Manchester, so much to answer for.
In an extremely unusual move this beginning bit has actually been rewritten. It originally started off looking over David Moyes’s time at Everton and how he left and what he did for the club and then weighing up how Roberto Martinez has taken over and what he’s done differently and it tried to be all reasonable in the face of the ‘he’s just a ginger twat who held us back’ sort of sentiments. But we’ve been over all that loads of times now and at the end of the day he’s the Manchester United manager now and we have a new fella in charge who seems to be doing just dandy, so really, why dwell on it?
Ok, we will a bit then, just to say that ultimately the whole situation boils down to this: we had a really good manager who left on a high and he appears to have been replaced by another pretty decent one. It’s rare that happens – most new managers are brought in to sift through the last fella’s carnage and are then sacked when they can’t do it quickly enough – so shouldn’t we really be more pleased about how things panned out?
That said, Moyes certainly won’t get any Cardiff-esque ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow’ reception from the travelling Blues at Old Trafford, but really he must have known that when he started making bids for his former club’s players.
And that’s on him.
He had every right to make offers for them of course, as manager of United he has to do what’s right by them, but he did it knowing perfectly well that he was burning bridges. He had the whole of world football to aim at, and was freed of the financial constraints that were supposedly holding his career back at Everton, and yet he still showed what looked like a certain lack of imagination by immediately trying to buy Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini. It was the transfer equivalent of goosing your brother Rhodri’s missus.
After all, was it not enough that he had already deprived us of Steve Round?
The more you see the former Everton coach, with his little legs dangling off the end of them big red Audi seats, the more he looks like Salford’s answer to Anchorman’s Brick Tamland. The next time he gets sent out to face the press after a defeat then – hopefully on Wednesday night, right kids! – don’t be surprised if he stares into the camera and says: ‘I ate fibreglass insulation. It wasn’t cotton candy like the guy said. My tummy itches.’
Going back to the transfer window for a moment, for all the good that Moyes did for Everton while in charge, there’s a case to made that one of his greatest gifts to the Toffees never came until he was sitting posing awkwardly in Alex Ferguson’s faux-leather ‘executive’ chair.
That’s right, the bizarre fee he paid for Fellaini.
That fat end of £30 million certainly gave his successor the freedom to manoeuvre in the transfer market – even those ‘loans’ don’t come for free, remember – and Everton are undoubtedly much stronger as a result, despite the Belgian being an important player during his last couple of seasons at Goodison.
Indeed, here’s one for you, if given the opportunity right now what would you do if offered a straight swap: United’s £27 million midfielder for Everton’s £10 million one, James McCarthy?
A chin scratcher and no mistake.
As a result of that strengthening, this new look Everton certainly travel down the M62 with more hope of winning than they have for a long time. It is worth pointing out at this point though that Everton are hardly unique in struggling to get anything but battered away to United in recent history. In a move that almost resembled research we counted that they have lost a total of 16 league games at home during the last ten years.
Think of some of the boss teams that they have faced in the Premier League during that spell – that’s some going by anyone’s standards.
The big question now though is whether they can maintain those levels of performance in the absence of the force of nature, willpower and sheer stubborn spite that was, and indeed is, old poison pen himself, Ferguson. Rather unsurprisingly, their recent form would suggest that they can’t.
Indeed, the fact that Everton are a point above them in December tells its own story. Granted, we have had a good start, but for them to be outside of the Champions League placings at this stage of the season is almost unheard of.
So it feels like a lot rides on this game in many ways. In the big scheme of things it’s only three points but – and we do like do hark on rather pretentiously about ‘constructing narratives’ – in terms of the stories that are being written here, at both Everton and United, this feels very much like the big reveal at the end of the first act.
If Everton win the story will be all about how Martinez has changed the mentality at Everton – Moyes must have regretted that ‘get out of Old Trafford alive’ quote as soon as it passed his lips – and there may even be the odd whisper that Dave Whelan had a point when he said that the Glazers made a mistake by overlooking the Spaniard, even though it’s far too early to know that, whatever the result.
At this stage though it is all about perceptions.
If United win, although it will be deflating for Evertonians the wider story is far less dramatic – normal service resumed and all that – so the pressure is definitely on Moyes in a big way here. Essentially, if we go and attack and play all the football, as we have done in all but a couple of our games so far this season, while his United team continue to struggle, seemingly in search of their identity, then he could end up looking quite the plum.
Let’s make it so.
Before we get too bullish though, it’s worth remembering that despite what’s been dubbed a pretty poor start for them they will actually move above us if they win here, and that they still have a decent team – indeed a Championship-winning one – containing the outstanding Wayne Rooney. The newly svelte, syrup-sporting soccer sensation has looked back to his best since Moyes arrived, which is something of a turn up for the books considering the brooding Bronte-esque relationship they endured when both were at Everton.
Not selling him to Chelsea was one of the most important pieces of business that anyone did, or didn’t do, this summer.
Intergalactic gameshow host Robin van Persie could possibly be back in the side too – great! – and after his sensational game against a poor Stoke City we will probably get a much better idea of just how good Bryan Oviedo is when we see him up against Antonio Valencia’s throbbing combination of pace, persistence and protein powders.
The more you think about this game though, the more it looks like a potential nightmare for Moyes. His cautious image was always going to represent one of the major hurdles in terms of this United job and that’s proven the case. The onus is on him to send out a team with orders to really go for Everton then, in true ‘United style’, but on the other hand he knows that could play right into Martinez’s hands.
We need to play on that fear.
And if ever there was a night to go and play possession football, even in those relatively safe areas that we sometimes complain about, then this is it. Get them chasing around – like Chile did against England at Wembley – deprive them of possession if we can, and make them start to second-guess themselves and get the crowd on their back before choosing the right opportunities to really take the game to them.
Most importantly though, when we do that and we create chances we need to be bold, commit men forward and be more ruthless than we were against Liverpool.
Much will depend on Romelu Lukaku, and again we don’t want to overplay this point – which as you know is what we always say before doing just that – but he needs to take a look at Rooney, a player who lacks his physical gifts, and how he makes defenders earn every ball. If he doesn’t then Nemanja Vidic, whose booming telly-screen-shattering tackle on Kyle Walker on Sunday hasn’t had anything like the love it deserves, will walk straight through him.
A proper, man-sized performance from the Belgian could make all the difference – if the ball sticks with him up front he can provide the platform from which the other attackers can really hurt United.
Blimey! Are you excited yet?
Anyway, enough of all that, men, we’ve talked the talk. It’s time to go and do the hard bit.