Will former Chelsea boys burn bridges?
The wicked nature of football reveals itself once more. After the signing of Samuel Eto’o – one of the biggest in Everton’s history – the new no.5 is likely to make his debut against his previous club, Chelsea.
His spat with Jose Mourinho is well-documented. In fact, in the build up to this game, it has been the sole focus – with what Eto’o can do on the pitch glossed over.
He scored nine goals in 16 league games last season, and also notched three in the Champions League. When played up front – and without the peripheral nonsense about his age or application – he is an asset for any side; penetrative, intelligent and a good finisher.
Of course, there will be claims it was always meant to happen if he notches against Mourinho’s side – but it won’t be down to extra motivation, pushed on by revenge, but rather because he can be a torment to Gary Cahill and John Terry because he’s simply a good player.
Whether he plays from the start, or comes on as a substitute, is yet to be determined. It will be another former Chelsea striker who would keep him on the bench, Romelu Lukaku. Unable to face them last season due to the terms of his loan deal, it could be a double debut of sorts.
It also could show how smart Everton have been in the transfer market and as Chelsea toss aside players without a care, Roberto Martinez is there to pick up the pieces and create a strong, successful team.
How will the Blues approach this game?
With two draws in the opening two games, the pressure is on in some form – especially in the manner in how six points somehow became just two in their opening fixtures.
But the Blues boss should remind both players and fans how his side drew the first three games of last season – against much lesser opposition – and that season turned out well with a fifth-placed finish.
Still, there will be a point to prove – and a feeling there is more than a point to win – after the manner of their first two draws. Will Martinez retain the patient, methodical, intelligent keep-ball that worked so well against both Leicester and Arsenal for 80 minutes? Or will the Blues look to be more up-tempo, pushing for the win at the first possible moment?
They are decisions Martinez must make, made even more difficult with uncertainty surrounding how the away side will line up.
One suspects Martinez is sagacious enough to know this is a 38-game season. Last season proved that. But one thing is for sure – they must not repeat the final 10 minutes of either game, regardless of what comes in the 80 before.
Where is Chelsea’s weak link?
The names fly off the team-sheet.
Thibaut Courtois, La Liga winner and one of the world’s best goalkeepers; Nemanja Matic, a Europa League finalist and defensive midfield lynchpin; Cesc Fabregas, with a bursting trophy cabinet and Diego Costa, one of the world’s best strikers.
And they have all only started playing for the club in the last 12 months.
It’s a wonder how they didn’t win the Premier League last season.
Chelsea’s squad very much resembles the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Conventional weaponry does not harm them. A brilliant goalkeeper, a rock-solid defence, quality all across the midfield and a striker in Mourinho’s belligerent mould.
It is for Martinez to figure out how to plunder them into a pit of molten lava.
The power of Lukaku, the experience of Eto’o and the industry of Steven Naismith can give them a good shove, while Gareth Barry and James McCarthy can jostle with Fabregas and Matic in the middle. If passed fit, tranquilliser darts may be required to stop Costa.
That shouldn’t be forgotten. Everton beat Chelsea at Goodison Park last season, but this is a different Chelsea now.
Martinez will hope he can show how this is the same Everton, however.
Good teams crumbled on Merseyside last season and he became the man to exploit any weaknesses in the side. He played Lukaku on the right against Arsenal to bully Nacho Monreal; he went 4-4-2 to nullify United’s plodding centre. Final score: Martinez 5-0 Wenger and Moyes.
If he can find Chelsea’s weaknesses, you back him to target it – and more than likely hit it, too.