Everton v Chelsea - the big one
By Nick Webster
Everton Football Club boss, David Moyes has long been regarded as one of the best managers in the Premiership while in terms of service only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have more longevity. The Scotsman has shown over the course of his tenure at Goodison Park, an eye for talent, an eye for good football and the sense of when to open his mouth and when to be silent.
Since moving to Merseyside his club though have traditionally been one of the slowest in the league and it has not been uncommon for the Toffees to be languishing near the foot of the table around the holidays before making their usual sizzling run in the New Year and a flirtation with Europe. This season though has seen the team begin with a bang by defeating Manchester United on the opening day of the season and continuing that good form.
The question on all Evertonians lips now is whether a place in the UEFA Champions League be part of their reality and if so, what would the riches bring to a club that has struggled with finance for the best part of twenty years.
A fourth straight win at home over Chelsea this weekend will take Everton above their opponents in the English Premier League and potentially into third, a lofty position Everton haven't tasted since early in the 2003 season.
Everton currently sit fifth with 33 points heading into Sunday's game, while Chelsea are third, two points ahead of the Merseyside club thanks to two victories over Aston Villa and Norwich City. Having also won both their games in the past week, Everton are one of the Premier League clubs to have gained the most so far from the busy period over Christmas and New Year. If they can continue their good home record against Chelsea, third place will be up for grabs if Tottenham fail to win against Sunderland.
Home form is always the key for Moyes' team and they have beaten Chelsea the past three times the London club have come to Goodison Park for a Premier League fixture however the Blues are averaging over four-and-a-half goals per match in their last three games as the Rafa Benitez's era that began poorly has begun to pick up with the attacking midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar all improving after a lacklustre stint in November.
Benitez had some built in excuses at the beginning of his tenure stating that Chelsea's squad were exhausted while singling out the three young playmakers as some of the worst affected after Roberto di Matteo stuck with the same starting line-up as much as possible at the beginning of the season.
Chelsea's new squad rotation system under Benitez seems to be paying off based on their results since returning from the FIFA Club World Cup and they remain well on track to qualify for the Champions League.
Moyes' side will need all their famed grit and determination and they've shown it over the holiday period with a come from behind away to West Ham with Victor Anichebe and Steven Pienaar scoring the goals, while against Wigan, Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka hit the back of the net with Arouna Kone's late strike ensuring Everton had to endure a nervous end to the game.
The importance of this match cannot be overstated. A win for Everton will firmly establish the Merseyside club as the number one club in Liverpool this season while a Chelsea victory will all but banish the ghost of Roberto di Matteo and catapult the Blues into a prime position to chase down the two Manchester clubs at the top of the Premier League table.