Everton V Chelsea: Mutual Hatred Of The Waiter
This fixture is something of a rarity in football. It’s not often that you get a game where one of the managers involved is unpopular with both sets of fans.
Short of winning the league it’s unlikely that Rafa Benitez will ever be loved by the Chelsea faithful. In part, I think this could be because he doesn’t look like a manager anymore. With his goatee and swelling paunch, ‘Rafa’ looks like he should be working the door at a provincial nightclub, enforcing a strict ‘no-trainers’ policy, rather than managing one of the biggest football clubs in Europe.
But probably more important than this is the fact that Benitez spent time in charge of one of Chelsea’s main rivals, slagging the club off whenever the opportunity arose. Chelsea fans don’t have short memories and so the appointment of someone who once held the club in such disdain was never likely to go down that well, specifically when that same man replaced someone who had done much to endear himself to the supporters.
During his period in charge of Liverpool ‘Rafa’ also managed to alienate the blue half of Merseyside too. No Liverpool manager is going to be that popular amongst Evertonians, but Benitez’s dismissal of Everton, following a 2007 Anfield derby, as a ‘small club’ only accentuated our dislike of him. As a dig it was humourless and petty. And in behavioural terms, it was a fairly shabby way for a top-flight manager to conduct himself, specifically one working in a city with such a competitive footballing rivalry between its two clubs.
It’s likely then that Benitez will receive a tough reception at Goodison today. But whereas most managers have the support of travelling fans to act as a buffer against the home crowd’s hostility, ‘Rafa’ will only have the lukewarm tolerance of the Chelsea fans to turn to, something unlikely to provide the Spaniard with much comfort.
The game itself provides an interesting contrast between two clubs of contrasting fortune. And by fortune I mean money. When doing a financial comparison between Everton and Chelsea it’s almost as if you’re talking about clubs that reside in different leagues. In terms of net-spend, since Moyes took the helm at Goodison in 2002, the club has outlaid £13.9 million, a figure that is dwarfed by Chelsea’s staggering figure of £526 million. In fact, over roughly that same period Chelsea have splurged £86 million on managerial compensation alone, six-times Everton’s general net-spend.
The result of Chelsea’s furious activity in the transfer market is a squad with a total market value of £356,925,000, one of the highest in the Premiership. This is three-times the value of Everton’s squad, who come in at a more modest £109,950,000.
No-one can deny that Chelsea’s ‘fantasy-football’ approach has not been a success. Since their oligarch overlord took ownership of the club, Chelsea have bagged themselves twelve trophies, many of which have actually been worth winning. It might have been won in one of the ugliest ways possible, but last season’s capture of the Champions League must rank as the highpoint, making the millions poured into the club worthwhile, specifically as Chelsea managed to knock-out the ‘best team in the world’ during the process.
This season though, the gulf between the two clubs doesn’t seem to be counting for that much. At the moment, Chelsea are fourth with thirty-five points and Everton fifth with thirty-three. Should we be victorious tomorrow, then those league positions will be reversed and it will be Everton who find themselves going into the new-year positioned in the all-important Champions League zone.
But will this happen? Both teams are in pretty good form. Chelsea have taken eleven points from their last six games, including a win against Villa that must rank as one of the most comprehensive victories seen in the Premiership this season. Everton meanwhile, have taken twelve points over the same period, including wins in tricky fixtures against Spurs and West Ham.
Chelsea come to Goodison with relatively few injury worries. Although Terry remains absent, and Daniel ‘barn-door’ Sturridge effectively off the books because of his move to The Sh*te, Benitez can pretty much field his team of choice.
Everton by contrast, continue to be hamstrung by injuries and suspension; with Fellaini, Hibbert and Mirallas absent. The one positive is the probable inclusion of the massively underrated Darron Gibson, who had been doubtful after he picked-up a slight knock on Boxing Day.
He might not weave through the opposition at will or spray precision-guided passes across the park, but his presence in the side makes Everton a more complete unit. Gibson provides the back-four with added cover and lets the more attacking-minded players move forward with confidence. It’s no surprise that his return to the side, following a lengthy lay-off during the early months of the season, has coincided with an improvement in Everton’s form. We tend to win when he features, a factor that could prove decisive today.
Aside from the joy it would bring to Evertonians everywhere, a home-win, and our continued good-form, would also provide an illustrative counter-point to the belief that money is all that matters in the Premiership. Only a complete idiot would claim that money counted for nothing, but the fact that, this season at least, Everton are out-competing a club with resources so much greater than our own, and those of almost all the clubs in the football league, at least reveals that money is not everything, and that sometimes the right manager, combined with the right team-spirit can overcome those who treat the game as little more than an exercise in fantasy football.