Everton travel to the Liberty Stadium for the early kick off on Saturday, with both teams looking to temporarily go joint-top of the Premier League table.
Granted, it would be very temporary, but it was just an indicator – blogging shorthand if you will – of how they have both started the season reasonably well.
The still-really-fucking-cool-even-though-he-has-the-look-of-a-female-PE-teacher’s-special-friend Michael Laudrup has confounded many of the finest minds in the game by managing to hold together a club that was expected to implode spectacularly following the loss of Brendan ‘sideways is the new forwards’ Rodgers and his Jedi apprentice, Joe Allen who, rumour has it, after every match cuts himself with a razor, like Richey Edwards, once for every time he concedes possession. That’s how much it means to him.
Anyway, Laudrup added a number of players to the squad with the proceeds from the sales of Allen and Scott Sinclair, with the pick of the bunch being the former Rayo Vallecano striker Miguel Pérez Cuesta, otherwise known as Michu. He would be dubbed ‘Pleestu’ in no time at all if he played for Everton.
The elegant forward looks the business so far, with four goals in as many games. Alongside him is Danny Graham, a player you have to admire for his attitude if little else. Bless him, he’s a poor man’s Shane Long.
They apparently have a load of problems at the back though, with a number of injuries and suspensions to more or less their first choice back four. Hopefully Everton, who twatted them home and away last season, will be able to exploit those deficiencies even without Nikica Jelavic who, reports would have you believe, is out for the next two or three weeks.
That’s a blow, but David Moyes has enough options in the attacking positions to allow the Croatian cracker to recover properly. He can replace him with Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe or Steven Naismith and rejig the right-hand side of midfield accordingly if necessary.
A bigger concern is the continued absence of Darron Gibson in central midfield. The ex-Manchester United man is being built up in his absence into some sort of combination of Paul Bracewell and Howard Kendall, which really isn’t the case. He is just a really competent midfielder with decent control to whom the position comes naturally.
Most importantly, he is not a converted defender whose first instinct is self-preservation. Phil Neville sometimes holds his own in that position against better sides when we are under pressure and we need the third centre-half that he essentially plays as. Against anyone else, when we look to take the initiative, he’s a waste of a shirt, turning his back whenever Tim Howard wants to roll the ball out and playing nothing passes across the defence that force the fullbacks to clear down the line.
It’s not his fault, he seems a decent enough sort after all, but his ability in central midfield simply isn’t in keeping with the players he now has around him. It’s no surprise that Moyes is considering moves for free agents such as Thomas Hitzlsperger – who seems ideal – and Owen Hargreaves. The latter is clearly a joke figure in the wake of his infamous YouTube video showing him doing every type of fitness workout imaginable apart from, crucially, playing top level football.
Whenever we get linked with write-offs like Hargreaves, or indeed Michael Owen, there is a tendency to venture that they ‘might be worth a punt on a pay-as-you-play deal’ which suggests that these multi-millionaires are willing to turn up and give their all in training every week in the hope that they might get the nod on a Saturday and actually earn a bit of coin for their troubles.
You can imagine Mrs Owen now, settling in for X Factor in their North Wales mansion when she hears the front door open and a sports bag dumped heavily in the hall. With practised trepidation she calls, “Hiya love, missed you today. Did you get a game?”
“Fucking unused sub again. UNUSED! He couldn’t even bring me on for the last five minutes, the twat.”
“Oh, never mind love. You know, if we tighten our belts a little bit this week we’ll be fine. And I’ve been thinking, I’m bored in the house sometimes and they are always looking for someone to do a few hours in the paper shop. I know it’s not ideal but every little helps…”
If you get any of these bleeders in, on any basis whatsoever, it costs proper dough, guaranteed. Apart from James McFadden getting a short-term deal at Sunderland, obviously. He’ll be getting his ale money at best.
Finally, and apropos of nothing apart from the Europa League being on the telly at the moment, the competition is widely derided by the clubs playing in it because they make very little money out of it. A rather shitty attitude but one that the supporters have generally been browbeaten into accepting. Some incentive is clearly needed then, to get the clubs involved to take it seriously and field their best players. There’s no comedy punchline coming here, by the way, this is a serious suggestion. Why don’t both the finalists get immediate access to the following season’s Champions League gravy train? The winners could go straight into the group stages while the runners-up go in at the qualifying stage.
A short crisis of confidence forced a spot of Googling then just to double-check that they don’t qualify already. They don’t, but the idea has been mooted elsewhere, including in this article, where a parallel is drawn with European basketball who have seen positive effects on their second tier competition by offering the winners qualification to the top one for the following season. If you are still reading, that is.