Spurs Preview

frank_philly

Gameweek 25 in the Premier League and it’s all to play for, boys and girls.

And yeah, that is gameweek, all one word, even if the spellchecker in Word really doesn’t like it. We’ve got a new look website, a new logo and we are using fancy American-style sports words.

Or sportswords, even.

Thanks very much to Jonny Gray for the logo. He accepted no payment, because as usual we never offered him any. Hopefully he understands though that it represents a unique opportunity for his work to be seen by literally dozens of people around the world.

But seriously now, we are very grateful and think it looks dead smart.

Thankyou also to computer whizz Laura Johnson who offered to help us sort the website out. We didn’t need her assistance at this point – so if it’s shite, don’t blame her – but we are always overwhelmed by the generosity of people out there, united by a love of the Toffees and gratuitous swearing.

One blue nation, under a fucking groove.

Talking of all things blue and internet and all that, the club invited a selection of active online supporters to go along on a magical mystery tour that culminated in them being the first to find out that…

Hang on, wait for it.

They’ve signed a new five-year kit deal with Umbro.

They must have been blown away.

In fairness, they got to meet Roberto Martinez which will have been ace, and the Blues’ boss expounded on how he is sure that the new kit will help the team perform. And all that.

So, here we go, we are going to be unashamed misery arses here.

The club’s marketing people obviously adore Martinez with his sunny disposition and seemingly unlimited availability. You can imagine he makes their job so much easier – ‘That last miserable cunt wouldn’t give us the steam off his shite’ – but they need to be careful they don’t abuse the privilege.

The position of Everton manager itself should carry a certain amount of gravitas, and Martinez himself is a really smart man. When he speaks it should be a case of turning the volume up on the telly and hushing the kids. He needs to be used sparingly then and not simply wheeled out to endorse anything and everything.

‘I really think that Chang lager is perfect for Everton. It has a warmth that reflects the atmosphere of the club and when the supporters consume a lot of it and scream ‘come on Everton these are sheet’ that lifts the players and helps them perform and fulfil their potential as a group.’

Less is more sometimes. They need to protect the Martinez brand lest his become the Burberry baseball cap of football soundbites, piled high in the Sports Direct bin of aimless punditry. That doesn’t even make sense – but if it did, Brendan Rodgers’ outbursts would be the Londsdale three-quarter length kecks, that’s for sure.

Going back to the new kit, Robert Elstone added some spiel about the history of Everton and Umbro, but in all honesty they miss the point with regards to what supporters really care about. Something along the lines of ‘The new kit won’t look ridiculous and we are guaranteed that there will be no supply issues’ would be more relevant than a load of press release piffle about performance, etc.  The players don’t care about it for a start – let’s face it, they would wear their granny’s skin stitched into a onesy if there was a few a bob in it for them – and it won’t make them play better.

Ultimately it’s just another blue nylon scratchy shirt that a lot of people see as their way of helping the club out morally and financially. And even then, if you believe some tinfoil-hatted internet sources, we negotiated a deal with Kitbag to supply our gear that is the footballing equivalent of Blue Monday so we lose money on every shirt sold.

Or something.

But enough of all that. A trip to the Lane on Sunday is intriguing to say the least. We’re not really used to being so close to that all important fourth place at this time of year and that sort of brings its own pressures. The need to pick up points in each and every game is relentless when the Champions League is your genuine ambition – and it still has to be at this point – so you don’t get to write any weekend off.

So we go to Tottenham, who are somehow only a point behind us despite both clubs experiencing very different ‘narratives’ this season, knowing there’s a lot at stake.

Barn-owl-featured Tim Sherwood’s thumbs-in-the-braces cockney ‘I don’t have time for any of this new-fangled nonsense this is a simple game and we’re Spurs we only play one way and I learned at the knee of Bill Nicholson ooh wasn’t Gazza brilliant!’ attitude comes across as massively disingenuous from someone who is chiefly remembered as a sideways-passing bore of a Blackburn player in the second worst side to ever win the league (Leeds, Carl Shutt, etc. before you ask). That said, Tottenham have undoubtedly perked up since the departure of that ludicrous Portuguese chancer, as they get the ball forward a bit quicker, using the occasionally brilliant Emmanuel Adebayor as a target-man instead of having that little Spanish fella legging around waiting for through-balls that never came from the eighteen man midfield.

Spurs held onto the ball well at Goodison but never really threatened consistently during a tiresome stalemate – they will definitely have more of a go on Sunday and, like all of Everton’s opponents now, will have noted with some interest what happened at Anfield the other week.

Hey, hey, it’s ok to talk about it. This is a friendly space. Relax.

The Blues themselves could have Seamus Coleman back, which will make a massive difference to the way we play. Asking John Stones, a wet-behind-the-ears centre-half, to play out of position at the sharp end of the Premier League was expecting a lot in itself. He was certainly never going to be able to emulate the best attacking fullback in the league.

Gerard Deulofeu is close to a return as well. Having him on the bench is great because despite his inconsistency and tendency to overplay, when he comes on during a tight game he gives the crowd a massive lift. In fact it’s hard to remember a substitute who had such an impact on the expectation levels of the supporters, probably because players with Deulofeu’s immense ability would normally be certain starters.

Finally, it appears that the Blues tried to get Jack Rodwell back on loan during the transfer window. Exactly why is anyone’s guess because he’s crap, don’t let anyone tell you any different. He’s essentially a multi-millionaire because he was massive for his age and it’s hard to imagine how him sheepishly jogging around the centre circle for us again would be any sort of improvement on what we have.

But that’s all conjecture. The reality is the squad starting to look a bit healthier, Liverpool spunking most of the advantage they gained in the derby and throwing more toys on the floor than backstage with the Lost Prophets, and Everton still being very much ‘in the mix’.

All good stuff, and almost unthinkable less than a fortnight ago.

Everton 4 Fulham 1

Xmas_dixie

As ‘wake up calls’ go, a 4-1 win that takes you up into fourth place is far from the worst sort.

Despite Roberto Martinez’s warnings about taking Fulham lightly though, Everton did struggle through the middle of this match before eventually blowing the visitors away during the last 20 minutes.

The Blues have set sky high standards for themselves, especially in the past couple of weeks, and so it was inevitable they were going to experience a dip at some point. The players definitely looked guilty of thinking that they only had to turn up to win, and in fairness history has shown that’s usually the case, and the ‘nice arrogance’ that Martinez highlighted among the club’s young players strayed into complacency as Fulham, resplendent in their Phil Stamp era Middlesbrough kit, weren’t always pressured in the way we have come to expect.

Not that the slow pace seemed to be so much of an issue when, after a flat opening, Everton scored a belter. Leon Osman, starting in place of the suspended James McCarthy, took a neat pass from Steven Pienaar, side-stepped two defenders and stroked home a left-foot curler from the edge of the box.

It was the quite frankly cool-as-fuck Everton-through-and-through midfielder marking 300 Premier League appearances with the definitive Leon Osman goal.

Him and Pienaar are great – we talked about McCarthy learning from Gareth Barry but the rest of the young Everton attackers should really study how these two play the game. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu all have distinct physical advantages over the two little veterans but hopefully with experience they will develop the same sort of intelligence, timing and commitment to getting the basics right as those two have. Unless they leave Everton of course, in which case they can carry on overdoing the flash stuff and the lazy passing as long as they want.

Lukaku should have been ragging the back out of the Philipe Senderos – given that the Swiss centre-half is all kinds of last – but the Belgian actually spent the afternoon looking slightly frustrated, doing his woolly jazz hand thing and calling for through-balls that were never going to come. Still, he almost scored an odd goal when a corner hit him in the stomach and nearly beat Maarten Stekelenburg at the near post.

Osman then ‘flashed’ a dipping volley just wide after Barkley’s initial shot was blocked at the end of a good move.

Everton were certainly the better side during the first half, and Fulham barely troubled Tim Howard, but there was just an uneasy feeling during the interval because they had shown that they were at least competitive while the Blues’ play lacked the rhythm or, to use a good pundits’ word, ‘cohesion’, that has become their trademark.

Rene Meulensteen – who, by the way, is a ruddy great chap – seemed to feel that his new side were still capable of getting something out of the game, other than twatted, and sent them out to push up on Everton in the second half. That always represents a risk, as these Toffees are particularly adept on the counter-attack, but it initially paid dividends as Fulham started winning possession in dangerous areas and Everton struggled to really get going.

Then there were three horrible minutes in which it felt like the season was taking a sinister detour from the path of sunshine and lollipops it had been cruising merrily along.

First, on 64 minutes, Deulofeu went down holding his leg. There was a whole pantomime as the stretcher bearers stopped for a smoke halfway across the pitch, but eventually the young Spaniard was carried off and afterwards Martinez spoke about him ‘preparing himself for the final third of the season’. That’s a blow – he wasn’t enjoying his best game here, despite starting ahead of Kevin Mirallas, but he’s a brilliant option to bring off the bench, as demonstrated emphatically at Arsenal last weekend.

With Deulofeu possibly out for months a move for Aiden McGeady in January looks even more likely. Now, the mere mention of the ex-Celtic winger usually draws groans but Martinez appears to know his stuff and the internet has been wrong about enough players already that you have to think that it’s probably wise to hang fire and give any new signing the benefit of the doubt. Unless he doesn’t sign for us like, in which case he is just a wartime urchin-looking headless chicken.

It’s that simple.

Anyway, with Deulofeu barely down the tunnel Fulham equalised.

A rank touch by Lukaku on the halfway line allowed them to break and Barry’s attempt to poke the ball away from between Alexander Kaciniklic’s legs saw the Swede tumble and, after a long pause, the referee stunned everyone by pointing to the spot. It looked like an outrageous decision at the time but after seeing it on Match of the Day it probably comes under ‘seen them given’. That said, it’s easy to be philosophical when you end up scoring a load of goals and making the penalty irrelevant.

Dimitar Berbatov missing it was not an option.

‘Here we fucking go’.

Except we never.

Went, that is.

It really could have turned ugly after the equaliser – we’ve seen it plenty of times before – but instead of freezing this confident Everton rallied, put together the best move of the game and retook the lead after only six minutes.

Pienaar dummied Bryan Oviedo’s pass and made a run into the box, Lukaku did brilliantly to hold off the defender and push the ball into the South African’s path and in what is almost a signature move now, his low cross appeared to evade everyone only for the fullback, in this case the superb Seamus Coleman, to arrive late at the far post and clip the ball home.

There was a degree of relief then, but with around 20 minutes of the game remaining and Fulham still looking competent the potential remained for another demoralising equaliser. Goodison remained edgy then until the 84th minute when Barry nodded home from on the goalline after Sylvain Distin and then Lukaku headed Mirallas’s corner goalwards.

In injury time Osman picked out Mirallas’s run, he cut inside and his rather selfish shot should have been pretty comfortable for Stekelenburg but, well, it wasn’t, and ended up in the back of the Gwladys Street net.

To reiterate then, 4-1. Without playing anything like your best. Against a team whose attitude was typified by the excellent Steve Sidwell.

It’s not to be sniffed at.

Bring me sunshine indeed.

Fulham Preview

the-godfather-kiss-of-death

Let’s do it for Martin Jol.

You have to feel for the big Dutchman don’t you, when you think of him on that crisp, fateful morning, turning into the training ground and slamming on the brakes when he sees that the club’s directors cars are already there and Rene Muelensteen is parked in his space.

That great head slumps forward onto the steering wheel and Jol emits a low, doleful sigh, much like the death rattle of the punctured Narwhal he so resembles.

Because he knows.

He’s always known.

All that remains is for the hollow click-clack-click of his Ford C-Max’s indicator to beat a lonely tattoo, marking time on the last dying moments of Maarten Cornelis Jol’s proud reign at Fulham FC.

Also, briefly, while we are discussing the end of an era, you probably already know that the Liverpool Daily Post will cease to be next week. Everyone will have their own opinions on the Post, Trinity Mirror and how they have chosen to face the challenges of the digital age, but personally the paper simply means a lot because I wrote Everton stuff for them for years and will always be grateful to the sports editors, Len Capeling and Richard Williamson, for giving me the opportunity to do something that made an Everton-mad family very proud.

It also taught me a great deal about the nuts and bolts of ‘journalism’, such as how to talk about the same dull match four times in a week, and how busy sub-editors care not for your ‘art’, so if you are going to write a piece that builds up to a belting punchline in the final paragraph make sure you do not exceed your word limit even slightly because without a shadow of a doubt that’s the fucker that is getting lopped off.

Right, enough of that. Personal stuff, eeugh!

See that Bears game last night?

Looking forward to Saturday’s game, Meulensteen, a Dutchman who couldn’t look any more Mancunian if he worked in a unit under a railway arch and drank in the Monkey, brings a club that have never won at Goodison but a side, let’s not forget, that knocked the Blues out of the League Cup. Their league form has picked up since he took over from his countryman Jol, and their biggest dangerman, Dimitar Berbatov, apparently looks vaguely arsed again. Not that it will last.

Everton, for their part, have improved since the cup game at Craven Cottage – bear in mind we battered them in the first half, with a much rotated line-up – and after a couple of massive results come into the weekend as heavy favourites.

Unfortunately the Toffees will be without the suspended James McCarthy though and that’s a big loss. Outside of the club, much of the attention has been on the eye-catching Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and of course Ross Barkley, but week by week matchgoing Blues’ admiration of McCarthy steadily grows. He’s a cracker and always has been, and what’s more there is still so much room for improvement as he still defers to his teammates a little bit at times. As his confidence grows though he will take charge more and has what it takes to be the main man at Goodison for years to come. And what better teacher could he have than the man playing next to him, Gareth Barry?

Everton will certainly lack McCarthy’s drive and pace in midfield against Fulham – Leon Osman will presumably replace him, and he brings his own set of skills – but hopefully the Blues will simply have too much all round for the Cottagers, and indeed have too much of the ball, for that to impact the result.

On a broader note, much is being made in the press lately of Roberto Martinez’s use of the loan market, especially since Arsene Wenger complained that the present system is unfair. He has a point to a certain degree, that clubs should not be allowed to prevent their loaned out players from featuring against them, and Everton would love to have Barry in the side, for instance, when we play Manchester City. Romelu Lukaku not facing Chelsea is less of an issue as we’ve demonstrated already this season that we can beat them simply by replacing him with another top international striker, Steven Naismith.

The problem with Wenger’s gripe is that even if formal agreements not to play against the ‘parent’ club were banned, there would be no way to prevent informal arrangements to the same effect.

‘We would like you to ensure that our player is rested sufficiently while he playing for you. The second week in January looks good. If he isn’t then we would have to strongly question whether we can trust you with our assets in future’.

You could even go a step further and wonder how motivated a player would be when facing the club that holds his registration if he’s had a phone call the night before reminding him that clubs who have qualified for the Champions League tend to be far more generous than those who haven’t when it comes to renegotiating new contracts.

Would you put it past any of them?

That quibble aside though, the loan system is brilliant, especially when you exploit it as astutely as Everton have this season. Anything that spreads the better quality players out a bit further and therefore makes the league more competitive is surely to be encouraged.

As for doubts about amorphous, antiquated concepts such as ‘stability’ and ‘building’, are the critics really suggesting that  Everton would be better off without Lukaku and Deulofeu because they are only going to be playing in royal blue for one or two seasons? Would we be more stable if, for instance, we paid £10 million for Stewart Downing and gave him a four year contract?

Is ‘owning’ Andy Carroll better than lending Lukaku?

As long as the players are committed while they are on what essentially amounts to a one-year deal -and the evidence is there for all to see with the three Everton have at the moment – then the rest, quite frankly, is just admin.

Ultimately the loan system, when used correctly, minimises risk and maximises opportunity for the clubs and the players alike, and the only people who suddenly seem to have a problem with it are those who are envious and perhaps even a little bit scared of how well it is working for Everton. And when it comes to stuff that is unfair in modern football, well, doing well out of loan deals is right down near the bottom of a very long, financially doped list.

And that’s how Sue ‘Cs’ it.

Yeah, Glee references at the end of 2013, what are you going to do about it?

It could have been worse, we could have run with the whole Meulensteen as Macbeth thing we were looking at, the payoff being ‘Andy Burnham would!’

You will have to agree, it’s for the best that we never.

Arsenal 1 Everton 1

Gerard-Deulofeu

London’s a very big place Mr Shadrach, a very big place.

A man could lose himself in London.

Lose himself.

Lose himself in London.

Not Everton though.

The Mighty Blues – and we no longer say that with a nod or a wink – travelled to the nation’s capital with most people expecting something of a hangover from the midweek heroics against the Champions unelect, Manchester United. Arsenal, after all, are the table toppers with a fearsome home record, winning every league game at the Emirates since the opening day of the season.

Absolutely no one then expected what unfolded, especially during the first 40 minutes, as Everton completely and utterly played them off the park.

In terms of passing and movement when in possession, allied to a ferocious workrate whenever they needed to get the ball back, Robert Martinez’s team completely embarrassed their stunned hosts.

With Ross Barkley humming ‘Copacabana’ every time he glided past fat-tongued fucktard Jack Wilshere, Everton’s passing was completely bewitching. The only problem though was that for all the dominance of midfield and solidity at the back, there is still that persistent naivety in the final third that threatened to undo all the sterling approach play.

Indeed, when Arsenal finally mustered a couple of attacks, just before half time, Tim Howard ended up the busier of the two keepers as he smothered close-range efforts from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.

Despite crosses being flashed across the Arsenal box, Wojciech Szczeny wasn’t called into genuine action until after the break when he palmed away piledrivers from Barkley and Steven Pienaar.

The home side were better in the second period but their frustration was still evident when Wenger made a triple substitution, withdrawing Ramsey, Santi Carzola and Wilshere. Presumably the latter, who is only a bowler hat away from appearing on the side of a Home Pride jar, was shattered from his constant anguished pleading with the referee, his horrible little face contorted like a scene from Sophie’s Choice.

On 80 minutes two of the Arsenal subs combined when Tomas Rosicky chipped the ball to the far post and Theo Walcott headed back across goal. Initially it seemed as if the Blues would escape, as Giroud missed the ball completely, but the otherwise marginal Mezut Ozil slammed an awkward volley into the roof of the net.

With the Emirates suddenly transformed into a self-congratulating seething cauldron of glossy Moncler coats, elaborate knitwear and Michael Cashman-looking creatives in Buddy Holly glasses, the story being written from their point of view was all about showing title-winning grit by winning games in which they were, for the most part, made to look like a big bag of shite.

From Everton’s perspective we would be left to reflect on how great coaching and organisation can serve you well up to a point but what sets the very top sides apart is that extra 5% in the danger areas at the crucial moments – the extra 5% that costs over £40 million, for instance.

However, they say the past is another country, and that’s where the Everton with that particular mind-set now resides.

The present lot simply decided ‘fuck this’ and went up the other end and scored.

Barkley drove through the midfield again before picking out Bryan Oviedo on the left. His cross evaded Romelu Lukaku’s overhead kick but ended up at the far side of the box at the feet of chonged-looking substitute Gerard Deulofeu. Kieran Gibbs didn’t do a lot wrong, fronting the Spanish winger up, and the Gunners really didn’t appear to be in that much danger. Everton’s on-loan 5% had other ideas though, shifting the ball a matter of inches to create an almost imperceptible gap through which he smashed a shot so venomous that it’s getting its own documentary on Channel 5.

Szczeny’s evolutionary instincts told him to duck out of the way and allow the ball into the top corner of the net – a point’s a point at the end of the day, there’s no point in getting killed just to secure the win.

In the fourth minute of three minutes stoppage time Giroud struck a brilliant swerving shot from long range but an absolute travesty was avoided as it hit the outside of the post.

Wenger bleated about some bollocks or other about the refereeing afterwards, presumably to deflect from the absolute schooling his team got in the first half, but a number of their players were honest enough to admit that Everton are the best side they have faced this season.

They were simply incredible at times – in fact since the disappointment at Crystal Palace, when the negative passing had everyone tearing their hair out, the style seems to have evolved and adapted slightly, producing some of the most exhilarating football played by Everton in years and culminating in the highs of a week that will live long in the memory.

It’s beautiful, baby.

Just beautiful.