Manchester United Preview

The Anchormen

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the whole situation boils down to this: we had a really good manager who left on a high and he appears to have been replaced by another pretty decent one.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.

FUCKENGERRINTOTHEMEVERTON!

Advertisements

Cardiff City 0 Everton 0

barkley

Four games in and already these match reports feel a bit monotonous.

Faced with another side who Everton really should expect to beat, they once again dominated the possession but never really looked dangerous for any sustained period. And when you hear people saying we look like Liverpool did when Brendan Rodgers first arrived, and mean it in a positive way – as in ‘and look at them now’ – you know things aren’t going exactly to script so far for Roberto Martinez.

In his defence, Everton were denied a copper-bottomed penalty when Gary Medel’s on Leighton Baines was so late it actually started off in black and white, but there is still much work to be done if the Blues are going to finish around the position that we have all become accustomed to.

As someone commented on Saturday, the basics of the football we are playing are sound, but it just has to be done so much quicker. We have players like Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines who are clever and great at exploiting space, but the ponderous approach denies them any to work in. Eventually every move seems to break down with one of them vainly trying to ‘McFadden’ their way past a defender from a standing start. Either that or a wacky, off-balance shot from long distance.

Not having a competent centre-forward doesn’t help matters though. It’s still too early to pass a definitive judgement on Arouna Kone, but the biggest criticism of the Ivorian is that he has yet to do enough to convince the manager to start him ahead of Nikica Jelavic.

The notoriously harsh Everton supporters have been patience personified with the Croatian, but his performances seem beyond a joke now. One deflected header that forced a brilliant save from David Marshall, and a cross that Mirallas should have buried, were about the sum total of his contribution to the game. The rest was painful to watch.

However, he’s never been the best target man, which is why David Moyes used to deploy Marouane Fellaini up front. Martinez seems reluctant to do that – preferring to let the Belgian play in the withdrawn role that he favours, presumably because it allows him to gambol about playing when he feels like. It’s a waste – further forward Fellaini is forced to get involved and use the attributes that make him a unique threat. Phil Neville can play the role he’s fulfilling at the moment.

This is more than likely going to be a moot point by Tuesday though, with the Belgian press apparently letting slip that Fellaini is definitely on his way to Old Trafford. Fancy that.

It remains to be seen whether Baines will follow him there – some papers seem to think that Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand is already lined up as a replacement.

If selling one or both of those players allows Martinez to bring in individuals who can make his system work better than perhaps it will be for the best in the long run because so far, against pretty modest opposition, the players he has inherited are struggling to make any real impact.

Everton 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

Everton-v-West-Bromwich-Albion-Premier-League-2216690

‘Ah, see that arl fella off the Barclays advert’s died’ was the first of several misunderstandings on a muddled afternoon at Goodison.

Fair play to the Match of the Day editors, they managed to make it look like something of a humdinger when in fact Roberto Martinez’s first Premier League home game was, let’s be honest, really boring.

Solid, unadventurous sides, and that’s exactly what Steve Clarke’s Baggies are, can cause problems for anyone, and Everton have struggled in the past to break down teams who treat a visit to Goodison the same way they would Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

What we saw on Saturday then was hardly anything totally new, and as we’ve already stated previously you have to resist the temptation to fall into the trap of attributing every event to a proscribed narrative. However, it’s still hard to shake the feeling that the patient approach by Everton that served them fairly well at Carrow Road hampered them to a large degree here. It was the sort of performance that would have been deemed textbook if it were the away leg of a European tie, but at Goodison Park against the sort of side we expect to beat it often looked pretty anaemic.

When Everton got the ball in the box or forced a corner the crowd showed that they were itching to get behind the team and build pressure on West Brom but those moments were simply too infrequent. During the closing stages especially, when you traditionally expect an element of ‘the Alamo’ at Goodison, the match just slithered to its unsatisfactory conclusion. The Goodison atmosphere is a massive weapon in any Everton manager’s arsenal and it just felt like our own approach negated it.

Marouane Fellaini had Everton’s best chance, stabbing a shot against the post, and the largely subdued Seamus Coleman saw a cross glance off the crossbar, but overall the visitors found it reasonably straightforward to maintain their shape and put all the onus on Everton to try and figure the game out.

There’s really not much else to add. Everton weren’t exactly terrible, but the fact is they will face plenty of fit, strong teams like West Brom at Goodison this season and so they will need to consider methods that will force those opponents out of their comfort zone and into making mistakes.

There’s a massive amount of goodwill for Roberto Martinez, aided somewhat by the ongoing fallout with the previous manager, but he needs to sustain that by playing exciting football and, most importantly, winning games.

Finally, you know you shouldn’t watch Sunday Supplement but sometimes well, hey, no one’s perfect. Anyway, who is the Mancunian tit on there from the Sunday People who reckons that £12 million for Leighton Baines is reasonable given that he is 28 years old but at the same time Chelsea are taking the piss offering anything less than £50 million for 27-year-old and far less clean-living Wayne Rooney?

For all the verbal jousting going on between Everton and Manchester United, everyone needs to remember that this whole thing, like almost every transfer ‘wrangle’, just boils down to the price and nothing else. When David Moyes countered Martinez’s jibes about the way United now do business by remarking that he knows better than the Spaniard ‘how Everton work’ it was something of a cheap riposte but unfortunately we all know that there is an element of truth in it. If the Toffees really want the cash for the two players concerned – although the suggestion is now that Fellaini is the most likely to go – then as the end of the transfer window approaches the pressure will mount on Martinez to start taking these ‘derisory’ bids more seriously. Moyes knows that because he’s been there.

The sooner it’s sorted now, one way or the other, the better. Because it’s fucking boring.

West Bromwich Albion Preview

cunningham_batson_regis

Everton would like to issue a warm welcome to West Brom, famously nicknamed ‘Big Ron’s alibi’, for the first home round of the 2013/14 Premier League Tekken Tag Team Tournament.

After last week’s encouraging draw at Carrow Road, expectancy is pretty high for the Goodison curtain raiser – our sticky Spanish manager Roberto Martinez has even recorded a video, reminiscent of the Patrick Swayze infomercial on Donnie Darko, where he encourages the fans to turn up and be part of the unit, or something. Essentially, keep being nice to Victor Anichebe and don’t start screaming ‘what’s the point of signing these players?’ if we don’t introduce Gerard Deulofeu the very moment we concede a goal.

‘Hi, I’m Roberto Martinez, and you may recognise me from such games as the FA Cup final.’

It would appear that Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines will continue to feature in the Everton starting line-up despite continued speculation over their futures. Martinez has condemned quite strongly – for him – the way Manchester United are trying to do business, making reference to their new manager, chief executive and the fact that Bill Kenwright feels let down given the relationships involved. Whether that’s designed to get United to fuck the fuck off though or simply come back with a bigger back of ackers is anyone’s guess.

The wording of the piece in the Daily Mail about how Fellaini feels this is the right time for him to leave before his value rises at the World Cup had more than a whiff of the agent about it, especially the part about how he ‘feels he has given the club good service’. Presumably United want the pair to start ‘agitating’ for moves, and you can’t help but wonder whether the stories linking them to Southampton left-back Luke Shaw have been placed in the press to light a fire under Baines’ arse.

Talking of agents, Nicolas Anelka won’t feature on Saturday, or perhaps ever again, after West Brom reportedly gave him compassionate leave after his representative Eric Manasse passed away. ‘Overwork’ was not cited as the cause of death.

Speaking of well-travelled footballing sorts, the Albion have signed the definitive vapourware player Scott Sinclair on a season-long loan from Manchester City. The winger is still only relatively young but has amassed an inordinate amount of clubs already. Chelsea, City, the list goes on – he’s only an unhappy spell at West Ham and an England captain cuckolding away from being Wayne Bridge.

His career is just bizarre. He’s certainly a multi-millionaire, and there is always a frisson of excitement among the fans of clubs he is linked with, yet he is barely ever seen on the pitch. He’s like some odd post-modern footballing hoax – like one of those made up internet players who an unsuspecting (bone idle) journalist slips into a ‘rumours’ box-out. Even his name is an anagram of LIARS CONCOCT.

You didn’t really check that did you?

Or maybe he is the Premier League equivalent of one of those infamous Hollywood scripts that studios keep paying writers to have an option on but never seriously intend to make. Perhaps the winning goal he scores at Goodison now, after saying all this, will be his Watchmen moment.

Despite the absence of Anelka and his ‘I wouldn’t go in asking to buy fertiliser in bulk you know’ beard, this Albion are typical of the tough, organised sides that lurk in mid-table, happy to make mugs out of anyone who takes them lightly. They have some good players in the likes of James Morrison and Everton scourge Shane Long and a pretty shrewd manager in Steve Clarke. The former Chelsea fullback seems to know his stuff, but he is definitely going to struggle to be considered for bigger jobs simply because he has that Billy Davies look of a man who was just woken up by his ex-wife knocking on the window of his car in her dressing gown with a pitying look and a mug of tea.

‘Have you been here all night Steve? Look at the state of you. You can’t let the kids see you looking like this.’

He knows it’s undignified, but what’s he meant to do when he hears that his youngest is now calling another fella ‘Dad’?

And what sort of job is ‘Bikram yoga instructor’ anyway? The sunbed twat.