Our Royston - quickly becoming a fans favourite (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
After a much needed win over Fulham – the only ‘respite’ in a six-week run of games against sides from the top of the league (and Liverpool) – the Blues return to cup action against Chelsea on Wednesday eyeing a quarter-final place.
The Carling Cup is a much maligned competition but one I feel Everton should really go for. After all, the sides in the Champions League will play their reserve teams, meaning the path to the latter stages is infinitely easier than it would be if you played the same team in the FA Cup. The Chelsea side we will see tonight will be much changed, and not just because of all their suspensions.
It will still be a top team don’t get me wrong, but I know which line-up I would prefer to face, and it isn’t the one who beat us 3-1 at Stamford Bridge earlier this month.
That loss ended a nice little run against the Londoners we had built up over several seasons. Unlike other members of the big four they were the one team we could seemingly unsettle and take points/wins off both home and away – the most memorable perhaps being last season’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win in the FA Cup.
David Moyes has already revealed that he will not alter his side significantly – but that is mainly because he has little choice. The squad is so light that we just don’t have the numbers of make many changes and to be honest Moyes needs to send out a strong team if we are to have a chance. The Scot is desperate to win a trophy (as are we) as a reward for ten years hard work and the Carling Cup – barring a freakishly easy set of draws in the FA Cup - is our best chance.
I hope Moyes chooses to attack Chelsea too instead of resorting to holding tactics, they won’t admit it but Chelsea would not be too disappointed if they lost this game, bigger fish to fry and all that, so I feel we should try and wrestle the initiative from the off.
Louis Saha is pushing for a start after scoring against Fulham – and his good record against Chelsea should mean he is included. Whether that will mean Velios is dropped I’m not sure, then there is Denis Stracqualursi, who started in the last round.
With Moyes’ recent preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation I expect Saha to lead the line on his own, maybe with Fellaini, Drenthe and Cahill just behind. Provided they get forward to support Saha that is a pretty tough forward line to handle, combining strength, pace, trickery and aerial ability.
Johnny Heitinga may continue his comeback from injury with a start but other than that I foresee few changes, even with Man United looming at the weekend.
We could do without extra time and penalties given the early kick-off on Saturday – and that applies to both teams as Chelsea also play on Saturday lunchtime.
A win and a home draw in the quarter-final and we can dream about an improbable return to Wembley. But that is what I was doing when we played Reading in the FA Cup last season – I trust our strikers will arrive on time this time. But, if the Chelsea line-up is as expected, and with the Champions League and the title race to distract them, there is no reason why Everton can’t give the ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ a real go.
On the four previous occasions these sides have been paired together in the League Cup, Chelsea progressed. That includes a 3-1 aggregate victory in the semi-finals in 2007-08.
The Toffees have failed to keep a clean sheet in six league and cup home games during the current campaign.
Their last shut-out at Goodison Park came in the 1-0 victory against Chelsea on the final day of last season.
Everton reached the League Cup final in 1977 and 1984, but have never won the competition.
They have only reached the last eight once in 23 years, going as far the semi-finals in 2007-08
Everton have not conceded more than a single goal in 17 League Cup ties at Goodison Park since losing 4-2 to Millwall in the second round in October 1995.
The Londoners have kept only one clean sheet in nine league games under Andre Villas-Boas, but have shut out their opponents in three of the four cup games he has taken charge of. The only cup goal they have conceded this season was a penalty converted by Roberto Soldado in the 1-1 draw at Valencia in the Champions League.
They have failed to reach the quarter-finals in only three of the last 10 seasons.
Chelsea have won the League Cup four times (1965, 1998, 2005 and 2007), and been runners-up twice (1972 and 2008).