Stevenage and Cardiff and That

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As someone once famously said: the more something changes, the more it stays the same. It was probably Huey Lewis.

So, let’s get one thing straight, playing badly against lower league opposition has been a recurring theme for Everton for longer than any of us really care to remember. For the last decade or so though, the Blues have been a ‘pressure team’ who unashamedly thrived on forcing the opposition into making mistakes and there was a feeling that under David Moyes the players bought into that approach when playing against Premier League sides but found it hard to give the same respect to Brentford or Shrewsbury. Very often then, with a ‘rotated’ team, they would give performances in cup ties that fell into a strange no-man’s land where they never outpassed nor outfought their opponents, with grim results.

The difference on Wednesday night, against a Stevenage side presently struggling in League One, is that the new Everton comfortably replicated their league approach from the weekend but still found themselves minutes away from a penalty shoot-out when substitute Marouane Fellaini scored and removed a modicum of pressure from his manager. Because the idea of Roberto Martinez chewing and sweating Quadrant Park-style while finding the positives from a cup exit so early in his Everton career really doesn’t bear thinking about.

When Martinez arrived at Goodison the perception was that he would encourage a more fluent, attacking style that would result in a higher goals tally, almost certainly at the expense of conceding more. And after years of a more pragmatic approach the general consensus was that represented an acceptable trade-off.

After three games though – and let’s remember, it is only three – the worries are not about the defence, although we haven’t played anyone really good yet, but the manner in which the Blues go forward. On the whole it’s slow and staggered, allowing the opposition to easily drop back and occupy the valuable territory on the pitch while we construct these long, lazy letter Ws along the halfway line before looping a crossfield ball onto the chest of a winger who still has two men to beat. Thus far it is very much like the style employed by Swansea City at Goodison last season – one that attracted a certain amount of derision at the time.

That’s what has people a little bit concerned, and over the course of this season it appears that we are set to be debating the merits of this new ‘philosophy’ after every game, especially at home where all the emphasis is on Everton to ‘force the issue’.

That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

For all the reservations, Everton certainly controlled the majority of the game, despite the number of regular first-teamers missing from the starting eleven, and if they had scored early on when Gerard Deulofeu was ragging the Stevenage left-back all over the place then the evening may have taken a far different shape. However, with Arouna Kone still looking distinctly peckish and doubts just beginning to creep in, the away side scored the classic League Cup giantkillers’ goal 10 minutes before half time.

A lost cause chased into the corner, the hopeful cutback, a massively miscued shot and the next minute someone – in this case Luke Freeman – finds himself unmarked in the box and lashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Gúlp!

Thankfully, a rare injection of pace into the Everton game saw Steven Naismith feed a through-ball to Deulofeu for the last kick of the half, and what a lovely boot it proved. The young Spaniard, who looks really similar in style to Kevin Mirallas, opened up his body – whatever that really means – and curled a delicious low effort around a knot of players and into the bottom corner of the Park End goal.

After the break Everton briefly looked like they had learned from their scare but after another little flurry of action they again got bogged down in their own passing drills. Mercifully Fellaini got lashed on in extra-time though and his sheer presence gave the Blues something tangible to work with up front. He had already been denied by one good low save when an unseemly succession of scuffs and mis-controls in the away team’s area eventually saw the ball carom drunkenly off Naismith’s shins for ‘the big Belgian’ to spare everyone the ignominy of penalties.

Other positives on the night were the performances of John Stones and Ross Barkley who were not quite as eye-catching as Deulofeu but still outshone many of their senior colleagues. Barkley’s ‘Mr Grimsdale!’ routine where he drops his shoulder about three times before shooting wildly can be a bit frustrating but is as much a product of the Blues’ inability to open up a packed defence as his own youthful over-enthusiasm.

Going back to Fellaini, the stories continue linking him with Manchester United, with some papers now suggesting that not only is his move something of a formality, but that Leighton Baines is trying to force his proposed transfer through as well. Martinez is clearly getting fed up with being constantly quizzed on the subject, describing the present transfer window as a circus. The fact remains though, if we are genuinely unwilling to sell then it’s not an issue.

We’ve stated previously that it’s at home where Martinez and his team will set the whole tone for the season, and let’s be honest it’s not been exactly a blazing opening so far. After dropping four points against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion though it’s important that the Blues simply start picking up points and have to be looking at anything less than three at the Cardiff City Stadium as unacceptable.

The slightly wacky Welsh club – come on, just get on Vincent Tan’s chain-smoking-in-Sayers chic and that story about the fella driving up from Luton in his slippers walking around the away dressing room – played so well in their home game against Manchester City that they won the prestigious League Managers’ Association performance of the week award. Don’t scoff, according to the Cardiff website it’s decided by Howard Wilkinson, Joe Royle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Dave Basset and Barry Fry. You can only imagine that this group (the collective noun is in fact a bung of former managers) all get together at a Midlands hotel each week and chew the decision over for hours on end, like a boozier, more arl arse 12 Angry Men.

How else could it be decided?

Seriously though, we were all appalled at the thought of getting a manager like Malky Mackay when he was linked heavily with the Everton job, so we really shouldn’t have any fear about facing his newly promoted side containing the likes of Craig Bellamy, Frasier Campbell and Tommy fucking Smith. That weird Denis Stracqualarsi-looking fella in midfield can frig off as well – the one who seems to have got a transfer on the strength of a Youtube video where he concedes scores of fouls against Barcelona – If he’s allowed to look like some sort of hard case against us then it’s time to wrap up and go home.

Them’s just the facts.

Everton 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

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‘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.

After the Goldrush

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‘Insulting’, ‘derisory’, ‘a bit last’ and ‘cunty’. All words used in certain quarters to describe Manchester United’s £28 million bid for Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines.

Various reports keep suggesting that this double bid has provoked ‘outrage’ and ‘anger’ on Merseyside, but surely any Evertonian who would like those two players to stay must really be made up with that sort of offer.  After all, despite David Moyes using his intimate knowledge of the inside workings of his former club, United’s attempted ‘swoop’ was always doomed to failure.

Everton actually took This Is Not Football’s advice and responded by releasing a statement that more or less mocked the champions’ proposal, however that was always suggested as a tactic designed really to prick at Moyes’ ego and try to get him to come back with a much improved bid befitting one of the richest clubs in the world.

That’s different from declaring that the players are not for sale.

In fact, in these situations the old joke falsely ascribed to Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx and George Bernard Shaw always springs to mind. You know, the one that ends ‘We’ve already established what sort of woman you are, now we’re just haggling about the price’.

The focus with this sort of story is on the actual numbers involved – on Radio 5 last night, for instance, pencil-top troll Robbie Savage was blathering on about how Arsenal should have just offered £45 million for Luis Suarez as opposed to sticking a nicker on what they thought was his release clause. Your license fee is funding that Bros jeans wearing tit to come out with these raw nuggets of wisdom.

In truth though, the real key to this present scenario at Everton isn’t so much the actual numbers; it’s how Roberto Martinez wants his squad to look on the 2nd September. If the Spaniard envisions Fellaini and Baines being Everton players for the remainder of the season then things are pretty straightforward.

However, if he does see James McCarthy, for instance, as someone he would like to add to his ‘roster’, then sadly something’s got to give. That scenario, which seems quite likely, requires Everton to leverage as much as possible for one or both of Fellaini and Baines. On the other side of that, United will almost certainly know if Everton have been talking to other players and that’s why they have opened the bidding with their initial lowball offer. They suspect a deal can be done and they want to feel as if they are setting the parameters.

How it all plays out from here depends on who is the most willing to walk away without any sale. If Martinez sees missing out on McCarthy or Luca Marrone or whoever but keeping the same squad as he has now as an acceptable outcome then Everton hold all the cards. If he desperately wants to move either Baines or Fellaini on though, the balance of power shifts somewhat back towards United as they can always ‘pursue other options’ and potentially leave Everton with a disgruntled player, or maybe even two. Everyone assumes that Martinez would be willing to sacrifice the big Belgian but not the England fullback, but don’t be so sure. It might also be a bit hasty to simply take as read that just because Baines seems quiet and likes The Byrds that he isn’t ambitious to play in the Champions League and earn yards more money.

You know what they say, never trust a hippy.

Expect loads more posturing and manoeuvering over the next couple of weeks, but remember that ultimately you are just worrying about who exactly is going to be paying the increasing wages of the world’s thickest millionaires. If this pair go then rest assured they will be replaced post haste by some other tattooed morons.

It’s really not worth burning a £50 replica shirt over.

Friendly Fire

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The Premier League season lurches ever closer and Evertonians continue to try and get some indication of just how different Roberto Martinez’s team will be to that of David Moyes.

If you are hoping to get some indication here, with in-depth analysis of the two recent friendlies against Euro-behemoths Juventus and Read Madrid then you are in for something of a disappointment, as staying up until all hours to watch an exhibition game on the internet is the behaviour of the serious oddball.

Kevin Mirallas scored a good breakaway goal against Juventus but the Italians drew level thanks to a lovely swerving drive from Kwadwo Asamoah. The ball only broke to the Ghanaian thanks to some slack control by Leon Osman but he still ‘had a bit to do’ as he leathered it first time from long range.

Osman also missed in the ensuing penalty shootout but apocalypse survivalist Andre Pirlo put his kick wide before teenage defender John Stones chipped the ball home in a manner that could only be described as ‘impish’.

Everton won then and earned the right to face Real Madrid on Saturday night. In what sounded like an open game, Cristiano Ronaldo broke twice from deep, first rounding Tim Howard to score and then teeing up the startled Mezit Ozil for a tap-in. There was talk off off-side for both goals, as well as a disallowed Everton goal and calls for a penalty.

Nikica Jelavic scored a consolation in the second half with Aroune Kone yet to impress, by all accounts.

As ever, you can’t read much at all into these games. It’s only in the high pressure atmosphere of the Premier League that we will get a real indication of any real change in Everton’s style. Knocking the ball around the back at a leisurely pace is all well and good on a balmy evening on a baseball diamond – it’s what the Blues’ defenders do when getting kicked up the arse by Romelu Lukaku, with Cockney fatties screaming ‘kill the Scouse cunt!’ from the sidelines that will be the true measure of the new continental approach.

After all, there is only so much you can alter when using the same players and thus far, despite being linked to all sorts, there hasn’t been any movement on that front since the initial flurry of purchases from Wigan Athletic. Presumably the funds for James McCarthy, Tom Ince, Aiden McGeady or any of the long list exotic foreign midfielders Martinez is reported to be interested in will only become available as and when Leighton Baines or Marouane Fellaini are sold, and the understanding seems to be that the ‘transfer merry-go-round’ that will probably whisk one of those two away will only really get going when Real Madrid finally locate a stick big enough to put the moon on as requested by Tottenham Hotspur as payment for Gareth Bale. Plus cash.

An odd news story in the week concerned Manchester United’s written apology to Everton over the way they recruited David Moyes. Presumably Bill Kenwright is too classy to wipe his arse on it and send it back. After all, if they were sincere they had plenty of opportunity to act completely differently and above board but chose not to. On the other hand though, it still seems incredible that the Everton board had no idea at all that something was afoot all the while that Moyes was sitting out his contract. The whole thing is distinctly iffy, quite frankly, but ultimately it’s irrelevant – the idea in the papers that Everton’s displeasure about the way it was all handled could sandbag a deal for Baines is phoney. If they offer enough money and Baines really wants to go there then it will happen, apology or not.