EPL preview: Morata-less Chelsea heads to Everton, Spurs look to avoid slip-up

Chelsea will need a win to have a glimmer of a hope of defending its Premier League title this season, while Tottenham looks to break inroads in to top four again with a win over surprise package Burnley,

Antonio Conte's Chelsea will be wary of a resurgent Everton side under new manager Sam Allardyce, which has picked up 13 points from its last five games.   -  Getty Images

Antonio Conte says the loss of Alvaro Morata for Chelsea's trip to Everton is a blow to his side's hopes of maintaining its distant pursuit of Premier League leader Manchester City.

Morata was booked after scoring the added-time winning goal in the midweek League Cup quarterfinal victory over Bournemouth that set up a semifinal meeting with Arsenal.

The Spain striker, who had come off the bench, initially stuck the ball under his shirt in a gesture to his pregnant wife but he earned the caution for kicking the ball away as Bournemouth attempted to restart the game quickly.

Jose to axe EFL Cup losers for Leicester clash?

It was Morata's fifth booking of the season, earning the forward a one-game ban and leaving Conte with a decision to make about how best to replace his side's leading scorer.

Michy Batshuayi is the squad's only other recognised central striker but the Belgian failed to impress after being handed a rare start this week. Previously, Conte has preferred to fill the gap by employing Eden Hazard as a false nine and he is expected to do that once again.

"For sure, Morata should have played against Everton," said the Chelsea boss. "He would have started the game, for sure. But now I have to prepare a different plan.

"I have different options. I have a day to make the best decision ahead of the Everton game. At training everyone was in good form, and I have time to make a decision."

Chelsea remains 14 points adrift of City in third place and the current priority is to maintain the four-point gap to fourth place.

Alvaro Morata picked up a booking for time-wasting in the EFL cup clash against Bournemouth on Wednesday which rules him out of the trip to Everton.   -  AFP

 

"It would be very important to get three points, but we know very well that, in the last five games, Everton won four games.

"They are in a good moment of form. They changed the coach and are having good results. For this reason, we must pay great attention on Saturday."

Conte wary of Everton form

Everton has picked up 13 points from 15 available since Sam Allardyce agreed to become its manager last month.

That run has lifted the club to ninth, with 11 league goals scored and only two conceded in that time.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney is also enjoying a revival, with six goals in his past five appearances, including one on Monday as Everton beat Swansea 3-1 at Goodison Park.

Winger Aaron Lennon suggested that Allardyce's arrival has lifted the mood of the players.

"We all know Chelsea are a great side but we're in a good run of form and at Goodison we fancy our chances against anyone so we're looking forward to that one," Lennon said.

Spurs look for surge

Mauricio Pochettino is hoping for a surge up the Premier League table now he is close to being able to unleash his strongest Tottenham team on surprise packages Burnley.

Spurs dropped to seventh in the Premier League table following last week's 4-1 drubbing at leader Manchester City, their second defeat in five league games.

That put them back below Burnley, who they visit on Saturday evening. Tottenham could overtake its host with a win against Sean Dyche's team, and put pressure on fourth-placed Liverpool and Arsenal, which are fifth.

Dele Alli's (C) form has deserted the youngster in recent times, and Saturday's encounter against Burnley gives the 21-year-old an opportunity to put up a good show.   -  Getty Images

Defender Davinson Sanchez is back following a three-match ban and Pochettino is hopeful that two more key men -- Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama -- can also feature in a busy period that sees Spurs host Southampton on December 26 before clashes with Swansea and West Ham.

Alderweireld is set to return from the hamstring injury he suffered against Real Madrid in November while Kenyan Wanyama, absent with a knee problem since August, is back in full training.

"When you lose, it is human nature to miss who wasn't on the pitch," Pochettino said.

"Wanyama is very close, Toby is doing well and we are very close to having everyone fit.

"The team trusts each other and in what we are doing.

Tottenham Hotspur has a chance to leapfrog sixth-placed Burnley which it faces on Saturday at Turf Moor.

 

"We need to keep going and belief is so important, to change the dynamic, win games and be close to the top four. It is a long way until the end of the season."

England duo Harry Kane and Dele Alli are available, although both came close to red cards at City for challenges many referees would have ruled for straight reds.

Swans look for upturn after Clement sacking

Swansea City's decision to sack manager Paul Clement reflected the mounting anxiety in the Premier League's lower reaches as the frenetic festive period begins.

Paul Clement, sacked by Swansea this week, became the fourth Premier League manager to lose his job this season.   -  AP

 

Clement was dismissed on Wednesday with Swansea four points adrift of safety at the foot of the table, becoming the sixth manager to have lost his job in the English top flight this season.

While some clubs -- Crystal Palace, Everton, West Ham United -- are reaping the benefits of a managerial change, others -- Stoke City, Newcastle United, Bournemouth -- are standing by their man.

The new boss bounce

Palace, Everton and West Ham have all enjoyed striking upturns in fortunes since electing to part ways with underperforming managers.

Palace was the first club to hit the panic button, sacking Frank de Boer in September after a return of zero points and zero goals from its first four games.

Bottom placed Swansea City has picked up only four points from a possible 30 in its last 10 games.

 

Former England manager Roy Hodgson has engineered an impressive turnaround, a run of seven games without defeat putting Palace in 14th place ahead of Saturday's trip to Swansea.

Sam Allardyce, another ex-England manager, has had a similar impact at Everton, who have climbed from 19th to ninth since sacking Ronald Koeman in late October.

David Moyes was an unpopular choice to replace Slaven Bilic at West Ham, but a three-game unbeaten run -- including a 1-0 win over champion Chelsea -- has elevated the club from 18th to 15th.

Though West Bromwich Albion remain in the relegation zone, there have been signs of improvement since Alan Pardew succeeded Tony Pulis, including a battling 0-0 draw at Liverpool.

FIXTURES

Saturday (01:15 am):

Arsenal v Liverpool

Saturday (08:30 pm unless otherwise stated):

Brighton v Watford, Burnley v Tottenham (11:00 pm), Everton v Chelsea (06:00 pm), Man City v Bournemouth, Southampton v Huddersfield, Stoke v West Brom, Swansea v Crystal Palace, West Ham v Newcastle

Sunday

Leicester v Man Utd (01:15 am)

 

  Dugout videos