Chelsea hosts Everton on Monday in one of the most important contests in the top four race this season. The Merseyside club sits just one-point behind the Blues with a game in hand, so this is seemingly a must win for the home side. There are many storylines surrounding this game: Chelsea versus Everton for the top four, Thomas Tuchel versus Carlo Ancelotti and Ancelotti versus his former club—to name a few.
In a game with so many intriguing matchups, here are four things to look for:
1. Can Chelsea slow down Richarlison?
Richarlison is one of the Premier League’s great enigmas. At his best, he puts on a reasonable impression of Cristiano Ronaldo, such is the mixture of skill, athleticism and unbridled confidence he’s capable of displaying when the mood suits him. On the other hand, he can be one of the league’s most insufferable whiners, on par with Neymar’s most petulant moments, and his performances can suffer because of it. Unfortunately for Chelsea, he has been erring closer to the former in recent weeks.
Richarlison has scored in each of Everton’s last four matches, including the sole goals in two 1-0 victories leading into the match-up with Chelsea. In a period where Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been either injured or not entirely fit, the Brazilian has picked up the slack for a side that has struggled for goals all season. If it weren’t for his contributions, this match wouldn’t be half as meaningful.
One of the changes that has made him more potent in Ancelotti’s side has been the recent move to playing alongside Calvert-Lewin in a front two. Being stationed further up the pitch has limited his need to drop deep and pick up the ball and dribble forward, allowing him to use his athleticism closer to goal. His goals against West Brom and Southampton are perfect examples of how Everton is benefitting from this change in tactics.
From Chelsea’s perspective, the defensive structure will have to take into account how to deal with a front two, and with Richarlison on the left specifically. More than likely, it will be Cesar Azpilicueta as the right centerback who will be the main defender Richarlison will have to deal with, but Andreas Christensen or—if fit—Thiago Silva as the central defender will also be responsible for picking him up if he runs diagonally towards the middle.
That’s all fairly standard though. The real question is in who plays as the right wingback. The role has been consistently held down by one of Callum Hudson-Odoi or Reece James. James was excellent against Liverpool and Sadio Mane, but Richarlison would be a much different opponent to deal with. Hudson-Odoi seems to be due a start after being an unused substitute on Thursday, but he lacks the defensive acumen needed to corral the Brazilian.
Whoever Thomas Tuchel decides to go with, they will have their hands full trying to slow down Everton’s current most important player. While the Toffees aren’t an offensive juggernaut, they’re doing exactly enough to get the results they need, not unlike Chelsea. One half-chance could be all Everton needs to overtake Chelsea in the table and if anyone is going to pounce on that moment, it will most likely be Richarlison.