x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

In Everton and Chelsea you have opposites finding success

Big-spending Chelsea have a revolving door on the manager's office while Everton are quiet achievers with David Moyes, writes Richard Jolly.

Rafael Benitez, centre, is the latest in what seems to be a never-ending line of 'interim' managers at Chelsea.
Rafael Benitez, centre, is the latest in what seems to be a never-ending line of 'interim' managers at Chelsea.

And so concludes a year of logic-defying extremes that, for one reason, goes down as the greatest in Chelsea's 115-year history.

They slipped to their lowest league finish in the Roman Abramovich era and lost three finals in four months but 2012 was the year they won the world's most difficult competition (although not, of course, the Club World Cup).

It was a year they began under Jose Mourinho's protege, Andre Villas-Boas, and ended under the Portuguese's old bete noire, Rafa Benitez, just across Liverpool's Stanley Park from his former stomping ground, Anfield.

And yet while Chelsea's bizarre cocktail of successes and failures made them 2012's headline act, Everton have displayed a rather quieter brand of consistency that has rendered it 12 months of achievement at Goodison Park.

Indeed, they have not taken more points in a calendar year since 1987, which brought their ninth and final league title.

A total of 68 is not merely impressive, it is also three more than Chelsea's total in the same time.

Their triumphs and troubles can be traced back to their last visit; February's 2-0 defeat was in Villas-Boas's final few weeks.

Roberto Di Matteo came and went, winning the Uefa Champions League but not facing Everton, and so now it is Benitez who is at the helm for this clash of opposites.

With David Moyes's reign at Goodison Parknow into its second decade, it is continuity against constant change.

With Everton defeated only twice in 27 league games and unbeaten at home this season, it is the team who are hard to beat versus the side who, after scoring 23 goals in their last five games against English opposition, are starting to specialise in demolition jobs.

With Everton boasting another transfer-market profit in 2012, it is the budget challengers against the big spenders.

"Moyes is doing a great job - they have good players and team spirit, and it will be a tough game," Benitez said.

"They are doing well at the top of the table and fighting against teams with more resources."

Chelsea in particular.

Their summer spending cost upwards of £80 million (Dh475.1m).

They have spent almost £60m in pay-offs to sacked coaches and managers during Moyes's time on Merseyside.

And yet they can claim that permanent revolution works.

After Di Matteo's spring rally, Chelsea are experiencing a similar surge under Benitez.

The Spaniard can savour back-to-back clean sheets while the owner Abramovich is likelier to treasure a club record-equalling 8-0 victory over Aston Villa.

"You could see against Aston Villa we were thinking about the attack, but we have to be strong in defence and a clean sheet is also positive," Benitez said.

"Balance is key in any top side."

While a blend of frugality, flair and fine finishing sounds a potent formula, none of Chelsea's recent wins has come against an immediate rival.

It is a reason why this match has such importance.

While Benitez believes Chelsea are title contenders, they have little leeway.

Indeed, after kicking off 14 points behind Manchester United seven days ago, they have already made up ground.

"You always have a chance of winning games with the quality of players they have," Moyes said.

"He is doing a really good job."

A club with a revolving door for managers are going places.

In David Luiz's case, it is from defence to midfield after being pushed forward by Benitez. Fernando Torres is going from a standing, if unfunny, joke to the score sheet, with seven goals in as many games.

Frank Lampard may be heading for pastures new, given Chelsea's strange reluctance to offer one of their greatest players a contract extension, but first he has a part to play.

This is Chelsea, the club where their Champions League-winning manager was swiftly discarded and a man their supporters disliked quickly appointed.

Benitez will not yet win popularity contests in London. He still can in Liverpool.

"My connection with the city is very strong," said the Spaniard, whose six seasons at Anfield still define his time in England.

The red half hold him in higher esteem than the blue, however, and many have not forgiven him for branding Everton a "small club" in 2007.

"I've no idea what reception he will get," said Moyes.

He can probably guess it will be hostile.

sports@thenational.ae

THE MATCH-UPS

 

Key battle

Phil Jagielka v Fernando Torres

While not especially convincing, seven goals in his past seven games indicates a return to form for Torres. Jagielka and the Everton backline will look to stick tight to the Spaniard and keep him an isolated figure.

 

Tactics

No defeats in nine games show Everton are a hard side to break down at Goodison Park, and Chelsea will find that today. Rafa Benitez is likely to stick with Torres as a lone forward, with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard getting up in support at every opportunity.

 

Previous meetings

Everton have won their last three home games against Chelsea and have not lost at home since March, when they went down to Arsenal. Chelsea have only beaten Everton once in their most recent eight encounters - winning 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last season.

 

Probable line-ups

Everton (4-4-2) Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Osman, Coleman, Gibson, Pienaar; Jelavic, Anichebe

Chelsea (4-5-1) Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Moses, Mikel, David Luiz, Hazard, Mata; Torres

 

Facts

X If Everton avoid defeat today they will have only lost six times in the league in 2012 - a new club record.

X Chelsea have had 44 shots in their last two Premier League games (18 against Norwich and 26 versus Villa), finding the net nine times.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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