Toffees may struggle to stifle Belgian fireworks
BT Sport 1, 5.30pm
Chelsea will be looking to send out a serious warning to the rest of the Premier League when they take on Everton and Eden Hazard could be the man who puts the Blues on their way to another three-point haul at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard has been given permission to roam in Antonio Conte’s new 3-4-3 formation but he is not the only one to have benefited from the new shape.
Chelsea look more comfortable all over the pitch and Hazard gets the nod over Diego Costa to light the fireworks as Conte’s men aim to march further up the Premier League standings.
A weakened Blues outfit were knocked out of the EFL Cup but since switching to a three-man defensive line Chelsea’s Premier League results have been nothing short of outstanding with four wins by an aggregate 11-0.
The move came in response to successive league defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal and even Conte must be slightly surprised by the transformation.
Cesc Fabregas and Kurt Zouma won’t return to the first-team squad until after the international break.
First-choice keeper Maarten Stekelenburg is back fit after a foot problem. However, Leighton Baines and James McCarthy are injured, while Arouna Kone lacks match fitness. Idrissa Gueye is suspended.
Hull were humbled 2-0, Leicester were beaten 3-0 at the Bridge and Manchester United crushed 4-0 before last week’s superb controlled performance in the 2-0 win at Southampton.
Hazard opened the scoring at St Mary’s and Everton could have similar issues in shutting down the brilliant Belgian who has scored in his last five starts for club and country.
Five times Hazard has started at Stamford Bridge this season and only Liverpool have managed to stop him scoring but fellow Merseysiders Everton don’t possess the press to unsettle Chelsea in the same manner.
The Toffees returned to winning ways at home to West Ham last week but that was their first triumph since September 17 and Everton’s sole clean sheet in five away days this term came at shot-shy Sunderland.
Everton upset the odds in a 1-1 draw at Manchester City, although Ronald Koeman admitted his team had been fortunate to escape with a point.
Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg saved two penalties at City and Everton’s goal at the Etihad came via Romelu Lukaku in a rare raid forward.
Lukaku would obviously love to get one over the club who decided he was not good enough for them and there is pace on the break from wingers Yannick Bolasie and Kevin Mirallas.
Chelsea have not conceded in the Premier League for 410 minutes and all bar five of those minutes were since they switched to a back three
Ross Barkley is not the most consistent of performers but he was excellent against West Ham and will have to take on more midfield responsibility with Idrissa Gueye suspended.
The problem is that while West Ham offered Barkley loads of space at Goodison Park that is unlikely to be repeated at Stamford Bridge with N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic patrolling Chelsea’s midfield.
Everton’s first clean sheet in eight arrived on Sunday but the Hammers had clear chances either side of Lukaku breaking the deadlock which should be of concern to Koeman.
Leighton Baines remains sidelined and the rearguard could be overly exposed by the absence of Gueye, a Kante-type character who covers acres of ground.
Gareth Barry may struggle to dictate matters without his energetic sidekick next to him and it’s a real problem area with James McCarthy crocked.
Koeman is a deep thinker who will no doubt have a plan to stop Chelsea but without their strongest 11 available it may be a Bridge too far for the Toffees.
E Hazard first goalscorer
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