Six games in and it sort of feels like the pressure is on already.
Good pressure though, pressure of hope and raised expectations; a bit like how you get extra wound up when we take the lead in the derby. As soon as you have something to cling on to, like Everton’s unseasonably good start, you also have something to lose.
Everyone’s saying nice things about Everton, even Evertonians, and the Blues find themselves second-placed in the league entirely on merit. However, we also remain a mere two points ahead of West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United, so a slip back down into our customary placing somewhere between the league table’s nipples and collar bone is potentially only a couple of duff results away.
Liverpool are officially ‘back’ now as well after winning their first league game of the season, and despite what anyone says to the contrary, both sets of supporters are intently focused on the gap between the sides. The Reds have a couple of eminently winnable home games coming up ahead of the Goodison derby while Everton travel to the DW Stadium and Loftus Road. Liverpool must have it in their minds then that they can potentially come into the derbylooking to close the gap substantially.
The onus is on Everton then to simply keep winning. Trips to places like Wigan and Queens Park Rangers are always awkward because Premier League sides have a go at home and all have a few players who can hurt you if given encouragement. If Everton are the serious team that they aspire to be though, they will go and control these games, score goals and break their opponents’ spirits by relentlessly gobbling up points.
What would it do for Liverpool’s self-belief, for instance, if they went into the derby on a three-game winning streak but still eight points adrift of the Toffees – twice the points difference between them at the end of last season?
Until Darron Gibson returns, the Blues will still lack a certain degree of control in the centre of the park. At the moment it seems as if we are either frantically attacking or desperately defending. Away from home especially there are times when you just want to deny the opposition possession by hogging it yourself – frustrate them a bit and put doubts in their minds when they do manage to get the ball.
That seems to be our only really weakness – erratic goalkeeping aside – the ability to control the ‘tempo’ of games when the opposition are beginning to build up a bit of momentum.
That will probably be more of an issue at Loftus Road, where if there’s a perfect storm, with the crowd getting behind the team and their better players clicking, the going could get tough for anyone.
Wigan on the other hand, without wishing to tempt fate, seem almost tailor-made for this Everton side. Teams who try to play great football with average players – like Swansea and Southampton – tend to get picked off, especially on the break.
A system of play, no matter how brilliant the coaching is, will only take a team so far. Stand off and let them basically execute their training drills and of course they will look super slick, but when individuals get isolated and pressurised they make mistakes and the system don’t mean shit. As they say in America. Possibly.
It’s no coincidence that Barcelona’s seemingly simple style still requires them to have the best players in the world to function properly. Otherwise they would have bought Joe Allen.
It was slightly surprising then to read an article recently by Michael Cox from Zonal Marking – Google it, lazy arse – who concluded that Everton’s good start to the season was attributable to a change of tactical emphasis on the part of David Moyes as opposed to the arrival of new players. Given that Zonal Marking is a website about tactics, perhaps they are inclined to always see the hidden arrows and dotted lines in every situation, because a much simpler explanation for the run of great form that began at the start of the year is that some astute player trading improved the squad immeasurably. Add Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Nikica Jelavic and then Kevin Mirallas to any squad and you would struggle to do anything but play good football.
Unlike some managers for whom the ‘philosophy’ comes first though – perhaps they see it as their ‘brand’ – Moyes seems to start with the players and work from there. He plays to their collective strengths and rarely seems to ask them to do what they are not comfortable with or capable of. Insert your Tony Hibbert quip here.
With better players his sides play better football.
Moyes must be especially delighted with the style of play as well as the results at the moment, because every convincing performance by Everton goes that little bit further towards enhancing his reputation as a manager who can do it all as opposed to one who is simply good at working on a tight budget and getting teams organised and tough to beat.
As someone suggested at the Southampton match when discussing Moyes’s refusal to be drawn on a new contract, his vague rebuffing of questions come across as a polite way of saying ‘Let’s not be hasty – we will see what Sir Alex’s plans are first and take it from there’.
Would you bet against him getting that job now?