Reading And England And That

On the back of their slightly ropy but ultimately exhilarating comeback against Sunderland last weekend, Everton pay a visit to yet another team who fall under the category of ‘really should fucking beat these’.

What’s more, West Bromwich Albion are at home to Chelsea so there’s every chance here that we could go three points clear of the Baggies and thus stop the bastards continually putting our season into perspective, for a week at least.

Reading are still without a win, which you could say makes them dangerous, but alternatively you could also, with some validity, suggest that it’s because they really aren’t that good. Their defence in particular looks weak, as demonstrated quite remarkably in the Capital One Cup when they lost 5-7 to Arsenal. Everton seem particularly adept at dominating games against these ‘play some nice stuff’ types of teams, even away from home, and so you would suspect that once again this encounter could be decided by just how ruthless the Blues are in front of goal.

The increasingly influential Kevin Mirallas will miss out with the hamstring strain that saw him withdraw from the Sunderland match, but the good news is that he is expected to return for Norwich at Goodison the following week. Steven Naismith will probably get another chance to try and convince everyone that he is actually any good.

Reading boss Brian McDermott, who looks like he should be wearing an ill-fitting pinstripe suit and sweating profusely in the Dragons’ Den, could be without Jimmy Kebé. That was according to some website or other, anyway. Incidentally, Kebé’s middle name appears to be Boubou.

Boubou!

Check for yourself.

The real danger man for the Royals is Pavel Pogrebnyak – he’s only scored two league goals this season but always looks the part, and indeed did when he was at Fulham last season as well. He is officially our ‘one to watch’ then this week, in a feature that will almost certainly never be mentioned again.

Back to Everton, the complete non-story about Marouane Fellaini possibly leaving Goodison in January took another non-twist when he told a Belgian paper:

There is interest in me. But Everton are an ambitious club as well I don’t think they’ll let their best players go just like that. I want to play for one of the biggest clubs one day. But I am patient.

David Moyes said some bits after the Sunderland game about Fellaini’s future perhaps depending on whether Everton get into the Champions League, but deep down we all know that’s not really the case. The determining factor, as with every player, is who is going to pay him the most money. If Everton make it into the Champions League they will be the beneficiaries of a financial windfall, but that has to be measured against the wealth of the clubs who play in the thing every year and also have enormous financial backing from external sources, be they the sovereign wealth of some oil state, the personal fortune of an energy oligarch or just massive, massive fucking debts. That last one is Manchester United, in case you couldn’t work it out.

If one of those clubs wanted to buy Fellaini then Everton simply couldn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, try to compete with the enormo-wedge they would offer in terms of salary.

As we’ve mentioned before though, the saving grace could well be that while admiring how Fellaini is playing at the moment, the clubs who could afford to buy him might not actually want to. For instance, Chelsea are the ones that keep being linked, but would a player like Fellaini be a priority for them at this point in time? If we are genuinely talking in the region of £30 million, as keeps being quoted, then would they not be more tempted to put that money towards someone like Atletico Madrid’s Falcao, as a replacement for the struggling Fernando Torres? After all, it’s not as if they are short of attacking midfielders at the moment.

The alternative is that they would see him as a replacement for Jon Obi Mikel, but Fellaini has never looked completely convincing in that deep-lying midfield role – you could almost certainly get someone else to play there who is less of a gamble, and for a lot less than £30 million.

Manchester City seem unlikely, although you never can tell completely with them freaks, while Manchester United have Robin van Persie playing off Wayne Rooney – they don’t seem to be in the market for an extremely expensive understudy.

The other thing to bear in mind is that none of these clubs came in for Fellaini in the summer, so why would they bid massive money now?

The outsiders because of the kind of dough it would involve are Arsenal, although they would be the club with the most motivation. With their season already going a bit awry and a number of their summer signings failing to impress, you wouldn’t be surprised if Arsene Wenger wanted to try and shake things up at the Emirates, and Fellaini would certainly do that.

The most likely outcome though is that Fellaini stays where he is, at least until the summer. It’s Leighton Baines we should be more worried about, as he would go straight into any of those top sides without them having to change their style of play in the slightest. He was immaculate for England in Sweden – the runs he makes off the ball and the angles at which he makes them are just crying out for arrows and dotted lines to illustrate them and their inherent geometrical beauty.

And if ever a player’s technique deserved to be defined as ‘textbook’ it’s his.

His club colleague Leon Osman made a decent debut for England as well. Early on he got lost in no-man’s land a bit, but eventually he realised that Steven Gerrard needs less assistance in the ‘take the ball off the centre-half’ role than Phil Neville and so began to commit himself forward with more conviction. He forced the goalkeeper into making a handful of saves and used the ball intelligently – apart from conceding the free kick for the third goal he hardly made a mistake all night. His performance probably merited another cap, but at his age it’s difficult to imagine just how well he would have had to have played to become a genuine contender for a starting place in a competitive match. It’s hard to see his undoubted experience being enough to edge him ahead of the younger, quicker Tom Cleverley and, most notably, Jack Wilshere, a man who could only look more Cockney if he wore a stupid suit covered in shiny pearl buttons. And drove a sherbert.

Footballers are not normally the most demonstrative people, so you get the idea of just how much respect Osman’s teammates have for him when Tim Howard says:

This could be a blanket statement for the whole team but I don’t think I’ve been more excited for a human being than I was for Ossie. You’re talking about one of the greatest guys to be around, a guy who’s hard-working and so deserving of that call-up.

There have been a heck of a lot less deserving guys down the years to get caps

He’s just so fantastic and he’s been a rock for this club.

I was delighted for him – so, so happy.

You big soppy get!

The one unfortunate thing about the night for Osman, apart from the result, was that if it does end up being his only cap then he will show people the photographs in the future and the first thing they will say is, ‘What’s with the creepy muzzy?’

Obviously it’s for a good cause, although to be honest, despite the amount of publicity ‘Movember’ itself is getting, do you actually know what charity it’s in aid of? Oh, and have you noticed James McClean hasn’t fucking grown one. Just saying, like.

Anyway, finally, some news on Darron Gibson. Nah, not really, we haven’t got a clue what’s happened to him. In fact, the fidelity of his fitness status updates are starting to reach ‘Gazza two weeks from full fitness’ levels.

Play up Blues. Play up.

Sunderland And That

We need to be up front here and confess that originally this piece was going to feature a slightly zany joke at the expense of Everton’s ‘raunchy’ new calendar. The setup was something about being surprised that David Moyes got so involved and the punchline would have been a photo of a pale and shirtless ginger chap, preferably looking like one of those that featured on the old Mr Muscle oven cleaner adverts.

Where the whole thing fell down though was finding a photograph. Google images and some quite specific search terms were the order of the day. Oh my, oh dear, oh sweet Lord forgive us all. The things we saw. Things no one should ever see.

Thankfully though, hours of repeatedly watching Taliban beheadings and an old VHS copy of Faces of Death have provided some small measure of catharsis – enough to continue with the rest of this nominal match preview anyway. So here goes…

Let’s leave all the false modesty, not-tempting-fate guff out in the porch here, all the signs point to Sunderland coming to Goodison Park on Saturday and being the recipient of the Uber-knacking that some bleeders or other have got coming from Everton.

Even at the best of times the Black Cats struggle against the Blues, especially when they come to Merseyside. In fact, the last time they won a league game here Paul Bracewell was in their starting line-up. Oh what happy memories we all have of that night, when Michael Bridges came on as a late substitute with the score at 1-1 and veritably skipped through the Everton defence to score two goals. Genuinely, for one of them he utilised a weird, skipping Eddie-Izzard-doing-an-impression-of-someone-running-with-wolves stride to just underline how easy the whole thing was.

Great days.

They also won a League Cup tie on penalties in 1998 but there are only so many times we can rehash the lengthy, oh so lengthy, events of that particular evening. There are grown men who still wake up like Martin Sheen, tangled in their bed linen and sweating under a lazily spinning fan, recalling the stark horrors of the referee miming at Ibrahima Bakayoko for him to take his sweatshirt off before placing the final kick in the Park End seats.

Apart from those games though, generally we murder Sunderland, home and away. In fact, in the past 20 or 30 years you would struggle to find opponents we have beaten more consistently.

Last season they actually came and played well in the FA Cup quarter final, especially in the first half, and definitely thought they had broken the back of the job when the final whistle went to signal a replay at the Stadium of Light. Their fans definitely had one eye on Wembley when Everton rolled up and put on what was widely recognised as their performance of the season. They may end up looking back at that night as a watershed moment in Martin O’Neill’s time in charge, because two weeks later they returned to Goodison in the league, got thrashed 4-0, and have looked pretty desperate ever since.

O’Neill has had a reasonably amount of money to spend since he’s been Sunderland manager, but in all honesty every month that passes sees the further deterioration of a reputation that blossomed the longer he was on his sabbatical from the game. His glory days of winning cups with Leicester City seem a very long time ago while managing Celtic is a job that requires a very particular and exacting skill set that doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the English Premier League. Where at one time he might have been seen as being cut from similar cloth to our very own David Moyes, he is beginning to look more like Kenny Dalglish: a man mystified and frustrated by the fact that all his old tricks just don’t seem to work anymore.

That said, he did ape one of Moyes’s less inspired recent moves by offering a short-term contract to James McFadden. When you hear of these deals it seems as if there must be some secret society (almost inappropriately called it Masonic then) that players and managers are inducted into that obliges them to find ‘work’ for even the most clearly finished of their number.

Poor old McFadden, once a fresh-faced, rat-tailed scamp, now looks as if he’s permanently nursing the sort of exaggerated hangover only ever seen in sitcoms and soap operas whenever his waxy features peer out from the voluminous folds of an oversized Wenger coat on some bench or other. And just to underline the futile nature of his deal with the Black Cats, he did his hamstring almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contract. He’s probably gutted, but it does seem like the ‘real world’ equivalent of shaking hands on a new job at an interview and then immediately sitting back in the chair, lighting up an Embassy Filter and letting rip with a prodigious fart.

‘Anyone fancy a pint?’

Louis Saha is the other former Blue in the Sunderland ranks, and it has not gone unnoticed by anyone that the ‘mercurial’ striker – mercurial being a term that can stand for whatever you like, but more often than not means ‘mostly shit’ – has yet to score for his latest club. We hate to be the perennial footy mythbusters here, but he isn’t actually ‘bound to score’ on Saturday – we would actually wager that players returning to their former clubs are in fact no more likely to slot than in any other game, it’s just that everyone makes a big point of highlighting the ones that occasionally do.

Whether Saha is still actually any good is a mystery, because his appearances have been so sporadic, well, during his whole career, that it’s hard to observe any real trends in his level of performance. Tottenham were happy to let him go though, and he was hardly mourned when he left Goodison, so you have to lean towards the conclusion that his best days are way, way behind him now. It shouldn’t be forgotten though that at times he was absolutely sensational for Everton. In terms of ability combined with athleticism, at his best he was as good as any other striker in the country. Which is why Manchester United paid over £12 million for him back in 2004.

So, when his name is read out on Saturday, rather than dwell on his lacklustre final season or so, when he was roundly berated for being lazy – sometimes fairly, sometimes not – think back to matches like the home one against Chelsea in 2010 when he Vanessa Peroncelled John Terry all over the place and scored both Everton goals in a magnificent 2-1 win.

Granted, you may have to mentally gloss over the fact that first of all the soft twat missed a penalty in that game, but still, you get the gist.

Ooh, ooh, another belting brace comes to mind here as well – the two he scored in the last 10 minutes at West Ham in 2008. Incidentally, the teamsheet for that one shows Leighton Baines only started on the bench, replacing Victor Anichebe for the final five minutes. How times change.

Baines has established himself as an England regular now, and is joined in the latest squad to face Sweden next week by none other than Leon Osman. Salem’s Lot Shelvey’s in as well like, just to put the game into some context, but you can’t help but feel pleased that Osman is getting some sort of recognition for his talents. He’s not soft, he will see it as a bit of a novelty and a nice day out for the family, and who would deny him that?

Actually, we don’t know him or what goes through his head, so he might think this is it, he’s cracked it and finally demand a transfer request to a club who can meet his ambition to play in the Champions League every season. It’s quite cool that ‘every season’ had to be tacked on the end there seeing as it remains at least a possibility that he could actually do that with Everton in 2012/13 at least.

Another product of the Everton youth system experiencing slightly different emotions to Osman at the moment is former striker Michael Branch.  The one-time wonderkid has been sentenced this week to seven years inside for drug dealing. Dead smart.

For fellas who spend their formative years in professional football, where they become used to great money for very little graft, perhaps it is unsurprising that narcotics seems to be an increasingly popular line of work – they can continue to be the envy of all their mates, right up until the moment they get caught.

Speaking of that sort of caper, you often read in the papers or hear on the news about ‘drug deals gone bad’. They never talk about all the other ones though; the good ones that are really amicable and take place without the slightest hitch.

It’s just lazy journalism.

Everton 2 Liverpool 2

The immediate aftermath of a Merseyside derby officially branded ‘pulsating’ saw both sets of supporters trying to work out who was the most indignant with the final result.

Liverpool saw a perfectly good winning goal disallowed deep into injury time, scored by a player who could have had two red cards.

Everton are the better side, with a formidable home record, but they hamstrung themselves by conceding two early goals. The first came on 13 minutes when weak play from Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith down Everton’s right allowed José Enrique to fire a low cross along the six-yard line. It ran through to Luis Suarez who smashed the ball back the way it came, off the legs of Leighton Baines and into the Park End net.

The Uruguayan celebrated by diving in front of David Moyes, in response to the Everton manager’s pre-match comments about the way he cons referees. Moyes’s response afterwards was to make light of it. He also criticised his own captain, Phil Neville, for a rubbish dive that earned him a booking. Some other managers might have reacted a bit differently

Six minutes after the opener, Goodison was stunned again when Suarez lost his markers to wander into space and glance Steven Gerrard’s long free-kick past Tim Howard.

It just seemed incredible that the Blues were going to blow it again against a side as poor as this Liverpool one. Even those of us who are sceptical about mental blocks and inferiority complexes begin to scratch our heads in that sort of situation.

Thankfully the Blues’ reply was immediate. On 21 minutes Liverpool keeper Brad Jones punched a corner out to the edge of the box from where the excellent Leon Osman drilled a low shot home with the help of a deflection off Joe Allen.

From then on Everton fucking murdered them. Kevin Mirallas, carrying a large part of the creative burden in the absence of Steven Pienaar, took the game to Liverpool and caused them all sorts of problems. He had their shit-looking fullback Andre Wisdom twisted like DNA, and it was no surprise when the equaliser came from the Belgian’s work down the left. Mirallas’s low cross struck Marouane Fellaini who in turn fired the ball across the six-yard box. Naismith and Nikica Jelavic exploited the gap between the Liverpool central defenders, with the Scottish international getting the crucial touch.

Unfortunately a shocker of a challenge by Suarez, standing on Mirallas’s left ankle, meant he was replaced by the frankly hopeless Magaye Gueye at half-time. The Liverpool striker went unpunished though – it wasn’t until he repeated the indiscretion, stepping on Sylvain Distin’s Achilles, that he received a yellow card. That’s the challenge that has received all the attention, but the foul on Mirallas looked even more cynical and premeditated.

He’s a cunt, quite frankly.

Liverpool were one more goal away from total collapse but Everton couldn’t force the breakthrough before half-time. With Mirallas off the pitch in the second half, the Blues were still on top but lost that real cutting edge. Brendan Rodgers completely changed his side and his formation for the second period, such was the chasing they were getting, and it made for a strange 45 minutes.

It almost felt like extra-time in a game where both sides are down to ten men. They frequently lost their shape, struggled to really exert any control and the whole thing seemed on the verge of descending into chaos.

Raheem Sterling, another who got away with a ton of niggly fouls, should have put Liverpool back in front early on but screwed a shot wide when clean through on Howard. At the other end Jelavic planted a free header wide and was only inches away from converting a low cross from Seamus Coleman.

That just left the madness at the end.

Liverpool were clearly robbed when a linesman deemed that Suarez was offside as he turned Sebastian Coates’s header down over the line, but it would have been an undeserved winner scored by a rat who should have been sent off. So they’ll get little sympathy from us.

Everton were disappointed that they again failed to take all three points from a game in which they were superior, but then at 2-0 down we all would have settled for a point.

Everton finished the day in fifth place – Liverpool remain six points behind their Merseyside rivals in 12th.