Chelsea: Mauricio Pochettino cannot use latest excuse for Everton battle

Chelsea have had their soft centre exposed in the north in recent weeks — and face another stern test of their mettle at Goodison Park on Sunday.

In both their 4-1 defeat by Newcastle last month and the 2-1 loss against Manchester United on Wednesday, the Blues have lacked both physical and mental toughness.

Fuelled by the perceived injustice of their 10-point deduction for alleged financial rule breaches, Everton will try to expose that vulnerability again.

Sean Dyche was at Old Trafford on Wednesday and saw first-hand how Chelsea struggled to deal with the intensity of United's high press.

Chelsea can expect another physical challenge against an Everton side who will be buoyed by their 3-0 thumping of Newcastle. Dyche's men will look to make the most of set-pieces, get plenty of crosses into the box and play direct football.

Fans' patience is wearing thin with Mauricio Pochettino (Getty Images)
Fans' patience is wearing thin with Mauricio Pochettino (Getty Images)

The Blues will need to show they have the stomach for the fight. Mauricio Pochettino was angry following the Newcastle defeat, but was more measured on Wednesday.

He defended his team, blaming their lack of physicality on tiredness, having a day less to prepare and playing the second half with 10 men against Brighton on Sunday.

Pochettino was also without 10 injured players at Old Trafford, with Reece James only fit enough to play half the match.

Injuries have been a real problem for Chelsea but Conor Gallagher, the player he most missed against United, returns from suspension this weekend.

Gallagher, who was sent off against Brighton, is the one player who consistently delivers energy and intensity, so is likely to play a key role at Goodison Park.

Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, signed for a combined fee of more than £200mllion, are still unable to compete physically at their highest level and Gallagher remains key to the make-up of the midfield.

Chelsea have also struggled with discipline (Getty Images)
Chelsea have also struggled with discipline (Getty Images)

Armando Broja is pushing for a start, as Nicolas Jackson continues to struggle up front. Cole Palmer is likely to revert back to a forward position after struggling in a midfield role at Old Trafford.

Pochettino again called for patience with the Chelsea project this week.

"We are a project and not going to say what we were saying from the beginning of the season," he said.

"We knew that with all the players fit, it would be difficult. Now, with half the squad out, it is hard to increase the level, very, very difficult. It is hard to talk — not fair — but that's the reality."

But patience is wearing thin among Blues supporters. Chelsea have fewer points than at this stage last season and are in danger of falling out of the race for a Champions League spot before Christmas.

Pochettino needs more energy in his team, and Chelsea have had an extra day to prepare than Everton.