2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)

It is an invisible albatross Everton have worn for nearly five years, yet the “0” that represents the number of Premier League road wins against “Big Six” clubs in that stretch weighs as heavily as the dead bird upon the mariner’s neck in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem.

Marco Silva and the Toffees hope to make Sunday the day the curse is finally lifted as they look to end a 30-match winless spell against the best of the top flight in a matchup with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Everton are 0-9-21 in their visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and eternal rivals Liverpool since Bryan Oviedo struck in the 86th minute for a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013. Following that triumph, the Toffees (5-3-3) have looked as idle as a painted ship more times than not, shipping 63 goals in those 30 matches with only 18 in response.

“I have confidence in our work, confidence in the way we are playing, seeing how our team is growing, playing better and getting better results,” Silva said at his Friday news conference. “Of course it will be tough. I accept Chelsea will be favourites. It will be a big challenge for us but what I hope and what I expect is that we are ourselves on the pitch.

“They will create problems for us but I want to see our team be ourselves, play in our way. In some moments they will create, but when we have the ball we have to be ourselves.”

Everton have failed in two bids this term to end the streak, losing 2-0 at the Emirates to Arsenal on Sept. 23, and more recently, 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sept. 28. There was a good south wind heading into that match – Everton had been unbeaten in four – and there is one albeit smaller once more following a 3-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

Richarlison continued his rich vein of goals since being moved to lead Everton’s line, scoring on either side of halftime. Right back Seamus Coleman showed he is fully recovered from the stress fracture that sidelined him four games earlier this season as well as the broken leg suffered representing Ireland in March 2017 with his first goal in 22 months, one that snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the second half.

“His physical condition is growing and it’s normal that his confidence is growing as well, not just because he scored the goal – even in the first half we had good combinations down the right side with him, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott,” Silva said of Coleman. “And, of course, in the second half when he scored it was an important moment for him and for sure it will give him good feelings and confidence.”

Confidence is something Everton have sorely lacked in their visits to Stamford Bridge, leaving southwest London without a victory in their last 23 tries (0-10-13) since their lone Premier League win – 1-0 on Nov. 26, 1994, thanks to a 39th-minute goal by Paul Rideout. The Toffees were cruelly denied an end to the streak in 2016, taking a lead in stoppage time only to have Blues talisman John Terry head home an equaliser in the 98th minute that should have been chalked off for offsides as the match finished 3-3.

Richarlison, though, is an injury doubt for this match and will be a game-time decision. If the Brasil international cannot go, Silva has either Cenk Tosun or Dominic Calvert-Lewin as options to lead the line.

The gaffer will be forced into one change since centre back Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club, with Silva to choose among Phil Jagielka, Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina to partner with Michael Keane. Mina, the Colombia international summer signing whose debut was delayed by a foot injury, made a late runout in the win over Brighton for his Premier League debut.

Chelsea (8-3-0) have climbed to second in the table, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference while trailing champions Manchester City by two points. The Blues return to domestic play after wrapping up first place in Group L of the Europa League with a 1-0 victory at BATE Borisov on Thursday.

Olivier Giroud broke his duck in the 52nd minute, heading home a cross from Emerson, and gave Maurizio Sarri the luxury of blooding some of the academy players for the final two matches of group play in the continental competition.

“I was hoping to score soon because I came back late from the World Cup and I was lacking maybe a bit of efficiency and luck, but you always need to keep working hard and keep the faith and that’s what happened,” the France international told the club’s official website. “It was a good cross from Emerson and that’s what we need to do more often.

“The manager kept saying we need to qualify from the group, and the earlier the better, so we’ve done the job even if we could have been more efficient. It’s a clean sheet and we won the game.”

Chelsea are still unbeaten since Sarri took over, recording 14 wins in 17 matches across all competitions. A win or draw here would set a Premier League record for the longest unbeaten start in a Premier League debut, a mark he shares with Frank Clark after he went 8-3-0 with Nottingham Forest in 1994-95 before losing at home to Blackburn Rovers.

Sarri once again overturned his entire back line in the victory at Belarus and gave Eden Hazard a start after the Belgium international had played just 26 minutes in Chelsea’s last two league matches due to a back injury. He also started Ross Barkley, which raises the question of whether Sarri will keep the former Everton player in his first XI for this match.

Barkley, who signed with the Everton at the age of 11, left the club in the January transfer window in a protracted saga – it was a £15 million transfer after the England international spurned a £35 million move on the final day of the August window – and Barkley is expecting to get some stick from Everton’s traveling supporters.

“I don’t think it (the reception) will be the best,” the midfielder admitted to the Evening Standard. “I was approaching 25 and I felt looking back I could have improved a lot more (at Everton). At Chelsea, I knew I’d improve a lot quicker around better players, around world-class players.

“I’m not nervous, I’m excited to play against my former club and teammates – I understand how some of them play, so that could be an advantage for me.”

Sarri is also expected to restore Alvaro Morata to his centre-forward role over Giroud, with the Spain international coming off a brace in last weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace that has given him three goals in his last two league contests.

Last season’s scoreless draw at Goodison Park in the most recent meeting ended a four-match winning streak for Chelsea in all competitions between the sides. The Pensioners are unbeaten in their last five (3-2-0) against the Toffees in league play since a 3-1 setback in 2015.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are solid favourites to at least emerge with a point to give Sarri the record of best Premier League start as the Pensioners are 2/5 to claim a victory and have 18/5 odds on splitting the points. Everton are listed at 6/1 for their first road victory over a Big Six opponent in nearly five years.

There is an expectation of goals in this match, as Chelsea are 19/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, substantially shorter than 10/3 for under the 2.5 threshold. The Toffees are 10/1 longshots to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/1 to win fashioning a score line of 0-1 or 0-2. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw holds a slight sway at 11/2, while a high-scoring stalemate has shorter odds at 12/1 than a low-scoring Everton win.

After seeing him emerge unscathed after an hour in Belarus, Hazard leads the line for first-goal honours at 10/3. Chelsea’s strikers Morata and Giroud, as is usually the case, are lumped together — here at 4/1. Wingers Pedro and Willian are another step back at 6/1, followed by Loftus-Cheek at 7/1. And for those who believe revenge can be best served by making it 1-0 against a former team, Barkley has 7/1 odds as well.

Richarlison’s iffy status means he and Cenk Tosun are joint 9/1 odds as Everton’s top options, with Calvert-Lewin just off the duo at 10/1. Sigurdsson, the Toffees’ penalty taker, is 11/1.

Hazard is even money to beat Pickford over the course of 90 minutes, with Morata and Giroud both at 23/20. There is another pairing of Pedro and Willian, this time at 9/5, and Barkley and Loftus-Cheek are listed at 21/10. Richarlison has some separation from Tosun here, with the Brasilian getting 13/5 compared to the Turk’s 11/4 odds. Calvert-Lewin has 3/1 odds on scoring while Sigurdsson lurks just behind at 16/5.

PREDICTION

Thirty matches is a long time without a landmark victory. These are the types of matches Silva was hired for, to get the leviathan who are Everton awake and contending for Champions League spots on an annual basis. At the same time, wow is their track record in these matches awful.

In the Premier League era, they are 16-43-94 on the road against Big Six teams. They have not won at the Emirates/Highbury, Stamford Bridge and Anfield in this century. They have not won at Tottenham this decade.

Nearly half of those wins — seven — have come against Manchester City, but not the Manchester City you and I know of this decade following the change in ownership to Sheikh Mansour. No, these were the aimless Citizens, ones that even suffered the humiliation of relegation while Everton have avoided such a fate.

This is the history stacked against Everton, one painful defeat on top of another on top of another. To their credit, both losses this year — at Arsenal and at United — the Toffees stood up to their opponents. It can be argued Everton were the better side at the Emirates, laying siege to Petr Cech and the Gunners goal before being undone by two goals three minutes apart, one of which should never have been allowed.

Against United, there was wastefulness in the finished product but plenty of fight as the Toffees could not find an equaliser after Sigurdsson’s penalty. The 2-1 scoreline was fair to the hosts but also a proper scoreline to the guests who showed effort and resolve.

Which brings us to Stamford Bridge, where it is almost the silver anniversary of Rideout’s goal that brought Everton’s lone Premier League success. There is hope upon hope Richarlison will be able to go, but if he does not, one hopes Silva is bold and tabs Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line. That boldness could extend to Mina for his first Premier League start, but that may also be rash given Chelsea’s attacking nous and Hazard’s unpredictability in attack.

With Barkley getting the start in Belarus, the sidebar of facing the team who raised and nurtured him is relegated to just that — an add-on to the story with his expected arrival around the hour. What he does with those 30 minutes may change that narrative from sidebar to central plot, but there are more important actors in this contest.

One is most certainly Richarlison, who hopefully will not give way to his understudy. Another is Sigurdsson, who has masterfully pulled strings in the midfield to help create chances. But do not discount Chelsea’s striker tandem of Morata and Giroud. The Spaniard is expected to start, with the Sarri logic of leaving him back in London to rest confounding the media to the point he mumbled to himself in agitation during the press conference. And should Morata fail, Giroud will have plenty of life after ending his duck in Belarus. His link-up play with Hazard is the real reason Mina should be on the bench to start this contest, his Premier League blooding can come another day.

This should be an entertaining contest with plenty of cat-and-mouse. Everton may not get that elusive victory, and a point may be within their grasp, but that only happens if Richarlison is on the pitch.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 2, Everton 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

Europa League Match Day 4 Preview — BATE Borisov (1-0-2, 3, -3) vs. Chelsea (3-0-0, 9, +4)

Chelsea have a chance to wrap up the top spot in Group L of the Europa League on Thursday when they attempt a home-and-home sweep of BATE Borisov in Belarus.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues are still unbeaten under first-year manager Maurizio Sarri. In addition to grabbing the maximum nine points from their first three group matches, Chelsea are two points back of reigning champions Manchester City in the Premier League, in second place ahead of Liverpool on goal difference.

Sarri’s side, though, have had struggle finding goals in this competition with five goals in the three victories. The good news is they put three past the Tractor Boys at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, trigging their current four-match winning streak in all competitions in which they have piled up 13 goals after pulling away for a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace last Sunday.

Eden Hazard, who had been slowed by a back injury that resulted in a three-match absence, came off the bench versus Palace and made an immediate contribution after has introduction by assisting on Alvaro Morata’s tie-breaking goal on 65 minutes.

It was Hazard’s fourth overall assist and his third in league play coming off the bench. The Belgium international has logged just 36 minutes in Europa League play, but Sarri included him on the roster to make the 3,200-mile round trip with an eye on finishing off qualification for the knockout round. The Pensioners will claim group honours with a victory and a draw by Midi and PAOK in the other match.

“According to our doctor there is not any risk, otherwise he would have stayed at Cobham, of course,” Sarri told the club’s official website. “We felt that for him it’s better to play, not for 90 minutes, but to play after two weeks of not playing.

“In the last match he played only for 30 minutes. The best way for him is that tomorrow he will play for 45 or 50 minutes.”

Somewhat surprising is who did not make the trip in Morata and midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Morata appeared to turn a corner with his brace, giving him six goals in all competitions, but Sarri saw this as an opportune time to give the Spaniard a breather having played all but 16 minutes in Chelsea’s last three matches while Olivier Giroud dealt with a knock.

Fabregas has been waylaid by an illness, prompting N’Golo Kante to make the trip. But since that is not the like-for-like switch that Sarri prefers, it appears Jorginho will serve as midfield metronome for the 4-3-3.

“We are in a perfect mood,” left midfielder Mateo Kovacic said. “We are doing good in our league and we are doing good in all competitions so this team wants to play football, we enjoy it, and every game we have an opportunity to show ourselves, so tomorrow we will be prepared and give our best to win the game.

“We are still unbeaten and we have not played at our highest level. We are with the coach only three months and of course it needs time to understand completely and to work on his football. I think we are doing a great job and I am sure in every training and every game we will be better and better.”

Sarri’s pattern of rotating his entire back line appears set to continue as Emerson, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and David Zappacosta are likely to feature in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

BATE, who have wrapped up their 13th consecutive domestic title, have won three on the bounce since their loss to Chelsea and are coming off a 1-0 victory over Neman Grodno on Sunday. Yevegniy Berezkin came off the bench in the 77th minute and scored the winner two minutes from time.

The Tractor Boys have lost their last two group matches after winning at Midi, and the seven goals shipped in those two defeats have left them at the bottom of Group L at the halfway point. BATE will be keen to contain Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who ran riot in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge and accounted for all of Chelsea’s offence in the 3-0 victory.

We have followed all the games Chelsea have played. Videoton played well, had plenty of chances and could have got a different result. They are an example for us,” BATE manager Alyaksey Baha told BT Sport. “We analyse the games (against Arsenal) so we learnt from our mistakes. Now, a year later we are here in England, in London, playing against a top club, and we hope for a better result this time.”

Chelsea have outshot opponents 73-15 through the first three matches of group play and have won six consecutive Europa League matches dating back to a loss to Ruben Kazan in 2013. BATE have just two wins in their last 15 Europa League matches (2-5-8) while shipping 33 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decided favourites to make the group a fait accompli with 4/11 odds to take home all three points. There are 15/4 odds for the teams to split the points, while hosts BATE are a 17/2 pick to pull off an upset and improve their chances of getting out of the group.

The Blues are almost even money to win with a result of more than 2.5 goals at 21/20, while a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline — they posted a 0-1 result at PAOK in their other group play contest on the road — has a 5/2 return. The odds of a deadlock at 0-0 and 1-1 are 15/4, while BATE has 16/1 odds for a victory on either side of the 2.5 threshold.

Oddsmakers have listed nine Chelsea players and the “no goal-scorer” ahead of BATE’s top option for the first goal of the match. Eden Hazard leads the line at 16/5, while Chelsea’s strikers Morata and Olivier Giroud are joint-second at 7/2. Willian follows at 9/2, edging out Callum Hudson-Odoi and fellow winger Pedro (5/1). Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek lurk slightly further back at 6/1. The top picks for BATE are Nikolai Signevich and Igor Stasevich at 12/1.

No one on Chelsea is better than even money to score, though Hazard (21/2), Morata and Giroud (both 23/20) are close. Willian is also a favourite among the oddsmakers at 8/5 while Hudson-Odoi and Pedro (both 7/4) and Loftus-Cheek and Barkley (19/10) also have shorter odds than 2/1. Signevich (7/2) edges out Stasevich (4/1) for the top BATE option to put one in the back of the net.

PREDICTION

One of the more interesting things about Chelsea is that they are as capable of grinding down opponents for a 1-0 victory or cruising by them 3-0. This match has the feel of the former given Chelsea’s previous road exploits in group play and the fact Sarri has committed to rotating his players more consistently, evidenced by changing over his back line and finding a way to get Loftus-Cheek involved.

By bringing Kante for Fabregas, it is possible the midfield could be Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic and Kante from left to right. Regardless of the trio, the primary task besides scoring must be to get Olivier Giroud involved in his return. The France international has four assists, tied for the most among Chelsea players — but has yet to open his scoring account.

The fact Chelsea have gone 16 matches without a loss and without a goal from Giroud is a testament not only to the talent the Pensioners have but also just how well they have taken to Sarri’s tactics and how well he has quickly figured out this squad.

Hazard likely will not become a factor in this match until the hour mark, unless Chelsea are trailing at the interval, and then the 45-minute estimation Sarri offered would come into play. Otherwise, this reeks of a blue-collar match in which Chelsea will control the ball similar to the 60 percent possession they had at Stamford Bridge. It would seem less likely Loftus-Cheek will strike for another hat trick, but one goal could be enough to see off the Tractor Boys.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: BATE Borisov 0, Chelsea 1.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Sporting CP (2-0-1, 6, +2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 Preview — Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

After a curiously ragged Carabao Cup victory, Chelsea look to continue their unbeaten ways Sunday when they host Crystal Palace in a London derby at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (7-3-0) have yet to lose under first-year manager Maurizio Sarri, also winning three Europa League matches and two in the Carabao Cup following a 3-2 victory Wednesday over former Chelsea star-turned coach Frank Lampard and Derby County – who used a pair of Chelsea players on loan after consent from the top-flight side.

Chelsea won despite scoring just one goal themselves as Derby gifted the Pensioners a pair of own goals inside the opening half-hour – goals they canceled out with quick responses on both occasions.

Cesc Fabregas scored what proved to be the match-winner in the 41st minute as Chelsea claimed a spot in the round of eight opposite Bournemouth. While some of the defensive issues can be chalked up to swapping out his entire back line as part of eight changes from their 4-0 waxing of Burnley last weekend, Sarri wants things fixed now before the problems grow.

“In the last match I have to say Derby played a very good match,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We played well in the offensive phase, but a lot of mistakes in the defensive phase. It’s clear we need to improve.

“I am used to having problems like this in the first months. In Burnley I saw a very good performance in the defensive phase. Three days after I saw a lot of mistakes. It means we are a not a continuously solid team at the moment. It’s dangerous.”

With a win or draw, Sarri would match Frank Clark’s Premier League record for an unbeaten start. Clark opened 8-3-0 with a promoted Nottingham Forest side in 1994-95 en route to a third-place finish.

One issue Sarri must contend with is the status of star winger Eden Hazard. The Belgium international did not play against Burnley due to a back injury, and Sarri revealed he practiced for the first time in two weeks in training ahead of this match. The gaffer said Hazard would be “able to play for 40, 45 minutes,” which implies he would be on the bench to start this game and be called upon if needed.

That likely means Willian will switch flanks to take Hazard’s spot on the left, with Pedro expected to return after lasting just a half-hour against Burnley due to stomach issues. With Ross Barkley in splendid form – he has three goals and two assists in his last four matches – he likely gets the nod at left midfield over Mateo Kovacic.

Fellow midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, likely will be in the mix for the 18 again, but also of note Friday was Sarri ruling out a potential loan for the England international in the January window, noting “Ruben in October played four matches out of five. I think at the moment the situation is not for a loan of course. He has improved, but he needs to improve more from the tactical point of view.”

Crystal Palace (2-2-6) have sorely missed Loftus-Cheek’s industry through the midfield as they have now gone 395 minutes without a goal in the run of play after losing 1-0 at Championship side Middlesbrough – coached by one-time Palace boss Tony Pulis — on Wednesday in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup.

Roy Hodgson made eight changes to the side that battled to a 2-2 draw versus Arsenal last weekend, getting both goals from the spot via Luka Milivojevic, but the decision to hold out Wilfried Zaha to rest ahead of this match backfired as the Eagles again were grounded in attack.

“Of course it’s a missed opportunity,” Hodgson told The Times while lamenting his side’s poor first half, “but you have to use these competitions. You have a squad of players and you have to give them the chance to play. A lot of them needed a game and none of them let me down at all.”

In addition to holding out Zaha, midfielders James McArthur and Cheikou Kouyate also did not make the trip to Middlesbrough to recover from niggling injuries. Forward Connor Wickham, however, has been ruled out with a thigh injury a fortnight after making his first league appearance in nearly two seasons with a late runout against Everton.

Palace’s last goal in the run of play came from left back Patrick Van Aanholt in their 2-1 loss at Bournemouth on Oct. 1. Zaha has not scored in five league matches dating to his winner versus Huddersfield Town on Sept. 15.

Though Loftus-Cheek could not play against his parent club last season per loan rules, Crystal Palace did split the two matches that finished with 2-1 scorelines. In the fixture at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea got their goals seven minutes apart through Willian and an own goal from Palace defender Martin Kelly.

Van Aanholt pulled one back at the death for the Eagles, who won in their previous two visits to west London. Chelsea are 12-2-4 versus Palace in the Premier League era, including a 6-1-2 mark at home.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Hazard’s iffy status has not deterred oddsmakers from making Chelsea prohibitive favourites with 2/7 odds. The Blues have 9/2 odds to claim at least one point from this contest, while Palace are 10/1 underdogs to claim a third win in four seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are better than even money to win with a final of more than 2.5 goals at 4/5, while the Pensioners are also a 14/5 pick to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There are 6/1 odds on a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while the Eagles are 18/1 to win with more than 2.5 goals and 22/1 to post a clean sheet while winning by one or two.

Hazard still leads the line for first goal-scorers despite his status, checking in at 16/5 odds. Chelsea’s alternating strikers — Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud — are directly behind the Belgian at 10/3. Wingers Pedro and Willian are 5/1 picks to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Barkley a 6/1 selection and Loftus-Cheek 13/2 to score against the team he was loaned out to last term. Zaha is Palace’s top choice at 12/1 for a 0-1 shock scoreline, while Alexander Sorloth and Jordan Ayew are both 16/1.

Hazard is better than even money to score during the match, getting 10/11 odds, and Pedro and Willian are both 6/4 picks to put one past Wayne Hennessey. Morata and Giroud are even money to bag one for Chelsea, while Zaha has 10/3 odds to break his duck for Crystal Palace. As Palace’s penalty taker, Milivojevic offers an intriguing 7/1 return.

PREDICTION

There are two areas of intrigue for this match. One is whether Sarri starts Hazard and tries to put the game to bed early, and the second being whether the Italian has a sentimental streak and starts Loftus-Cheek over Barkley and/or Kovacic in left midfield against his former team. Given his comments about Loftus-Cheek when asked about the possibility of a January loan, it does not seem likely, but since nearly everything Sarri has touched has turned to gold thus far, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

It would be surprising to see Hazard in the first XI given he just returned to practice this week after missing two weeks’ worth. Sarri has enough attacking options at his disposal that he has the luxury of bringing the Belgium international off the bench, but since Chelsea are also all but assured of reaching the Europa League knockout round, he can also give Hazard another week off if his side take care of business in the first hour of this contest.

With Olivier Giroud held out of the Derby County match due to fatigue, it would not be surprising to see him get the start over Morata, though the Spaniard has the better form of the two pure strikers. Given Palace play a deep back four, Giroud’s hold-up and knock-down abilities make the France international a better tactical choice for Sarri as Giroud again looks for his first goal of the season.

In their two matches against “Big Six” sides, Palace held their own in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool that was closer than the scoreline indicates and last weekend’s 2-2 draw versus Arsenal. Both matches, though, came at home, and while Hodgson’s team have gotten better results outside Selhurst Park than in it this campaign, Palace’s lack of form offensively coupled with a decided disadvantage in talent in the midfield means Chelsea should stroll to three points in this contest.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Crystal Palace 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek certainly caught Maurizio Sarri’s attention with his three-goal outburst in Europa League play. Yet the only way to win playing time under the Italian is to pay the same attention to deal defensively as Chelsea look to remain unbeaten on the season Sunday when they face Burnley at Turf Moor.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Fairly or unfairly, high hopes were pinned on Loftus-Cheek following England’s run to the World Cup semifinals this summer, when the 22-year-old showed plenty of promise and industry as a bustling midfielder with physical presence. He displayed flashes of that potential as a full-time starter on loan last season at Crystal Palace, who he helped overcame a dreadful start to a mid-table finish in the Premier League.

In his first season at Stamford Bridge, Sarri wanted to keep Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea (6-3-0), but he became surplus to goods to a degree with the arrival of Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid in the deal that sent keeper Thibaut Courtois to the reigning three-time Champions League winners.

Loftus-Cheek was also set back by injuries in the early part of the season, but he has been frustrated at dropping below both Kovacic and compatriot Ross Barkley in the pecking order at left midfield while playing just 99 minutes in all competitions heading into Thursday’s match versus BATE Borisov.

But for one glorious hour, all those frustrations washed away as Loftus-Cheek became the first Chelsea player in 12 years to strike for a hat trick in European competition, powering the Pensioners to a 3-1 victory that gave them a firm grip atop Group L. He scored twice in the first eight minutes before being gifted a soft third by BATE keeper Denis Scherbitski and also became the first English-born player to score three goals in a European contest since Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin combined for eight goals against Jeunesse Hautcharage in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971.

“He played very, very well,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “In the offensive phase, wonderful. I thought before, from the beginning of the season, he was really a very good player.

“Now I think the same, but I think maybe also he is more suitable to my football. He is improving. He also needs to improve in the defensive phase, but not only Loftus.”

Overall, Sarri made eight changes to the XI that drew Manchester United 2-2 last weekend, and he understands the affection the club and supporters have for Loftus-Cheek, who has come through the team’s academy. But the first-year manager was in constant communication with the midfielder during the match making sure he was positioned correctly on defence, and grasping those concepts may be the only way Loftus-Cheek cracks the league lineup or the match day 18.

“I know the fans love him, of course, because he was in the Academy. That’s normal,” Sarri noted. “It is very difficult to solve the tactical problem without an improvement in the defensive phase of these three midfielders. We can try, but we need to work and I need the cooperation of the players.”

Chelsea enter this match third in the table, ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal on goal difference while trailing reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool on goal difference. Staying unbeaten, though, could be challenging if star winger Eden Hazard – who has a team-high eight goals in all competitions – is unable to play. Sarri held him out of Thursday’s match with a back injury, and the Belgium likely will be a match-time decision for this contest.

If Hazard is unable to play, Willian will likely replace him on the left wing as he did Thursday on the attacking line with Spaniards Alvaro Morata and Pedro. Centre-forward Olivier Giroud failed to distinguish himself Thursday, which means Morata is all but certain to lead the line as Sarri has been playing the hot hand at that position.

Burnley (2-2-5) can no longer use the Europa League preliminary rounds hangover as an excuse for their wildly inconsistent play as they try to re-discover the form that fueled their seventh-place finish last term. The Clarets’ bid to extend their unbeaten streak to four matches in league play was roundly swatted by Manchester City, who put them to the sword by a 5-0 count at the Etihad last weekend.

Sean Dyche’s team was competitive in the first half and trailed 1-0 at the interval, but goals two minutes apart by Bernado Silva and Fernandinho early in the second turned the final half-hour into a training ground exercise for the champions, who ruined Burnley keeper Joe Hart’s return to the City grounds as an opponent for the first time after a decade of service with the team.

“The feeling of frustration is a not nice one,” said Hart, who made 348 appearances for City before joining Burnley in the summer, to the club’s official website. “I appreciated the reception, but I came here as a Burnley player and the only thing I cared about was trying to get a result for us, so it wasn’t the perfect day.”

The good news for Burnley is they are closer to resembling the full-strength side that performed so well last term to earn European play. Steven Defour saw his first action last weekend after missing nine months due to injury, while midfielder and Ireland international Robbie Brady could be among the 18 for this contest after being sidelined nearly 10 months.

“It’s great to see Steve back,” forward Sam Vokes said. “He’s been a huge player for us over the last few years and I think we’ve missed him. He had some hard luck with that injury and to see him back playing in the Premier League is definitely good news.

“Robbie has done well for us in the past, as well, and had that terrible injury last Christmas time … those two lads will just add to the competition in the squad at the minute.”

Burnley have a win and a draw in their four matches at Turf Moor, but four of their six goals came in their waxing of Bournemouth last month.

The road team won both matches last season, with the Clarets pulling off a shock 3-2 scoreline over the 10-man Pensioners on the first match day to ruin the start of their title defence. Vokes had a first-half brace around a goal by Stephen Ward before Burnley saw off a furious late rally.

Chelsea returned the favour with a 2-1 victory at Turf Moor in April, with Victor Moses’ goal on 69 minutes proving to be decisive. They are 5-2-1 in Premier League matches versus the Clares.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are prohibitive favourites to take all three points with 1/3 odds, and there are 15/4 odds on the teams leaving the Turf Moor pitch with a point apiece. The odds of Burnley claiming all three points and taking a huge step towards the middle of the table are 17/2.

Chelsea have 21/20 odds to win the match with more than 2.5 goals scored, which seems reasonable considering Man City put five past Hart at the Etihad. The Pensioners are also a 12/5 pick to win by either a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. Burnley have 16/1 odds to win on either side of the 2.5 goals threshold, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is listed at 19/4.

Despite his uncertain status, Hazard still leads the line for options among first goal-scorers at 16/5, nudging out Morata and Giroud at 7/2. Chelsea’s other wingers — Pedro and Willian — are joint-fourth at 11/2, with Barkley 15/2. Burnley forwards Vokes and Chris Wood are the top options to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with both listed at 10/1.

Hazard is just above even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 21/20, closely trailed again by his centre-forwards at 6/5. Pedro and Willian are again paired together, this time at 9/5, while Barkley has 12/5 odds at putting one past Hart. Vokes edges out Wood for Burnley’s top any-time option at 3/1, just ahead of Wood’s 16/5 listing.

PREDICTION

If there was one match where Sarri could afford to at least not start Hazard as a precautionary measure, it would be this one. Whether it be Moses, Willian or even Callum Hudson-Odoi replacing the Belgium international, the Italian has made Chelsea a well-oiled machine currently good enough to at least compensate for Hazard’s absence as a one-off ahead of a busy stretch of schedule that includes a Carabao Cup tie and a trip to BATE.

Of course, Hazard is probably campaigning to be included in the XI given how much he has come to enjoy playing Sarri-ball, but the manager has the depth at Hazard’s position to be judicious and also the luxury of bringing a well-rested back four that into this match after they were given Thursday night off. The combination of Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz should be enough to see off the challenge of Vokes or potentially Chris Wood.

It also would not be surprising to see Barkley selected over Kovacic given the latter played against BATE.

Burnley continue to confound. There is almost this expectation every week that “this is the match they get it right,” then everyone is flummoxed by the result like the one that happened versus City. Granted, most teams outside the “Big Six” have the potential to be caught in the avalanche that is Manchester City’s offence on any given match day, but it was still surprising to see the Clarets deflate after that second goal, controversial or not.

Burnley had played better prior to that beatdown, but they will get no favours here from Chelsea. The Pensioners are an improved offensive team compared to last year’s two matches under predecessor Antonio Conte, and the sides who play systems — save their rout of Bournemouth — have given the Clarets trouble all season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 0, Chelsea 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 Preview — Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)

Jose Mourinho has yet to have a happy homecoming at Stamford Bridge since taking over Manchester United.

Another loss there to Chelsea on Saturday, however, could hasten the potential exit of “The Special One” from Old Trafford as he continues to battle the third-season woes.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Mourinho has lost all three matches in South West London since taking over United (4-1-3) in 2016, watching his team get outscored 6-0 in a pair of league defeats around a quarterfinal exit in the 2017 FA Cup. The fourth and most recent defeat to his former employers in six matches with United came last spring in the FA Cup final at Wembley, denying him a second trophy since arriving on the red side of Manchester.

The term has been a slog thus far for both Mourinho and United, who have yet to find a higher gear on the pitch, which in turn has exacerbated tensions between manager and players off it. The Red Devils enter this contest in eighth place, seven points adrift of reigning champions and eternal rivals Manchester City as well as Liverpool and Chelsea.

Even during the international break, United were not drama-free as Mourinho was charged by the FA on Tuesday for using abusive, insulting or improper language. The United boss was filmed mouthing words at a camera after his team’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Newcastle United on Oct. 6, with the FA alleging he swore in Spanish.

The possible target of his rant has a list of suspects as the day is long, but ex-United midfielder-turned-pundit Paul Scholes again refused to shy away from criticising Mourinho, launching another broadside in an interview with ESPN.

“I feel like people at Liverpool and Manchester City are looking at us and laughing like we did at them many years ago,” Scholes said. “If you look across the road, they’re doing everything right.

“It feels like every player who comes into the team struggles. I feel like we could sign Lionel Messi at the moment and he’d struggle in this team. The reason we finished second last year was because of (David De Gea) the goalkeeper.”

Mourinho has until Friday to answer the charge, which could result in either a touchline ban or a fine, though he could also delay the ruling if he waits until the 6 p.m. local deadline to accept or deny the charge. In that case, he would be all but certain to be on the sideline for this contest.

United’s lineup continues to be in a state of flux outside De Gea as form coming out of the international break could provide separation for starting spots. Marcus Rashford impressed for England in UEFA Nations League play, scoring for the third time in four international matches and adding an assist in Monday’s 3-2 victory over Spain.

There were points against Newcastle when Rashford and Romelu Lukaku swapped spots leading the line – Rashford in the central role and Lukaku on the wing – but whether Mourinho commits to that switch or gives the two freedom to interchange while either Alexis Sanchez or Anthony Martial operate on the left is anyone’s guess.

Ex-Chelsea and current United holding midfielder Nemanja Matic made a quick return to Carrington after suffering a back injury that prevented him from representing Serbia. Left back Luke Shaw is also an injury concern, skipping a call-up to the Three Lions due to an ankle injury suffered in the win over Newcastle.

Shaw, though, put pen to paper on an extension to keep him at Old Trafford through 2023, and Mourinho – who put the defender through the wringer prior to him pushing on through to be one of United’s best players thus far – extolled the England international’s virtues.

“Luke fully deserves this contract,” Mourinho said Thursday. “He understood his development process, he has worked really hard at every level and he always believes in himself which is a great attribute to have.

“Luke is still young and is improving all the time and he must feel very proud of himself. I am delighted that we are keeping such a talented young English player with a bright future ahead of him.”

Mourinho can only hope Paul Pogba’s backheel pass that set up Martial’s equaliser against the Magpies will be the start of the France international’s resurgence to the lofty heights achieved in winning the World Cup this summer. Mourinho and the midfielder have been at loggerheads from nearly the moment Pogba returned to training, and rumours regarding his potential departure continue to swirl around United.

Pogba has factored in four of United’s 13 goals in league play – scoring both his goals via penalties — but had a brace and an assist in their Champions League win over Young Boys last month.

As Manchester United lurch from crisis to crisis real and created, things are going well in Maurizio Sarri’s first season at Chelsea (6-2-0), who are bookended by Manchester City and Liverpool atop the table on goal difference. Of course, having the best player in the Premier League at the moment in Eden Hazard goes a long way to having a happy vibe, and the Belgium international has made the most his new-found freedom in Sarri-ball.

Hazard has a league-best seven goals and eight overall, thriving on the left wing of Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation and forming solid interplay with centre-forward Olivier Giroud, who has a team-leading four assists. Sarri has a defined rotation – much to the chagrin of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the England international who cannot find consistent league playing time and may move on in January – as the Blues navigate a three-course track in the Carabao Cup and Europa League in addition to domestic duty.

One player who has surprisingly made an impact is midfielder Ross Barkley, whose improved play under Sarri’s tutelage has him neck-and-neck with Mateo Kovacic as a starter in left midfield.

Oft-injured and forgotten by the time his tenure at Everton ended in January, Barkley turned in a standout performance in the international break for England, highlighted by their 3-2 win over Spain, and club teammate Marcos Alonso was quick to give Barkley his due after his Roja side fell to defeat.

“Even at the World Cup England, despite playing well, were aware that they didn’t really have that kind of player, someone in the middle who played and made others play, who used the ball,” the left back noted to Chelsea’s official website. “He’s a great player. He showed it not just last night but against Croatia (last Friday) too. He showed that he can be a great player. I hope he keeps improving and that he helps us at Chelsea to stay near the top.”

With no injuries to report from the international break, Chelsea’s lineup will come down to Sarri’s decision-making up front with either Pedro or Willian on the right wing, Barkley or Kovacic in left midfield, and Giroud or Alvaro Morata leading the line.

Morata’s thunderous header in the 55th minute separated the sides in last season’s clash at Stamford Bridge, the Spain international drilling an inch-perfect cross from Cesar Azpilicueta into the upper right corner of the net.

Chelsea are unbeaten in their last eight at home (7-1-0) versus Manchester United in all competitions dating to a 3-2 loss Oct. 28, 2012. United have gone 299 minutes without a goal at Stamford Bridge since Jesse Lingard helped them to a 1-1 draw on Feb. 7, 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are prohibitive 7/10 favourites, with United 15/4 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly shorter than a road victory for Mourinho, landing at 11/4.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals in this match, as a Chelsea victory with a count over 2.5 goals leads the list of options at 31/20. A Blues victory under 2.5 goals will provide a 10/3 return, slightly ahead of a low-scoring draw at 4/1. For those who fancy United, they have 13/2 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 9/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 win.

For the first goal-scorer of the match, Morata, Hazard and Giroud are all joint-favourites at 4/1, with Pedro behind the trio at 6/1. Willian, who often interchanges with Pedro, is right behind him at 13/2, and is followed by Lukaku as United’s top option at 7/1. Rashford is the second-rated United option at 17/2.

Morata and Giroud narrowly edge out Hazard as favourites for any-time goal scorers, getting 11/8 odds compared to Hazard’s 13/10. Pedro has 2/1 odds, again edging out Willian (21/10), while Lukaku (12/5) and Rashford (14/5) flank Chelsea’s Victor Moses (13/5).

PREDICTION

To park the bus or not to park the bus? That is the question facing Mourinho as he makes another trek to his former stomping grounds. Last season, he let United play open for most of the match at Stamford Bridge, a curious contrast to the FA Cup final in the last meeting between the teams in which the Mancunians conceded a penalty to Hazard and could not muster much offence without the injured Lukaku.

United’s form means there is little time for sentimentality for Mourinho, who offered a prickly reminder to the media earlier this season his three Premier League titles won at Chelsea are more than the other current 19 managers combined, saying Friday:

“For me, it’s another game. Would I celebrate like crazy, my team’s goal at Stamford Bridge or my team’s victory at Stamford Bridge? I don’t think so. I think I would try always to control myself and to respect the stadium and the supporters who were my supporters and [what was] my stadium for many years.

“So I think that I would always think about where I am, which stadium I am [in], which crowd is in the stands, but just that. Apart from that, it is just another match for me. It is a match that I want to do well in, for my players, my team, for my supporters – that’s what I want. I am 100 per cent Manchester United tomorrow [Saturday], but there is no space for anything more than respect for the stadium and for the fans that were my fans before.“

There is a chance Chelsea could have another high-quality thriller like their two previous contests with Liverpool, just like there is a chance Mourinho sets up to play for the point and take his chances on the counter. But United’s first order of business is finding a central defence partner with Chris Smalling, whether it be Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, and how their spine may slump depending on the fitness of Matic and Marouane Fellaini.

United’s dramatic win over Newcastle came at the best time and the worst time. It came at the best time because they could feel good about themselves for two weeks after pulling out three points from a match they had no business getting any for the first 70 minutes, but it came at the worst time because they could not immediately build on the momentum of this win.

On the other side, things appear to be well with Chelsea as everyone appeared to have a productive international break across Europe, and more importantly, no one got hurt. The 4-3-3 machine will wind up once more, with Sarri’s personnel choices the talking points more than the players, though Hazard is in arguably the best form of his club career.

Antonio Rudiger is a question mark due to a groin injury, but Andreas Christensen played well in the FA Cup final win over Manchester United, and there should not be much fall-off in central defence if he has to partner with David Luiz as the German’s replacement.

It will be curious to see if Barkley again gets the nod over Kovacic after his solid play for England during the break. It is a sign of how well Sarri’s system has taken at Chelsea he is almost at the point of plugging and playing personnel at spots in the Premier League compared to his preference of horses for courses with Giroud and Morata in Europa League.

This will not be an easy contest by any stretch of the imagination, but the track record of Mourinho being on the defensive against the Premier League’s best on the road will finally going bite him here. There does not appear to be enough in United’s spine to keep Chelsea off the scoreboard for 90 minutes unless De Gea turns in his best match of the season, and the Blues midfield might be able to boss this match through Jorginho and Kante’s two-way work.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: CHELSEA 1, Manchester United 0

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

Chelsea maintained their 100 percent start in beginning their Europa League adventure with a victory, but Maurizio Sarri wants his side to be closer to perfection as they resume Premier League play Sunday with a London derby at West Ham United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (5-0-0), who lead the Premier League on goal difference over Liverpool, kicked off play in the second-tier continental tournament with a 1-0 victory at Greek side PAOK on Thursday. Willian’s goal in the seventh minute stood as the match-winner with Chelsea dominating the proceedings, but the lack of finishing beyond the Brasil international’s goal left Sarri pondering his attacking options going forward.

“We were in control of the match for 90 minutes,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We had a lot of opportunities, we missed them, so I am really happy with the three points and the performance but not the result, because when it is time to kill the match, we have to kill the match.”

Some of the lack of finishing can be attributed to Alvaro Morata, who led the line but failed to put any of his seven shots on target. The Spain international’s lone goal came against Arsenal on Aug. 18, and it would not be surprising to see Olivier Giroud restored to the starting XI after he assisted on pair of goals in last weekend’s 4-1 romp past Cardiff City.

“Morata has to gain confidence with one, two or three goals. I am not able to give him confidence,” Sarri noted. “In this game he had three or four opportunities, he was unlucky. I hope in the future I can try to help him, but the confidence comes only with goals.

“But I have to say also that for the first time this season he was very ready in the box. He was on the ball, he was active.”

Also expected to return to the starting lineup is Eden Hazard, who did not make the trip to Greece along with central defender David Luiz and midfielder Mateo Kovacic. Luiz should also return to the back four, but Kovacic was forced off versus Cardiff with a knee injury, which makes room for either Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek to join Jorginho and N’Golo Kante in the midfield.

Though Pedro suffered a shoulder injury late in a collision with PAOK keeper Alexandros Paschalakis, Sarri said the injury was minor and the Spaniard should be available. If not, Willian would slide into the right forward role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation.

West Ham United (1-0-4) relieved some of the pressure on Manuel Pellegrini last weekend with a 3-1 victory at Everton, moving off the foot of the table and into 16th place. Andriy Yarmolenko justified his manager’s faith in being given his first start with a first-half brace, and Marko Arnautovic sealed the win with a goal just after the hour.

“I said at the start that Andriy needs a few weeks to get used to playing in the Premier League,” Pellegrini said at his Thursday news conference. “He has a lot of quality, we know that, but in this league you can’t just play with quality. You need pace and be prepared tactically to be an important part of the game.

“He demonstrated against Everton that it was the correct moment. He did it very well. After this performance, we must demand him to give more, because he’s able to be a top player for us.”

The Ukraine international may have to lead the line since Arnautovic is carrying a knock to his knee and may be relegated to the reserves list for this game. Fellow striker Chicharito Hernandez is still feeling the effects of a virus and also unlikely to feature, and midfielder Jack Wilshire is out due to an ankle injury.

Wilshire’s absence led Pellegrini to use a 4-1-4-1 set-up in which teenager and Ireland international Declan Rice played in front of the back four, forming an effective midfield triangle with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang. Another option for this derby would be to start Michail Antonio as the lone forward and keep Yarmolenko underneath.

“A derby has a little bit more importance, of course,” Pellegrini said. “I know, here in London, there are a lot of derbies with different teams. Our first at home is against Chelsea, the team at the top of the table, so I think that is one more motivation to try to beat them.”

West Ham took four of the six points between the sides last term, including a 1-0 victory at London Stadium on a goal by Arnautovic six minutes in. The Irons have just three wins in the last 24 league matches between the teams (3-5-16).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are solid favourites to continue their perfect start as they are listed at 6/10 odds to win. A draw is a 3/1 option while West Ham are longshots to protect their pitch at 17/4 odds.

Oddsmakers fancy a Chelsea win with more than 2.5 goals, listing it as the most likely outcome with 6/5 odds. The Pensioners also have 15/4 odds to win the contest by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline, while a draw with either zero goals or two returns 19/4 odds. For those liking the Irons, there are 13/2 odds for a win over 2.5 goals and longer 12/1 odds they will post a clean sheet while winning 1-0 or 2-0.

The Chelsea trio of Hazard, Morata, and Giroud are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 4/1, with Pedro lagging behind them at 11/2. Despite his injury, Arnautovic remains the top choice for the Hammers at 13/2, sharing those odds with Willian. Yarmolenko is listed at 17/2 to stake West Ham to a lead for the second straight contest.

Oddsmakers are all but convinced Hazard will continue his goal-scoring run as he leads the line with 23/20 odds for a marker over the 90 minutes. Morata and Giroud are right on his heels at 5/4, while Pedro (13/8) and Willian (2/1) round out Chelsea’s usual suspects. Arnautovic is the top pick for West Ham at 19/10, trailed by Chicharito (2/1), Lucas Perez (12/5), and both Yarmolenko and Antonio (13/5).

PREDICTION

Chelsea are the only team in Premier League history to have won their first five league matches and claim the title, doing so in 2005-06 and 2009-10. This time around, it will obviously be more difficult given the class of both reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool, but the early returns on the Pensioners are they are at least viable for a top-four finish and could give the aforementioned squads a run for the trophy.

Sarri took no chances in Greece, fielding as strong a side as possible given his decision to leave Hazard, Luiz and Kovacic behind. Playing Barkley the full 90 minutes with Kovacic injures was an interesting decision by the Italian, more so in light of Pedro’s injury, even if it is not deemed serious. An intriguing option would be to play Willian behind Hazard in the 4-3-3 set-up if Pedro is healthy, but given how Sarri appears comfortable plugging in players at certain spots, it would not be surprising to see Barkley remain the starter and have Ruben Loftus-Cheek see his first action as his understudy.

This has the feel of match where Giroud finally moves the goal meter, having played a brilliant hold-up role last weekend versus Cardiff City while Hazard ran riot. Given the back line issues the Irons have had all season, Chelsea would be wise to funnel their attack through the pair. The France international’s low-maintenance ways and the Belgian’s nous in the final third have given Sarri all the time he needs to unlock the riddle of getting Morata going.

One wonders if Pellegrini will tinker with what worked after the Irons looked so appealing in thrashing Everton at Goodison Park. Arnautovic’s knock could throw a spanner into the works, but the Chilean at least does not lack for replacement options thanks to the £100 million spent in the offseason. Yarmolenko will have to be at his best to help keep Marcos Alonso from roaming forward from his left back position, and Anderson will at least need to be cognizant of Cesar Azpilicueta’s long-ball skills on the other flank.

While Rice performed well as the holding midfielder in front of the back four versus the Toffees, it would not be surprising to see Pellegrini shift to a 4-2-3-1 set-up in which the Ireland international teams with Noble or Obiang to form a bulwark against the Chelsea middle three.

This should be an entertaining derby, but Chelsea look too irresistible right now, especially against a West Ham back line that have yet to prove themselves in back-to-back matches and yet to record a clean sheet.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, CHELSEA 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 preview: Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)

Maurizio Sarri felt he needed three months to fully acclimate Chelsea to his brand of offence. Through three matches, however, little has gone wrong for the Italian and his Pensioners heading into an intriguing clash with Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Chelsea (3-0-0) are one of four sides in the Premier League with the maximum nine points, though they had to put in a volume of graft beyond the volume of completed passes to emerge with a 2-1 victory at Newcastle United last weekend.

Even with more than 900 completed passes and 81 percent possession as Newcastle played five in the back and often had all 10 players behind the ball, Chelsea did not have this match won until an own goal by DeAndre Yedlin three minutes from time snapped a deadlock.

Eden Hazard got his first start and converted a penalty in the 76th minute after Marcos Alonso was felled to bring an otherwise turgid match to life, but it was also clear the Belgium international is still acclimating to his new role in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation.

“I think he played very well, maybe it’s better for him at this moment to only play 70 or 75 minutes,” Sarri told the club’s official website regarding Hazard. “But after the first goal (Mateo) Kovacic asked to be substituted, so for me it was impossible to let him rest.”

The biggest adjustment for Hazard is staying wide rather than coming to the ball to drive the offense as he did in Antonio Conte’s set-up. “Sarri-ball” has well-defined roles for every player – most notably Jorginho in the middle as distributor – and when Hazard moved inside, it warped the shape of the team to the point where most of those 900-plus completed passes were rendered harmless as Chelsea had only three shots on target.

“Creating more chances from open play is something we will work on, I’m sure,” right back Cesar Azpilicueta said. “We want to control the game and have the ball, and we want to be dangerous in front of the goal. As a team we know we can improve and we will work on that.”

Bournemouth (2-1-0) are not going to be as inclined to sit back and defend with two banks of four. The Cherries are off to their best start in Premier League play and continue to show a staggering amount of resiliency to claim points by any means possible.

The latest example of that doggedness came against Everton last weekend as they fell behind 2-0 at home. They conceded the first goal while having a man advantage and the second after Adam Smith was sent off for denying a clear scoring opportunity as the last man.

But the extra space playing 10-versus-10 allowed Bournemouth the opportunity to utilise their speed through the middle, and they took full advantage. Joshua King converted a penalty to start the final quarter-hour and Nathan Ake slammed home a loose ball on a corner four minutes later as the Cherries emerged with a 2-2 draw which also gave them a Premier League-leading 20 points after falling behind in 2018.

“We’re delighted to achieve another comeback,” manager Eddie Howe told Bournemouth’s official website. “At ten versus ten it was difficult from a mental perspective given how the game had gone. I’m very pleased with the ability to come from behind as it always gives you a chance in a game, but it frustrates us that we allow it to happen in the first place. There’s plenty to learn from it.”

Those lessons still fresh in their heads, the Cherries steamrolled League Two leaders MK Dons 3-0 at home Tuesday. Ryan Fraser, the only starter to hold his place from the weekend, celebrated his call-up to the Scotland national team with a goal, bracketed by ones from Lys Mousset and Jordan Ibe.

The bigger news, however, was the Bournemouth debuts of left back Diego Rico and midfielder Jefferson Lerma. The summer signings – with Lerma’s a club-record £25 million – were a rare aggressive foray into the transfer market by the Cherries, and both gave solid performances in a clinical victory.

“Both of our new players – Diego Rico and Jefferson Lerma – did really well,” Howe noted. “It’s very difficult to come straight into a game and settle in. It will do them the world of good just to have that experience today to feel what it’s like to play for Bournemouth.”

Rico would be the more likely of the two to crack the starting XI if Howe makes any changes, and Lerma was among the reserves against Everton. Where Bournemouth can make hay is by countering through the middle if Jorginho pushes up too far. That allows Fraser to use his pace to find gaps behind Jorginho and in front of Chelsea’s central defence pairing of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger since N’Golo Kante no longer provides that cover in his new midfield role.

The teams split the two matches last term, with Bournemouth snapping a five-match losing streak in all competitions with a 3-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 31. Ake, Callum Wilson and Junior Stanislas scored in a 16-minute span of the second half for the Cherries, who have recorded both their Premier League victories over the Pensioners at Stamford Bridge.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are clear favourites at 2/7 odds, while Bournemouth are 9/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline for all three points. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 9/2.

Oddsmakers are also fairly confident in Chelsea getting a high-scoring victory as they are 7/10 favourites to win with an over of 2.5 goals. By contrast, Bournemouth face 14/1 odds on such an outcome, the same as a draw and over 2.5 goals. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for Chelsea has 7/2 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw return 7/1 odds. The Cherries posting a clean sheet with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory is the deepest long shot at 25/1.

For first goal-scorers, Morata is a narrow 10/3 favourite over Hazard and Olivier Giroud (7/2). Pedro checks in at 9/2 to make it 1-0 for the hosts, while Willian is listed at 5/1. For those who believe in deja vu, Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson is getting 10/1 odds to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge for the second striaght match.

Morata and Giroud are better than even money to score at any point over the 90 minutes at 10/11 and 19/20, respectively, and Hazard is an even-money pick. Pedro (5/4) and Willian (6/4) trail close behind, while Wilson also leads Bournemouth’s options at 11/4, followed by King and Jermain Defoe at 16/5.

PREDICTION

This match presents an interesting juxtaposition. Chelsea have shown they can take a punch when ahead and still progress, while Bournemouth refuse to give in regardless the score line. Twenty points from losing positions do not grow on trees, people.

In some ways, this match could be similar to the one Chelsea played against Arsenal, only Bournemouth have a midfield that can link to their attackers. The downside is the Cherries do not have the quality in attack of the Gunners, but they have been a handful to shut down since they have scored at least two goals in all four of their matches.

But for Howe’s team to be successful, it starts and ends with Fraser. He is going to have to play an excellent two-way game, which means using his pace on offence and haring around after Jorginho to not let him get comfortable. The other thing evident about Bournemouth is they enjoy being a team.

Against Everton, Wilson missed a good scoring chance early and had another chance go begging. Perhaps sensing it was not his day, he let King step up and take the penalty to start the fight back. Bournemouth have also scored in pairs… they overtook West Ham with two goals in six minutes and knotted Everton with two in four.

There will be clues to how well Hazard adapts to Sarri-ball starting with this match. Hazard had a full match and now has a perfectionist in Sarri explaining every nuance of how Chelsea are to retain their shape. Whether Hazard can fit into this system is still up for debate, but he has made an impact in all three matches and possesses the nous to mesh the concepts with his individual brilliance.

This match should be hotly and evenly contested since both sides have gaps that can be exploited defensively. In the end, Chelsea appear to have just a little bit extra that will separate themselves from the Cherries.

Predicted final score: Chelsea 2, Bournemouth 1.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)