Goodison Park plays host to one of the festive period’s most eagerly anticipated and potentially crucial matches when Everton welcome Chelsea on December 30. The Blues of Stamford Bridge, currently sitting just two points ahead of the Merseyside Blues, are attempting to regain ground lost on leaders Manchester United before their recent trip to Japan for the Club World Championship. A loss of form signalled the end for Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of the unpopular Rafa Benitez.
The Chelsea fans aren’t the only ones with animosity towards the Spaniard. Evertonians were incensed when Benitez called them a “small club” during his tenure at local rivals, Liverpool, where he also managed to antagonise the people he is still trying to win over in London. He and his new team should expect a hot reception from the home supporters. The Everton crowd like nothing more than creating a hostile atmosphere for games against the so-called big boys, and their recent record against Chelsea is admirable, with three consecutive home league victories over Sunday’s opponents to look back on. David Moyes brings his side into the game with confidence high and will be optimistic that he can take something out of the game and maintain Everton’s excellent Christmas form.
A deserved win at West Ham United was followed up on Boxing Day with victory against strugglers, Wigan Athletic, to keep themselves in the hunt for a top 4 place come the end of the season. A win or draw against Chelsea would complete a more than satisfactory set of fixtures for Moyes. Chelsea, seemingly over their blip, are beginning to go through the gears as they attempt to haul themselves back into the race for the title. They began the festive period with an 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa and followed that up by taking maximum points from a tough trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City. Benitez has made only slight alterations with the vast array of talent he has at his disposal, but the decisions to switch David Luiz to a midfield slot and reintroduce the talismanic Frank Lampard to the starting XI, allied to the continued superb form of Juan Mata have been key to his team’s resurgence.
Toffees boss Moyes must again do without the influential Marouane Fellaini, who misses the third and final game of his suspension, and injured duo Kevin Mirallas and Tony Hibbert. Although he will be hopeful Darron Gibson will be fit to play, having also escaped a ban when his red card from the Upton Park encounter was sensibly overturned. It is becoming a modern football cliché, but Moyes is performing miracles on Merseyside to keep his threadbare, cash-strapped squad hanging to the coat-tails of the moneybags aristocrats of Manchester and London. Chelsea boss Benitez has an almost embarrassing choice for selection by comparison to his counterpart. His only real worry is the fitness of club captain, John Terry, who will again be absent due to his knee injury.
Everton will want to make this game a real hard battle and stop Chelsea from getting into any kind of rhythm, which when they hit, they are almost impossible to beat. And Moyes is a past-master of doing this to the main title contenders, especially on visits to Goodison Park. Both sides can be suspect at the back when put under pressure, therefore the match is likely to see goals and action for both ‘keepers. Moyes will send his men out to keep a high tempo throughout and hope that Chelsea’s heavy fixture schedule of the last month will finally catch up with them. Benitez is likely to want his side to come away with everyone still standing, and something to show for their efforts. It could be honours even for these high-flying clubs.
Prediction: Everton 1-1 Chelsea