It hasn’t been a good start for the defending champions, has it? Four games, four points. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho sure has a job on his hands.
A humbling loss to Crystal Palace in the last round --- only Mourinho’s second league defeat at Stamford Bridge --- brought to the fore the scale of problems across the park. The defense lacked shape, the midfield was outrun, and the attack so bad that Radamel Falcao was the highlight.
Everton will be awkward customers for Chelsea, with the club having a habit of turning up against big teams --- their 3-0 win against Manchester United last season being a case in point --- but the Toffees can also be the perfect springboard to get their title defense back on track. What tricks Mourinho has up his sleeves for Saturday is anyone’s guess but how he gets the trio of Pedro, Diego Costa and Hazard to click will be the key.
The Belgian Hazard was called ‘better than Ronaldo last season’ by Mourinho but this term, he can’t even be considered better than Ashley Young. His lack of form and inability to influence games like he did so often last season will be Chelsea’s biggest concern. The Portuguese coach must also make up his mind on what his best central defensive pairing is with John Terry, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma constantly experimented with without results. Finally, creative midfielder Cesc Fabregas needs to rediscover his ability to open up opposition defenses. His influence this season has been negligible and it would not be wrong to assume that should he find the groove again, so will Chelsea.
For Everton, their biggest weapon will be Romelu Lukaku. The young Belgian has started the season well and his link-up play with fellow forward Arouna Kone will be hard to contend with for any defense. Club captain Leighton Baines is out for at least two months with an ankle injury and his leadership will be missed by manager Roberto Martinez. Not to mention that sumptuous left foot.
In defense, John Stones will be in the spotlight. Chelsea openly pursued the centre-back during the transfer window but Everton refused to sell. And so for Martinez, the biggest hope will be to see Stones refocus on doing the job even if the 21-year-old’s eventual future lies elsewhere.
Leaders, beware Palace test
Bacary Sagna, Wilfried Bony, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando, Gael Clichy and new signing Fabian Delph are injured for Manchester City. On the bright side, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Yaya Toure and every other game-changer is fit for City in what will be a tricky test for the early pace-setters.
But nobody cares. All eyes will be on new City signing Kevin de Bruyne and if he will start. The 55 million pound signing from Wolfsburg comes with high expectations and will be keen to make amends after an unsuccessful first spell in the league with Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling, the 49 million pound signing from Liverpool will also be under the scanner. He scored his first goal for the club in the 2-0 win over Watford two weeks ago and the England winger will be well advised to keep his head low and go about his business, with critics quick to pounce on the 20-year-old’s price tag. Sterling could well be the difference against Palace, with his pace sure to give Palace right-back Joel Ward---who scored the winner against Chelsea two weeks ago---a headache.
The Eagles notched a well-earned win against the defending champions last time and with both teams keen on playing fast, counter-attacking football, this one promises to be a treat for any neutral.
(The writer tweets as @GovindanKishwar )