Monday 22 December ~
If you're one of those people who actually expects to win money from gambling you won't be taking up any of the longer odds being offered on the outcome of tonight's Premier League match. While Chelsea have looked vulnerable at home, they have won all eight League matches away, conceding only one goal in the process. Meanwhile, Everton have only one victory at Goodison Park this season and for the second successive match may be lining up without a recognised forward in the team, with Tim Cahill expected to do the brunt of the running around in the final third. The revolutionary 4-6-0 formation worked against Manchester City thanks to the latter's inept marking at a corner in the final minute – something which they repeated in losing at West Brom yesterday. But David Moyes's emergency measure may be tested beyond breaking point by tonight's opponents who will return to the top of the table if they win.
Back-page rumours have just about every club in the Premier League looking to bring in at least one striker in January, but Everton's need is greater than most given that two of the four forwards in their first team squad, Yakubu and James Vaughan, are unlikely to play again this season while the other two, Victor Anichebe and Louis Saha, are carrying injuries. But a few weeks ago, before injuries decimated his squad, David Moyes had said the club would be unlikely to do business in the transfer window, "unless there are players prepared to join us for no money".
Everton were the nearest equivalent to Roman Abramovich's Chelsea in the early 1960s when the club's owner John Moores, founder of Littlewoods Pools, took advantage of the abolition of the maximum wage to fund a squad that won the League title in 1962-63 and they remained one of the top half-dozen sides in the country for the rest of that decade. Today they are models of frugality in comparison to the other major clubs, although this is not out of choice. Moyes's signings have broken the club's transfer record in each of the last three seasons, but the club has also had one of the smallest squads in the League for several years. Last week, chairman Bill Kenwright announced that the club had a profit of £260,000 before tax last season, something he ascribed to "careful fiscal management during a period which was, in pure financial terms, hugely challenging". Which essentially means that, in the continued absence of a wealthy backer, they are broke. If any forwards are to be bought, the purchases will have to be funded by sales. Left-back Leighton Baines, currently an understudy to Joleon Lescott, is being tipped for a move to either Newcastle or Sunderland while Lescott himself is reportedly the subject of interest from Manchester City.
After a poor start with defeats in their first two home games, Everton have spent the bulk of the season in the top half but they are only seven points above the relegation area, with successive matches against Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd to come in a month's time. Their packed midfield has functioned well in recent games, with an unlucky home defeat to Villa sandwiched between wins at Spurs and Man City, but they are short on numbers with a some of the untried teenagers making up the numbers on their bench likely to be brought into action in what could yet be a fraught second half of the season. Chelsea meanwhile have to worry about whether their title chances have been seriously compromised by their erratic recent form, which enabled Liverpool to hang on at the top despite their own runs of draws. The new "club world champions" thus saw their own title odds shorten during that sojourn in Japan. Even if Chelsea continue to pile up away victories, defeat on their visit to Old Trafford on January 11 could yet prove decisive.