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The Big Match Tactical View: Everton v Chelsea

Ramires might be used to nullify Leighton Baines

Everton are less dangerous without top scorer Fellaini
Back Chelsea to keep a clean sheet at 3.814/5

Rafael Benitez returns to Merseyside, and Michael Cox wonders how he'll approach this tricky contest.


Everton v Chelsea, Sunday 1:30, Sky Sports 1.

Match Odds: Everton 3.185/40, Chelsea 2.68/5, The Draw 3.412/5.

Rafael Benitez will receive a hostile reception from the home fans when returning to Merseyside for the first time as a Premier League manager since his departure from Liverpool - although at least it will be the opposition fans booing him, rather than his own.

In all seriousness, this will be a great test of Benitez's tactical ability. So far, his Chelsea side have only won games they've been expected to triumph in - here, they start at around the 2.68/5 mark, while Everton are unbeaten in their last 13 matches at Goodison Park. Can Benitez formulate a plan to snatch a morale-boosting victory?

David Moyes, meanwhile, will be considering how to stop Chelsea from dominating the midfield zone. This is a clash between two keen tacticians and two relatively reactive coaches - and although Merseyside derbies between them often became scrappy bloodbaths, this should be a more considered, patient affair.

Moyes has a decision about which formation to use. In the absence of Maroune Fellaini he's played Victor Anichebe upfront alongside Nikica Jelavic, but might decide to play more of a 4-4-1-1 system here - at least Fellaini offers the ability to switch into midfield, whereas Anichebe and Jelavic is a fairly basic 4-4-2. That would risk conceding the midfield ground, and a more intelligent shape would feature three central midfielders - Leon Osman could move inside into a playmaking position, Darron Gibson can play alongside Thomas Hitzlsperger, with Steven Naismith on the right. Anichebe would be a plan B.

Benitez will play his usual 4-2-3-1 system, but there's reason to think he'll use Ramires on the right, rather than as one of the two deep-lying midfielders. David Luiz's transformation into a central midfielder means Benitez has options in the middle, with Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel also challenging for a place, and it would be strange to leave Ramires out for a third consecutive game, when his energy would be vital in a game when both sides will be fatigued.

More crucially, Ramires would be able to do a good defensive job on Leighton Baines, as the left-back's combination with Steven Pienaar is amongst the most dangerous in the division. Benitez generally stopped Baines effectively in his Liverpool days with the use of Dirk Kuyt, and it would be extremely surprising if he used a player like Juan Mata or Oscar on that side - they'd drift infield and allow Baines to overlap.

His other two attacking midfielders will be selected on the basis of fitness as much as form - Hazard will expect to return to the side on the left, with Oscar or Juan Mata selected in the centre of the pitch.

Everton will try to work the ball down the flanks, and switch play quickly from flank to flank to catch out Chelsea's midfield - but Benitez has his side well-drilled in two banks of four, and Chelsea should be alert to this threat. The centre-back combination of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic should be capable of coping with Jelavic if he's a lone striker, and a third consecutive Chelsea clean sheet is quite tempting at 3.814/5.

Chelsea will try to exploit the space between Everton's lines of defence and midfield, and you wonder whether Phil Neville might be in danger of a booking against nippy players like Hazard, Oscar and Mata - he's been booked four times already in 13 starts this season, although one was for an uncharacteristic dive. Neville would be good value to see a card at around 5.04/1.

It's worth pointing out, however, that Everton are the most-fouled team in the league - so Chelsea might be in danger of some bookings themselves.


Recommended bets

Back Chelsea to keep a clean sheet at 3.814/5
Back Phil Neville to be booked at 5.04/1


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29 December 2012

Premier League

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