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.

Swansea City Preview FA Cup Special

Cambridge City v Milton Keynes Dons - FA Cup First Round

Let’s win this sucker for Ric Wee.

With home advantage, at least two of the ‘big guns’ going out and Roberto Martinez standing on the sidelines with one brown brogue resting on his trophy, it’s safe to say that Evertonian expectations are building around this FA Cup fifth-round tie.

Let’s be honest, if we dip out here we are left competing for a European competition of some description via the league, and the advantage for the worthwhile one is firmly with Liverpool following recent results and performances. It just is.

When we were winning the game at Old Trafford and the passing at the Emirates this season’s possibilities looked endless, what with a bold new style and a team full of brash young players, so to have the potential outcomes for Martinez’s first campaign whittled down to ‘maybe the Europa League’ in February – a ‘Moyes season’, essentially – would feel like a proper boot in the goolies.

That’s just the fact of the matter. The season is starting to ‘solidify’ here, for wont of a better word, and individual results are going to have a lingering effect on its eventual shape. As a result, there is perhaps real pressure on Martinez and his players for the first time, especially in the wake of the derby performance and the Tottenham result.

Typically, Everton face a Swansea no longer under the laissez faire stewardship of Brian Michael Laudrup, a man whose unarsed nature makes Sven Goran Eriksson look like Don Revie, but instead enjoying one of those caretaker boss revivals that the Toffees seem to stumble into with peculiar regularity.

Garry ‘Harry’ Monk may look like he’s come straight from the same dim, green-glowing bubble-boy ward as Philippe Senderos and only had the feeding tube removed from his nose for the telly, but the man running Tim Sherwood close for this season’s ‘body-warmer bellend’ award certainly ‘galvanised’ his side when they faced Cardiff City 3-0 the other week. Whether coating them with a protective layer of zinc was strictly within the FA rules is open for debate, but it certainly worked as they triumphed 3-0.

The big news for Everton is that Lacina Traore has had even longer to recover thanks to the Crystal Palace game being closed to high-sided players and is expected to feature on Sunday, possibly even from the start. There is certainly an intense curiosity regarding just how the Premier League’s tallest player, who has been playing in the shocking Russian league but cost Monaco £16 million, will actually perform. He just has the potential to be absolutely anything, from sensationally unplayable to something like one of those big luminous fabric figures they have outside car showrooms with the arms that zip up and down in the wind.

Admit it, you can’t wait to be either blown away or laugh your cock off.

Anyway, there is pressure then, but that’s what football is about: important matches with plenty at stake. No risk, no reward and that all that.

Everton are fearsome at home and Martinez has more options to pick from than he has in recent weeks, especially in attacking areas, so the Blues have to be heavy favourites. However, we’ve been in this position plenty of times before and our well-honed instinct is to expect the worst. Under Martinez though it’s all been about ‘new Everton’ instead of ‘typical Everton’ and dispelling those ingrained feelings of dread when in touching distance of glory, with only really the Anfield derby as a blot on his ‘copy book’, whatever one of those is. This is yet another chance to show then that we don’t have to always disappoint when opportunity awaits.

So onto Goodison we stride, heads held high, expecting, nay demanding, a crushing Everton victory and safe passage into the next round.

And talking of making your way to the ground, one chap escorting his 10-year-old lad along Goodison Road on Wednesday night tried to protect him from the whippy winds and flying debris by getting him to walk inside his coat. It quickly became clear though that the greater peril came not from the skies but from the pavement, as from the folds of his Berghaus came the muffled cry: ‘Dad! Dad! I can’t see the dog shit!’

Stay classy Saint Domingos.

See you on the other side.

Stevenage and the Derby and That

‘Don’t look down, lad. Don’t look down. I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news. The good news is that it’s not soft tissue damage…’

The tale of Everton’s trip to Stevenage should have been about how the Blues made a mockery of the banana-skin-seeking BT Sport cameras and put on one of those gulf-in-class-underlining performances that always seemed to be de rigeur for most of the Premier League apart from us. However, this professional and controlled display from Roberto Martinez’s Blues was overshadowed almost totally by a gruesome injury to Bryan Oviedo.

Playing in midfield and gamely tackling back, the versatile Costa Rican got his legs tangled up in the definitive ‘innocuous challenge’ – they’re often far worse than even the really ‘ocuous’ ones – and ended up on the deck. He tried to get up, his leg didn’t, and now he will miss the rest of the season and possibly the World Cup in Brazil.

Rotten luck and that ain’t no lie.

It’s a shame for anyone to suffer such a serious injury, but it seems particularly cruel on someone who has waited as long for their opportunity as cult hero Oviedo has. Now, footballing cult figures fit several archetypes, but they are mostly energetic yard-dogs, locally born hard cases, simple ale tanks or just good goalscorers who bite white people.  The smiling, Sapphic-haired Central American though has won over the Everton supporters for the way, when called upon after so long, he stepped up and seamlessly filled the boots of one of the club’s brightest stars, Leighton Baines.

Taking his sadly historic goal at Old Trafford smoother than a Kenco coffee bean then only cemented his place in the hearts and minds of Blues who all seem gutted for someone who appears to be a genuinely good egg too. He might not be, like, he might be a right little ratbag for all we know, but he always comes across as a fairly unassuming and pleasant sort – there are definitely plenty of players in the Premier League more deserving of having their leg kicked the fuck off. But we’ll probably get to some of them in the second bit.

Oviedo won’t feature for the rest of the season now, which is a genuine loss to Everton, but everyone hopes that he at least manages to get fit in time for the World Cup and comes back next season ready to carry on where he left off for the Toffees.

In better fullback news, the man whose metronome consistency kept the Latin livewire out of the first team for so long, the aforementioned Leighton Baines, has finally agreed a new four-year deal that should keep him at Goodison until he is 33. That’s the proverbial ‘coup’ because, as we never really tire of saying, Baines is just about the textbook definition of an Everton player.

‘Supports Liverpool and never won anything.’ Yes, very good at the back, very droll. If you have to have it explained then you will never really understand. He just is, possibly in the way that Steven Gerrard is more of less the definitive Liverpool player.

And you can take that however you please.

Everton did have far too much for Stevenage, despite the changes to the squad, with Steven Naismith leading the line well in the absence of the rested Romelu Lukaku. The Scot scored two goals, with the first teed up by the impressive full-debutant Aiden McGeady. Granted, it was only a Division One fullback the Irishman was skinning but considering he hasn’t played much first team football in the last six months he looked lively enough and full of running.

Substitutes Johnny Heitinga and Magaye Gueye – did you have him last goal as well? – rounded off the scoring and their mere inclusions underlined the sorry state the squad is in at present. And that’s a shame, because with our best team you genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if we went to Anfield and buried them like a pet, especially after watching their game against Aston Villa the other weekend.

With so many players missing though, you can’t have the same level of belief. A load are said to be borderline in terms of fitness, but even if they can patch up the likes of Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar, will they be sharp enough to shine in what is a pretty tough ground for any side, never mind us?

Having said all that, despite the dent to our ambitions caused by all the injuries we still probably go with more belief than ever simply because of what’s gone before this season. The confidence that the players have and the style of football we employ under Martinez are what saw us completely outplay the Reds for long periods at Goodison, for instance, as well as also beating Chelsea there before winning away at Manchester United and then terrifying the life out of Arsenal at the Emirates when almost everyone still believed that they might actually win the title this season.

In short, nobody really has a clue of what to expect from this game. Anything seems possible under Martinez – you wouldn’t be at all surprised if some youngster like John Stones was forced to play and had an absolute stormer, while Lukaku, who must be due a decent game, could have Liverpool’s centre-halves looking over their shoulders more warily than Linda Nolan on Top of the Pops. On the other hand, their front two are clearly a genuine danger for anyone, with mantrap molars in particular proving particularly troublesome for even the sturdiest Blues’ defences since he’s been there. Therefore it’s certainly no great stretch to imagine him running riot against any makeshift back-line.

It’s undoubtedly an intriguing game then, because are so many new variables after years of these games having a fairly settled pattern, but whether it is ‘the biggest derby in years’ as it is being billed seems questionable. With so many points still to play for, and plenty of matches remaining against the division’s other top teams, nothing will be settled on Tuesday night, whatever the outcome.

So then, with all that to reflect on, and in something of a break from tradition, we leave the final words to none other than smoky-eyed shite-spieler Mr Brendan Rodgers.

‘When I came in here Everton had finished above Liverpool and last season finished above us also.

‘Everton’s basis is a good defensive record, still stable from what they have been over a few years – we are a team who have upped the ante in terms of our offensiveness.’

Stevenage Preview

Right then, first thing’s first. Own up.

Come on, we’re not going on until you do.

One of you knows who it was.

According to the admin tools of this here website, someone has been entering its address into some sort of web analytics site which creates a link entitled ‘analysing competition’.

Competition, eh?

Well, take this as a warning shot across your bows, if indeed you have any bows, we are not going to surrender this much-sought-after market segment without one heck of a struggle, daddio. We’re planting a flag in our tranche of the ‘read the official site and all the papers’ reports and the proper supporters ones as well that rate players out of 10 and all that and I’ve still got 20 minutes left until my next ciggy break, let’s see what sort of cranky bollocks that dickhead has put on there, if indeed it’s even been updated, with any luck it will be something that slightly aggravates me by not confirming my existing opinions’ pie, and you will take it over our dead bodies – or when we just get fed up and jib it on a whim. Whatever comes first.

Consider that the sheepy mitten thrown down.

We couldn’t find a real gauntlet.

Now, ordinarily it would make sense to write an absolute humdinger of a preview from here on in, to hammer home the point that we’ve well and truly got our literary dander up. Despite not knowing what a ‘dander’ actually is.

That might not happen though.

First off anyway, let’s go back and see what we said about Stevenage after the Capital One Cup game at Goodison earlier in the season.

Right, are you back? Did you read it all? We’re going to be discussing it here so if you never, go back and take it all in. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

Honestly, you people.

Anyway, things have certainly moved on since that encounter with Stevenage, with the goalscoring face-saver Marouane Fellaini joining the Old Trafford fúck de clustier and Everton settling into their passing style to the point where it is not the ongoing divisive, philosophical debating point that we predicted. There are times when the Blues don’t play well, but everyone seems to be pretty much agreed now that it’s when the Roberto Martinez plan isn’t executed correctly and, crucially, not a fundamental flaw in the blueprint itself.

What? You can’t have a ‘project’ without a ‘blueprint’, everyone knows that. Everyone in the ‘group’, anyway.

Stevenage manager Graham Westley has been attempting some cut-price mind games this week, suggesting that Martinez would be mad to play his first choice team ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Psychoville, and also stating that the Toffees can expect a bizarre environment at the seven thousand capacity Broadhall Way.

How bizarre can it possibly be? Are Westley and his players going to simulate a really bad drug episode from 1970s cinema by wearing oversized animal heads, laughing maniacally and looming in and out of focus during the warm up? It’s happened before.

Talking of drugs on screen, this century’s ‘jumping the shark’, the moment when a television series announces it is creatively bankrupt, should be the episode when some uptight character inadvertently eats ‘special cookies’ and says ‘Mmm, what’s in these, they’re gorgeous. Is it cinnamon?’ while their housemate looks on horrified and replies, ‘N-o-o-o-o-o-t exactly….’

The only exception to this rule is the Operation Goodguys Christmas special when they use bags of confiscated ‘special snow’ during their increasingly agitated pantomime.

While we’re on the subject of the telly, have you noticed that when anyone is meant to be drinking a cup of tea or coffee it’s always empty? Do they forget to CGI the liquid in?

And when will girls ever learn that if they get in a pickup truck with a college sports star after the prom, especially one who is swigging from a hip flask, the night’s going to end up with a ripped dress and a chase through a cornfield?

So anyway, Seamus Coleman’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and he could be back for the derby. And as a shout out to all the dads out there, ‘What, did you get kicked in the head, lad?’ Because that’s what they would say if you told them that you had a ‘soft tissue injury’.

In other news, the Blues have been courting a bit of controversy this week, starting with Romelu Lukaku standing up for Nicolas Anelka in the wake of the French striker’s quenelle celebration and subsequent ban. To be honest, there has been very little genuine criticism of Lukaku seeing as Everton took the offending interview off their website straight away and everyone could see it was a comment he made in defence of his mate when asked directly about whether he should be punished. No one really thinks that Lukaku has given much, if any, thought to the nuances of French race relations and the cultural hot pomme de terre that is this weirdo salute.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the club has been fined £45,000 for making an illegal approach to some young centre-half at Nottingham Forest back in 2010. As efforts at tapping up go it was clearly a rubbish one as he is still at the City Ground. In fact, he actually had a loan spell at Stevenage in 2012. See, it’s not just all random this, there is some skilful weaving of threads going on in the background.

That’s pretty much the lot, really. There was some talk of the loan deal for Lacina Traore perhaps failing to go through because of the cruciate injury to Monaco’s main striker, Radamel Falcao, but Martinez seems to think that won’t be the case. Why the lofty forward hasn’t signed then isn’t clear, as he has received clearance to play over here and everything. This is definitely feeling more like a proper Everton transfer window.

Talking of transfers, could you believe paper-faced joy extinguisher Arsene Wenger saying that it’s not fair that Chelsea are selling Juan Mata to United now that they have played them twice already? Do people really think that José Mourinho is really that Machiavellian? If you boil down what Wenger said, he’s suggesting that adding Mata to that almighty mess at United could be enough to swing the league game at the Emirates in their favour, costing Arsenal points that could be crucial in their battle for league placings with Chelsea. That’s pretty specific, as paranoid witterings go.

If it does prove to be prophetic though, Wenger will no doubt choose to gloss over the fact that his side is the only vaguely decent one to lose to a Tom Cleverly-inspired, Mata-less United already this season.

Analyse that.