra motivation in the later game. I think it will be a score draw, which will make the title race even more interesting.