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the whole situation boils down to this: we had a really good manager who left on a high and he appears to have been replaced by another pretty decent one.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


Aston Villa Preview

Everton V Aston Villa-1285281

‘Yeah, so they have offered me a new contract, which is fantastic. I’m going to go in and sign it on Monday. You’re stripes.’

‘Woah, steady on son. Are you sure?’

‘Definitely, even more money for doing the same job, why wouldn’t I?’

‘I think you are being hasty there, to be honest. Two shots.’

‘Seriously? Is it two shots carry or the old rules? Right, thought so. Anyway, it’s just more dough and the guarantee of an even bigger pay-off if it all finally goes tits up. A no-brainer, surely?’

‘Well, that’s one way of looking at it.’

‘And what’s the other?’

‘I just think you need to keep your options open. Unlucky.’

‘We’re talking about thousands of pounds a week here though, you know.’

‘I know, I know. From the D, not anywhere behind the line, we’re not savages. None of that only play down the table bollocks though. It’s just I think there will be a bigger club in for you this summer.’

‘Do you?’

‘I do, yeah. Get in!’

‘Nice, nice shot. Who do you reckon then?’

Hang on, we’ve not really set this up properly have we, it’s David Moyes and Alex Ferguson and they are playing a game of pool round at Ferguson’s house here. Sorry about that, it’s sort of ruined now, but we’re in this far so we might as well plough on with the whole conceit otherwise we’re just going to be all ‘Christian Benteke is likely to start after injury’ and you’ll be all ‘well, what about the danger posed by the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor on the break?’ and we’ll be well, yeah, and then we’ll be sort of ‘ooh, remember that game the other year when we scored them goals and everything’ and then it will be all ‘both teams will see this as a decent test of their credentials’ and that. Maybe a prediction of the score – these are always, by law, 2-1.

So anyway, back to this game of pool. Hang on, this was a while ago as well, when Moyes was still Everton manager, but you probably got that didn’t you. Anyway, crack on, do the wobbly Scooby Do / Wayne’s World thing and return to the story. Well, we say story, it’s not really going anywhere to be honest. There’s no real narrative arc and there is certainly no climax or punchline.

We’re just warning you now.

So, like we said, this game of pool. To be honest, it didn’t have to be a game of pool, it could have been any activity really – in old stage plays set in one room they used to have people getting up and making drinks all the time, just to provide some physical action to accompany the dialogue. But for the sake of this it is a game of pool.

We could have Moyes potting most of his balls early doors and then trying endlessly to roll up behind the black instead of finishing the game off, and Ferguson storming back and winning in the end because he is naturally the more daring and aggressive man. But that would be trite and a little bit obvious. This thing’s going to rumble on and be shite in a different manner to that altogether.

So, they’re playing pool and everything. And like we said, it doesn’t have to be pool, but it is pool, so just imagine they’re playing pool. He’d have them pictures on the wall Ferguson wouldn’t he, of the dogs all hustling at pool and playing poker. And probably a photo of him and Stephen Hendry both cueing up and grinning at the camera, because he’s met every bleeder hasn’t he, especially if they’re Scottish. Anyway, him and Moyes are playing pool. In Ferguson’s house. Around about the beginning of this year. Ferguson’s just told Moyes that he thinks he shouldn’t sign a new deal with Everton. But you’ve read all that already. Anyway, here we go.

The overwhelming temptation is do one final little infuriating diversion here but the whole thing is really wearing thin, so we won’t.

Although that’s kind of the joke, it wearing thin, and then doing it anyway.

So, this game of pool.

‘Oh go on Alex, who do you reckon?’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment, but just let’s say that a little bird has told me that you stand a very good chance of getting one of the top jobs in the game. That’s all I’m saying.’

We’re going to dispense with all the pool shot comments now, so just imagine they are playing pool while they are talking from here on in.

‘Oh come on! You can’t do that, tell me I’m in line for a top job but not which one it is! I’d rather you not tell me at all than do that.’

‘I know, I know. Let’s just say it’s one that wouldn’t require you to move house and just leave it at that.’

Right, now, the temptation here is to make out that he thinks it’s City, just to hammer home the point that the idea of this conversation that the two are meant to have had according to Ferguson’s book, where he told Moyes to hang fire without explicitly offering him the United job, is slightly ludicrous. But that just feels a bit pantomime. So instead we ask you now to pretend that Ferguson has, using his ‘mind games’, brought the conversation around to a point whereby he wants to know what Moyes would do if he got one of the top jobs, like United for instance, just hypothetically speaking. Seriously, we’ve saved everyone a lot of pain by just moving it on like that.

‘Oh well, obviously I’d need the Think Tank with me.’

‘The Think Tank?’

‘Yeah, the Brains Trust. Roundy, Neville and Chris Woods. I’m nothing without those guys. What do they say, behind every great manager there’s a James Milner-looking little fella who looks like his aunty cuts his hair! But seriously, if I wanted to break that glass ceiling and push on and compete with the best in Europe I’d need the three amigos.’

‘Even Woods?’

‘Oh yes, definitely.’

‘How’s that weird inner-ear balance thing that disrupted his playing career?’

‘He’s more or less over it completely. He says the headset helps.’

Honestly, bail here if you like, no one will think any less of you.

‘Interesting. And what about players? What sort do you think that, er, I will need to strengthen my squad next season?’

‘That’s easy Alex. A top, top chester of the ball, you’re crying out for one. If you see one on the market you should break the bank, even if it means getting in a bidding war with just yourself.’

It would help if we could somehow get them discussing other managers here, but again it would be a bit laborious so we will just cut straight to the point we want to make, and that’s how hot and tired Villa boss Paul Lambert looks. He’s almost as sweaty as Roberto Martinez, his shirts are always a bit rumpled and his glasses make the bridge of his nose look dead sore and in need of a rub. It’s a look that says ‘Mersey Rail ticket inspector who, in between stops, still briefly daydreams about becoming an architect and designing award-winning suspension bridges and cathedral-like airport terminals’.

And at this point the game ends in acrimony as Moyes pots the black but fails to name his pocket.

‘My house, my rules.’

You were warned.

Chelsea Preview


Oh aye, the footy. Fancy forgetting about that.

Every season it’s the same though, you wait for it to start and before you can settle in and get any sort of rhythm going there’s a massive break – well, a fortnight – and you feel like you lose all your impetus and enthusiasm. It’s made even worse when you have something of a new team, in terms of management and playing style, never mind personnel on the pitch. We all want to get a good look at Roberto Martinez’s team and figure out what he’s doing with it – is he building on the foundations laid by David Moyes, as we all hope, or watering down the gritty cocktail that the Scot assembled in the pursuit of a certain style, as some maybe fear?

Three league games into the season and the Toffees remain unbeaten, but only taking three points from games against Norwich, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City does represent a bit of a disappointment. Playing a Chelsea side strongly tipped for the title then represents something of a double-edged sword.

Obviously they are dead good, with loads of boss players, so there’s that to contend with. On the other hand though, they will come and have a go, which is not something that the other teams we’ve faced this season have really done. We should find out then whether this Everton side can play its patient, possession game against a typical Jose Mourinho team of talented and physically imposing players, and also whether the Martinez method can pay dividends against someone who commits players forward and therefore leaves space at the back to exploit. We know our players can rack up all sorts of impressive passing statistics against teams who are happy with a draw – are they good enough though, and quick enough to punish their opponents’ mistakes, to take the next step and prove that there is some substance to their new style against one of the Premier League’s big-hitters?

Inspired by this revealing piece on the Guardian website, we painstakingly scoured reams of data to produce these infostatistographics to summarise the difference in Everton’s play this season.


photo (1)

Now, some might suggest that those diagrams were a cheap method of filling up a bit of screen space by someone who really can’t be arsed with this, but what do they know?

One consolation if we do get turned over on Saturday is that the excitement can still be built up before the West Ham game because that’s when we will finally get to see Romelu Lukaku ‘unleashed’ in an Everton shirt. As it is, despite them looking like pretty sound purchases, no one is really getting that giddy at the thought of what James McCarthy and Gareth Barry might do to ‘these Chelsea cunts’ this weekend. In fact, if anything we are all still hoping to get a better look at what Gerard Deulofeu can produce given a decent run out in ‘the Prem’. He certainly looked the man most likely against Cardiff during the short spell he was on the pitch – has he done enough yet though to convince Martinez that he has what it takes to start a big game like this?

What the new manager simply must realise is that when one of the top sides comes to Goodison Park at booze o’clock on a Saturday, Everton simply must attack and get the ball in the box. The punters pay their money in order to go electrode-monkey-in-an-animal-rights-video crazy at these matches – give them what they come for. After all, if we wanted mid-90s Serie A we’d get our Rifle Jeans on and hold up a massive, inexplicable flag of a native American’s face.


Everton 0 West Bromwich Albion 0


‘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.