Je suis Roberto.
And before anyone says you shouldn’t make light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, you know, come on. It’s what they would have wanted.
The Blues won a reprieve late on against West Ham in midweek but there were still as many questions as answers in the aftermath, with some onlookers questioning the body language of Phil Jagielka and Romelu Lukaku in the post-game interview, and the Belgian’s comments about the players asking for a more direct style seeming to add some weight to the claims of dressing room dissent.
Hosting reigning champions Manchester City four days later then could have gone one of two ways. The Toffees, so lacklustre against rubbish like Hull City and Stoke, were either going to fold in the face of Manuel Pellegrini’s side and their relentless-like-coastal-erosion passing game, or take heart from the drama of the dying stages of the cup tie and finally start showing a set of cojones.
Thankfully, for the team, for Martinez, and for the fans who are in the main desperate to believe in him, it was the latter.
Alongside Chelsea, City are clearly far and away the best side in this division. Where the Londoners under Jose Mourinho have the edge though is in their ruthlessness. They scored six at Goodison earlier in the season, seizing on every mistake without mercy, whereas the openings gifted to City by Mohamed Besic and Jagielka in the first half here didn’t even result in Joel Robles having to make a save.
Joe Hart was mostly untroubled too, until on 42 minutes Everton had the best chance of the half. Lukaku, who was far more involved and dangerous-looking in midweek, excelled again in the lone front-runner role – one that most centre-forwards would find thankless against a side like City. Eliaquim Mangala – who looks like he would be more comfortable wearing a stern face and a polo short sponsored by FRONT FOR MONEY LAUNDERING SECURITY while slapping away iPhones in the hands of drunken punters as he escorts Carl Froch to the ring – was continually isolated by Lukaku and got his arse ragged, quite frankly. In this instance, just before half time, the Everton striker showed remarkable acceleration from almost a standing start, making space in the box to flash in a shot that Joe Hart saved with his feet. Aiden McGeady untied his laces long enough to pick up the rebound and tee up Seamus Coleman 20 yards out, only for the Irishman’s swerving left-foot shot to smash against the crossbar on its way into the Park End.
At half time the verdict was definitely that the Blues looked a lot more positive than they have for ages. City are one of the few teams you expect to enjoy more possession than us, but crucially the much-maligned Everton defence was generally keeping its shape while Besic’s quickness and aggression combined with the delightful savvy and cynicism of Gareth Barry was just about enough to keep extinguishing the fires set by that purring pyromaniac, the bandit-faced David Silva. With the visitors pushing forward as well, and Everton almost playing like the away side, Lukaku had the wide open spaces he thrives on, to run wild and free, and another filleting of Mangala allowed him the space to force a brilliant low save from Hart.
As the game began to open up though, City took the lead on 72 minutes. This time Everton were committing men forward, only for Pablo Zabaleta to rob Lukaku, allowing the Citizens to launch a British bulldog counter-attack of their own. It ended with a brilliant turn from Silva and a shot that looped over Robles before glancing home off the the head of Fernandinho. Goodison went berserk, not least North Face ninja Besic, in the belief that the Brazilian must have been offside, with only Coleman between him and the goal line when he got the final touch. In fairness to referee Martin Atkinson though, and his trembling linesman who our erratic, turf-twatting Bosnian clearly threatened to ‘stripe’, the Match of the Day cameras showed that the decision was actually spot on.
So maybe we all owe the officials a bit of an apology there.
Come on, say sorry. We’re not going to continue with this report until you have.
We’ve got all day, come on.
There, that wasn’t difficult, was it?
Anyway, with the wind, the rain and the, er, howls, howling around Goodison, the Blues looked suitably indignant at going behind and with the crowd and players more unified than they have seemed for some time, promptly got back on the level terms that their performance deserved.
Of the many gripes with the team’s performance this season, their continued shiteness at set-pieces is right up there with overplaying at the back and the refusal to ‘have a fucking shot’, so Leighton Baines picked a most opportune moment to curl a doozy of a free kick into the City box following a foul on Jagielka out on the left touchline. Hart gambled and lost, flying out to punch the ball only for Steven Naismith to beat him to it, rising like an anaemic Tim Cahill to glance home a wildly celebrated equaliser on 77 minutes.
That’s how it ended, with City appearing to settle for a draw before the end despite the introduction of Sergio Aguero and Frank Lampard, and Pellegrini himself stating that before the match they wouldn’t have been too disappointed with a point at Goodison.
We’ve said it before, but it’s not hard to win the fans back round, and Everton’s attitude here, allied to some moments of the good play we know they are capable of, saw them warmly applauded from the pitch.
The style argument will rumble on – in some ways, facing a team as positive and confident in themselves as City made it ‘easy’ to adopt a more direct approach. They have you under so much pressure that you are relieved just to smash the ball upfield at times and let Lukaku forage after it. It’s when we are facing more modest sides with limited ambition that Martinez will again have to ponder the conundrum of how best to create space in their half. He’s an intelligent man though, who it now appears has more support from his player than perhaps some of the whispers would have us believe. Certainly none of them seemed to be sulking at the final whistle because they miss the fella who used to spot them when they did their bench presses and mixed their Purple Aki approved protein drinks for them. Which is a relief.
Martinez looked more like himself afterwards too, and less like someone who has just had a bag pulled off his head in an ISIS video. And while we didn’t win either of these last two tricky games, it was easy to imagine them panning out far, far worse, especially after Hull.
Small steps and all that, but at least it feels as if a degree of pressure has been released with these two results.
Win at West Ham on Tuesday and things will be looking positively rosy.
That’s right, rosy.
Play up you tricky Toffees.