Chelsea Preview (and Swansea and that)

grace jones

Apart from mad twattings, open goal misses by Hugo Rodallega and hilarious Steven Caldwell mishaps at the back, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic sides were chiefly known for coming on strong towards the end of the season. Hopefully the same – the tails up during the tail end bit – can also be true of his first season in charge of Everton, because after something of a dip since Christmas there are still footballing worlds to be conquered for his Stanley Park Spartans.

Well, the FA Cup anyway.

Unfortunately, thanks to the contempt for supporters that is more or less becoming Arsenal’s hallmark, only five thousand Evertonians will reap the fruits of the Blues’ labours against Swansea and get to watch the quarter-final live at the Emirates. Honestly, because of the high profile nature of the takeovers at Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners have somehow managed to portray themselves as some sort of bastions of fairness and good taste in the top four, but there’s no worse cunts around for acting as if they are doing the peasants, and that includes their own punters – resplendent in their Dr Dre headphones – a favour by letting them into their new ground.

But that’s for another day.

The Blues secured their place in the draw by beating a weakened Swansea side 3-1 at Goodison. They made harder work of it, especially in the first half and despite a dream opening when, after only a few minutes Lacina Traore marked his last first game in an oversized Everton nightie by gracefully back-ankling Sylvain Distin’s low shot past Gerhard Tremmel.

Unfortunately though the big unit hardly touched the ball again until he got hawked off in the second half and from the position he is at now, having been out for so long with injury and only playing in Russia when he was fit, it seems to be asking a lot for him to get up to speed with the English game and to the level of fitness necessary for him to make much of an impact for the Toffees between now and the end of the season. For a start, Romelu Lukaku will probably be back after the Chelsea game and, on the evidence of the Swansea tie, Steven Naismith is also quite a way ahead of the elongated Ivorian attacker in terms of the ability to lead the thin blue line.

The Scottish striker has hardly had it easy since joining the club but he has certainly improved under Martinez and has a knack of snatching important goals. Indeed, his was the decisive intervention when, on for Traore, he instinctively anticipated Neil Taylor’s backpass and clipped the ball past Tremmel and into the Gwladys Street net. Naismith, who probably moves more intelligently than Lukaku – just nowhere near as quickly – was also poleaxed for the penalty that Leighton Baines converted to seal the victory.

The trip to Arsenal hardly represents the most straightforward of the possible quarter-final draws but is there any great reason to fear the Gunners? The last time we went down there, fresh after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, we put on a performance that perhaps encapsulated the Martinez era so far. In terms of possession and intelligence on the ball, Everton were incredible that night and probably only the liquid football of Bayern Munich has surpassed that performance at that stadium this season. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the brewstered Bavarians overshadowed Everton in their quality and ruthlessness in the ‘money positions’ in the final third.

By the time we return though, the scorer of the Blues’ wondrous equaliser in the leaguer game, Gerard Deulofeu, should be back nearer full fitness, and hopefully Ross Barkley will no longer playing like his piles are killing him, so the Blues might just have enough to edge their way into the semi-finals.

It will certainly be an easier task than overturning Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend.  Because say what you like about boring little narcissist Jose Mourinho, for instance he’s a boring little narcissist, but that cat knows his stuff. The best example of this fact is the way the press and public alike openly mocked him for ‘losing the plot’ for hardly using Juan Mata, but almost £40 million in transfer fee later the admittedly talented Spaniard looks as lost as everyone else as part of David Moyes’s Old Trafford confuse-a-thon – and just wait until they have to start trying to shoehorn Marouane Fellaini back into that side again – while Mourinho’s Blues are beginning to take shape as a strong-running, high pressure counter-attacking team.

The sort that can really punish teams who are prone to dithering on the ball at the back.

Just saying.

When Chelsea were struggling for goals early in the season Mourinho’s faculties were again openly questioned because he let Lukaku go out on loan. But much as we are desperate to see the burly Belgian back in an Everton shirt the young striker has displayed enough weaknesses already this season that you could definitely make a case again for Mourinho judging that situation spot on.

‘He’s good,’ he would argue. ‘But not yet good enough for a side competing for the top prizes.’

It’s just about our toughest game of the year then, this one. As ever though, we go with that distinct whiff of Roberto romance surrounding us. We do enough of the basics really well that we almost always give ourselves a ‘platform’ to perform in any game and then beyond that we have just enough players capable of doing the unpredictable that no win for us, even at somewhere formidable like Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, would really come as that big a surprise to anyone.

In short, we’re still ace and we now have added Duncan Ferguson on the first-team coaching staff. The surly Scot has been doing all his coaching badges and serving his apprenticeship with the Everton kids. No doubt he has worked extremely diligently if he has impressed so much that someone who takes the game as seriously as Martinez wants him as part of his inner circle, and for that he is to be applauded. Still, for all that hard work and studious dedication, the first time that there is even the slightest hint of an altercation near the Toffees’ technical area you can guarantee that all sorts of fat lads and frail grandparents alike will be out of their ejector seats and imploring him to ‘FUCKENTWATIMDUNCANLAD!’

Which is the way it should be, clearly.

Chelsea Preview

pienaar

Oh aye, the footy. Fancy forgetting about that.

Every season it’s the same though, you wait for it to start and before you can settle in and get any sort of rhythm going there’s a massive break – well, a fortnight – and you feel like you lose all your impetus and enthusiasm. It’s made even worse when you have something of a new team, in terms of management and playing style, never mind personnel on the pitch. We all want to get a good look at Roberto Martinez’s team and figure out what he’s doing with it – is he building on the foundations laid by David Moyes, as we all hope, or watering down the gritty cocktail that the Scot assembled in the pursuit of a certain style, as some maybe fear?

Three league games into the season and the Toffees remain unbeaten, but only taking three points from games against Norwich, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City does represent a bit of a disappointment. Playing a Chelsea side strongly tipped for the title then represents something of a double-edged sword.

Obviously they are dead good, with loads of boss players, so there’s that to contend with. On the other hand though, they will come and have a go, which is not something that the other teams we’ve faced this season have really done. We should find out then whether this Everton side can play its patient, possession game against a typical Jose Mourinho team of talented and physically imposing players, and also whether the Martinez method can pay dividends against someone who commits players forward and therefore leaves space at the back to exploit. We know our players can rack up all sorts of impressive passing statistics against teams who are happy with a draw – are they good enough though, and quick enough to punish their opponents’ mistakes, to take the next step and prove that there is some substance to their new style against one of the Premier League’s big-hitters?

Inspired by this revealing piece on the Guardian website, we painstakingly scoured reams of data to produce these infostatistographics to summarise the difference in Everton’s play this season.

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Now, some might suggest that those diagrams were a cheap method of filling up a bit of screen space by someone who really can’t be arsed with this, but what do they know?

One consolation if we do get turned over on Saturday is that the excitement can still be built up before the West Ham game because that’s when we will finally get to see Romelu Lukaku ‘unleashed’ in an Everton shirt. As it is, despite them looking like pretty sound purchases, no one is really getting that giddy at the thought of what James McCarthy and Gareth Barry might do to ‘these Chelsea cunts’ this weekend. In fact, if anything we are all still hoping to get a better look at what Gerard Deulofeu can produce given a decent run out in ‘the Prem’. He certainly looked the man most likely against Cardiff during the short spell he was on the pitch – has he done enough yet though to convince Martinez that he has what it takes to start a big game like this?

What the new manager simply must realise is that when one of the top sides comes to Goodison Park at booze o’clock on a Saturday, Everton simply must attack and get the ball in the box. The punters pay their money in order to go electrode-monkey-in-an-animal-rights-video crazy at these matches – give them what they come for. After all, if we wanted mid-90s Serie A we’d get our Rifle Jeans on and hold up a massive, inexplicable flag of a native American’s face.

‘VOLLEY THAT ETO’O LAD, HE’S FUCKING SHITE!’

Chelsea and Managers and That

PhilNeville

The lack of importance of this match was highlighted by the fact that Steven Naismith started up front alongside Victor Anichebe.

It was ages ago now so there’s little point dwelling on the details. Tim Howard failed to hold onto a straightforward low shot from Demba Ba on seven minutes and Juan Mata – whose name always makes you think of a Levellers chorus – tucked home the rebound.

However, Everton, who played good football throughout, much as they did against these opponents at Goodison, had Rafael Benitez doing his pink-cheeked glasses polishing thing just seven minutes later. The Toffees’ strikers combined on the edge of the home side’s box and Naismith, who really does have a disturbingly sickly ‘bubble boy’ look about him, clipped a neat finish over the sprawling Petr Cech to level the scores.

A deflected Darron Gibson drive then almost embarrassed Cech, striking the post, his daft hat and then the post again but crucially staying out of the back of the net. Two supposedly misfiring strikers, Fernando Torres and Everton sub Nikica Jelavic featured in the closing stages. The Croatian, almost inevitably, failed to convert a couple of decent chances while Chelsea’s hormonal hotshot webbed Victor Moses’s knockdown inside Howard’s near post for the winner on 74 minutes.

At the end the Chelsea crowd help up banners for Benitez that more or less said ‘YOU’RE STILL A CUNT’ while Moyes waved farewell to the Evertonians as manager for the final time. Thwarted again at Stamford Bridge and a handful of other specifically singled-out grounds, next season it will be interesting to see how he fares when he’s no longer accused of, as the old saying goes, ‘Bringing Tony Hibbert to a gunfight’.

Since the final match we seem to wake up every morning to read about the latest ‘big mover’ in the betting for the Everton job and it is getting pretty tiresome already. In essence, these stories boil down to ‘the amount of money you would have received in the event of an unlikely thing just decreased’. There can’t be many sectors where the lower the return is the more popular the investment becomes.

Roberto Martinez was the nailed-on choice for a good while and it seems that the only real thing you can be sure of with him is that he will be even more divisive in terms of the supporters’ opinions than Moyes. He seems a lovely fella and he obviously has loads of experience of managing in the Premier League on a budget, but a big leap of faith is required in terms of assuming that all of Wigan’s deficiencies, most notably that they never win that many games, are down to the lack of finances at his disposal. Everyone does seem to rate him in the game though – you just have to judge for yourself how significant that fact is.

Another option that keeps getting mooted is Phil Neville taking over. He certainly wants the job, and he is extremely respected within the club, but fucking hell what a bad appointment that would be. Seriously, it’s the footballing equivalent of Kenwright moping round the flat, wearing one of Moyes’s oversized workshirts as a nighty and occasionally flopping disconsolately on the bed and inhaling his scent from the pillow.

It’s very rare that simply working under a number of top managers qualifies you to walk straight into one of the country’s top jobs. It just reeks of Stuart Pearce, and the Everton boss can’t be seen to be peddling organic fucking supplements to visiting managers.

‘Honestly Jose, all fucking night mate, absolutely rock solid.’

Perhaps more importantly though, Neville isn’t showbiz enough for the situation Everton are in at the moment. The Blues have had the same manager for 11 years and the stability he brought – and that we all longed for during the long years of chaos – has bled into boredom for many supporters. As a result, Neville doesn’t really stand a chance. If he started off performing worse than Moyes did this season – and there’s every chance that the next boss will – then he will simply be seen as a watered down version. More of the same, just not as good, and woe betide the first remotely defensive-looking substitution he makes.

A more exotic manager could perform exactly the same as Neville and would get far more latitude because there would be the feeling that his new ideas were ‘taking time to bed in’. It’s essentially the Brendan Rodgers strategy, of providing a narrative and a way of looking at a set of results and performances that gives the impression that they are leading to some imperceptible but definitely really ace point in the distance when in fact the real picture is ‘this is how good we actually are’.

To be honest though maybe that sort of bullshit isn’t really that bad. Maybe that false hope is what we all want – perhaps Moyes’s biggest ‘downfall’ was that he seemed quite frank about the Blues’ position; he was getting the very best out of his players and there was going to be no great leap forward unless things changed massively off-the-field. And that in turn meant ‘some mad fucker to just give us an immoral amount of dough to throw at hateful players’. Therefore relatively unlikely

With all that in mind then, Porto’s Vitor Pereira looks by far the best of the front-runners. We don’t know anything about him really, but that’s the best thing about him – he might be ace, and that’s enough.

Another factor that could favour someone who has been working abroad is that the new Premier League television deal gives English clubs a marked competitive advantage when buying from overseas. With everyone getting more dough over here buying off each other doesn’t really change, but that extra cash should allow shrewd operators to bring over really good players from the Continent. Obviously all Premier League clubs already having a working knowledge of foreign markets when it comes to the biggest and best players in other countries, but Michael Laudrup, for instance, showed with his signing of Michu that day-to-day experience of working in a country can allow you to unearth some absolute bargains.

Don’t ask for any more examples like, just accept the theory as seeming quite plausible at first glance. You would if it was in the Telegraph.

In short then – to summarise, if you will – no one’s got a fucking clue who is coming or which of the proposed candidates would actually be any good.

Apart from Neville. He’d be a disaster.

Chelsea And Newcastle United Things And That

Distin against Chelsea

1. Although they lost, Everton showed everything that makes us very proud of them. Not only were they up against a side that won the Champions League last season before having another ton of money spent on them, but they faced them with a seriously weakened team.

It’s to the credit of David Moyes though, and the spirit that he has engendered within his squad, that players who are filling in, be it Thomas Hitzlsperger who is on a short term deal, Victor Anichebe stationed on the left wing or England centre-half Phil Jagielka at right-back, all pulled their tripes out and did their best for the team as a whole. Some of the football was superb.

2. The gap between Chelsea and Everton should be far greater given the money they have spent. Rafael Benitez’s side rode their luck, especially when Nikica Jelavic hit the woodwork with a free-kick and a flying header, and were comprehensively outplayed for most of the first half.

There were times when Manchester United used to sing ‘You’ve only come to see United’ and there was a degree of substance to their claims in that you were witnessing a magnificent, all-conquering side. For Chelsea to chant it about this lot though is a joke. They do have some cracking players, but for all that everyone, and excuse the terminology here, ‘wanks over’ Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, they didn’t look any better than Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar here. The key thing is though they simply have more individuals of that sort of level than we do – their worst player would probably get straight in our team whereas ours might not even trouble their reserves.

3. Moyes apparently wants an advance on the new television money in January. Bill Kenwright has agreed this – he’s told him he can have a couple of grand as long as he gets one of them 3D Panasonics.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the transfer window now that this is in the public arena. As fans we like new players, and so the gut reaction seems to be that if we draw down on the improved broadcasting revenue and strengthen the squad we stand a great chance of clinching a place in the Champions League. It’s now or never, essentially.

However, there are plenty of factors to weigh up. First and foremost, we got into our present financial predicament by borrowing money to spend on players and their wages. This massive new broadcast rights deal will presumably give us a degree of wiggle room to at least work one hand out of the financial straitjacket Everton have been wearing for about as long as anyone can remember now. Borrow against it by all means, but you have to at least consider what then happens in two, five or ten years’ time when you want to buy players but all your income is going towards paying off old debts.

One of the biggest problems with football finances is that decisions with long term ramifications are made by managers who by the very nature of their role are only ever really interested in the short-term. That situation is even more pronounced at Everton at the moment because of the situation with Moyes’s contract. How willing are the owners to put the financial future of the club in the hands of someone who might walk away in six months and leave everyone else to deal with the repercussions?

On a footballing level, just how much money would be required to make a realistic push for the Champions League? We’ve done great so far but still we find ourselves outside of the top four with Arsenal and Tottenham starting to look pretty good, especially going forward. Are a couple of squad fillers – improvements on Anichebe and Steven Naismith – going to be enough to swing it, or do we need fellas who go straight into the line-up even if everyone is fit?

Finally, how much of a windfall would coming fourth represent? In terms of risk/reward is accumulating further debt in the hope of Champions League qualification a proposition that can be sold to the decision-makers, be that Kenwright or, more pointedly, the banks?

4. All the media talk after the match was about how Roman Abramovich can’t afford to let two-goal Frank Lampard leave. What about Sylvain Distin though? He’s in the same boat in terms of his contract and is more important to Everton than Lampard is to Chelsea.

He was great in this game and if the acceleration he showed at the end to catch up with and then welly Victor Moses was anything to go by there shouldn’t be any concerns whatsoever about his age.

5. It’s probably a bit soon to be writing Ross Barkley off just yet. Moyes must regret throwing this kid in at the start of last season because the hype and expectation surrounding him is in danger of stifling his career. He’s clearly not ready to start games and boss Premier League matches – otherwise he’d start before Hitzlsperger – but on the other hand it’s tough for him coming on when we are chasing the game, especially in his position. It’s alright for Apostolos Vellios, for instance, as he’s just got make a nuisance of himself in the box. Barkley has to try and influence the game from much deeper and with him being so eager to do well and make an impression he made some silly mistakes that Chelsea almost punished.

Another loan spell somewhere would probably do him the world of good.

6. Newcastle United is a weird one. St. James’ Park is never an easy place to go and after getting that weird hiding at Arsenal after playing pretty well in the first half there is every chance that they will have a point to prove in front of their own fans.

If Everton can get straight at them though, like they did against Chelsea, hounding them in their own half and then dominating possession, the reaction of their players and the crowd could be interesting.

One of the worst of the numerous frustrating draws this season was the one when the Geordies came to Goodison and Demba Ba’s late goals snatched a point after we absolutely murdered them, especially in the first half. We are better than them then – we just are – but we have to put them under pressure and make them do things and play in areas where they are not comfortable. Don’t you sometimes get the feeling that we do that well against the top sides but maybe don’t work quite as hard and concentrate as fully against the lesser teams and that’s why we drop so many stupid points?

7. Some welcome news is that Marouane Fellaini, who returns for the trip to Newcastle, has said that he is happy to honour his contract at Everton which runs until 2016.

Phone been quieter than expected then?

8. Happy New Year.

9. There’s no 10.