Chelsea Preview (and Swansea and that)

grace jones

Apart from mad twattings, open goal misses by Hugo Rodallega and hilarious Steven Caldwell mishaps at the back, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic sides were chiefly known for coming on strong towards the end of the season. Hopefully the same – the tails up during the tail end bit – can also be true of his first season in charge of Everton, because after something of a dip since Christmas there are still footballing worlds to be conquered for his Stanley Park Spartans.

Well, the FA Cup anyway.

Unfortunately, thanks to the contempt for supporters that is more or less becoming Arsenal’s hallmark, only five thousand Evertonians will reap the fruits of the Blues’ labours against Swansea and get to watch the quarter-final live at the Emirates. Honestly, because of the high profile nature of the takeovers at Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners have somehow managed to portray themselves as some sort of bastions of fairness and good taste in the top four, but there’s no worse cunts around for acting as if they are doing the peasants, and that includes their own punters – resplendent in their Dr Dre headphones – a favour by letting them into their new ground.

But that’s for another day.

The Blues secured their place in the draw by beating a weakened Swansea side 3-1 at Goodison. They made harder work of it, especially in the first half and despite a dream opening when, after only a few minutes Lacina Traore marked his last first game in an oversized Everton nightie by gracefully back-ankling Sylvain Distin’s low shot past Gerhard Tremmel.

Unfortunately though the big unit hardly touched the ball again until he got hawked off in the second half and from the position he is at now, having been out for so long with injury and only playing in Russia when he was fit, it seems to be asking a lot for him to get up to speed with the English game and to the level of fitness necessary for him to make much of an impact for the Toffees between now and the end of the season. For a start, Romelu Lukaku will probably be back after the Chelsea game and, on the evidence of the Swansea tie, Steven Naismith is also quite a way ahead of the elongated Ivorian attacker in terms of the ability to lead the thin blue line.

The Scottish striker has hardly had it easy since joining the club but he has certainly improved under Martinez and has a knack of snatching important goals. Indeed, his was the decisive intervention when, on for Traore, he instinctively anticipated Neil Taylor’s backpass and clipped the ball past Tremmel and into the Gwladys Street net. Naismith, who probably moves more intelligently than Lukaku – just nowhere near as quickly – was also poleaxed for the penalty that Leighton Baines converted to seal the victory.

The trip to Arsenal hardly represents the most straightforward of the possible quarter-final draws but is there any great reason to fear the Gunners? The last time we went down there, fresh after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, we put on a performance that perhaps encapsulated the Martinez era so far. In terms of possession and intelligence on the ball, Everton were incredible that night and probably only the liquid football of Bayern Munich has surpassed that performance at that stadium this season. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the brewstered Bavarians overshadowed Everton in their quality and ruthlessness in the ‘money positions’ in the final third.

By the time we return though, the scorer of the Blues’ wondrous equaliser in the leaguer game, Gerard Deulofeu, should be back nearer full fitness, and hopefully Ross Barkley will no longer playing like his piles are killing him, so the Blues might just have enough to edge their way into the semi-finals.

It will certainly be an easier task than overturning Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend.  Because say what you like about boring little narcissist Jose Mourinho, for instance he’s a boring little narcissist, but that cat knows his stuff. The best example of this fact is the way the press and public alike openly mocked him for ‘losing the plot’ for hardly using Juan Mata, but almost £40 million in transfer fee later the admittedly talented Spaniard looks as lost as everyone else as part of David Moyes’s Old Trafford confuse-a-thon – and just wait until they have to start trying to shoehorn Marouane Fellaini back into that side again – while Mourinho’s Blues are beginning to take shape as a strong-running, high pressure counter-attacking team.

The sort that can really punish teams who are prone to dithering on the ball at the back.

Just saying.

When Chelsea were struggling for goals early in the season Mourinho’s faculties were again openly questioned because he let Lukaku go out on loan. But much as we are desperate to see the burly Belgian back in an Everton shirt the young striker has displayed enough weaknesses already this season that you could definitely make a case again for Mourinho judging that situation spot on.

‘He’s good,’ he would argue. ‘But not yet good enough for a side competing for the top prizes.’

It’s just about our toughest game of the year then, this one. As ever though, we go with that distinct whiff of Roberto romance surrounding us. We do enough of the basics really well that we almost always give ourselves a ‘platform’ to perform in any game and then beyond that we have just enough players capable of doing the unpredictable that no win for us, even at somewhere formidable like Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, would really come as that big a surprise to anyone.

In short, we’re still ace and we now have added Duncan Ferguson on the first-team coaching staff. The surly Scot has been doing all his coaching badges and serving his apprenticeship with the Everton kids. No doubt he has worked extremely diligently if he has impressed so much that someone who takes the game as seriously as Martinez wants him as part of his inner circle, and for that he is to be applauded. Still, for all that hard work and studious dedication, the first time that there is even the slightest hint of an altercation near the Toffees’ technical area you can guarantee that all sorts of fat lads and frail grandparents alike will be out of their ejector seats and imploring him to ‘FUCKENTWATIMDUNCANLAD!’

Which is the way it should be, clearly.

Everton 2 Aston Villa 1

Jakarta_old_football

Winning this game probably isn’t that significant in the big sweep of things. Losing though, that would have felt catastrophic, so it was a sense of relief as much as anything that greeted the final whistle at a sodden Goodison after Kevin Mirallas’s sensational free kick sealed a late comeback for them tricky Blues.

Roberto Martinez is still mending and making do in terms of getting a team out on the pitch – Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman returned to the bench here while Sylvain Distin went straight into the starting line-up. Aiden McGeady made his full league debut.

The Irish winger almost made it a glorious introduction too, cutting in from the right with his jinky little baby steps and slamming a doozy of a shot against the far post. Unfortunately though that bright opening was not indicative of the rest of the half. Villa were negative and without a proper centre-forward Everton lacked any focal point for their attacks. Mirallas might be suited to the role of central striker away from home, but against moribund massed defences at Goodison his best assets, his direct running and his shooting, are too easily negated.

At almost no point during the first 45 minutes did one Everton player occupy two Villa defenders, through either strength or skill, so there was simply no space created to work in. The ball got moved slowly from side to side and the murky-shirted Midlanders shuffled along accordingly. It was painful to watch at times and, perhaps understandably after Tuesday night there were audible grumbles as some of the passing looked aimless and the forwards never seemed to make their runs with any conviction.

On one of the rare occasions that Ross Barkley tried to inject some drive into the Blues’ attack, on 34 minutes, it ended up backfiring as the young midfielder’s run across midfield was halted by Fabien Delph’s tackle. While the Evertonians were still crying foul, Christian Benteke fed the loose ball out to Leandro Bacuna who advanced on Tim Howard before slipping the ball through his legs and into the Gwladys Street net.

If Anfield was the point where the season derailed, this felt like the moment where it settled at the bottom of the canyon and then erupted in an oily cloud of smoke.

At half time Martinez replaced the half-fit Barkley with the half-fit Pienaar and that planted the seeds of the eventual revival. The little South African is simply better at anyone else in the squad at changing the pace of the game, with his awareness and the cleverness of his passing. For such a slightly built individual he is also better than any of the club’s centre-forwards at shielding the ball, getting his head up and bringing others into play. What’s more, when the ball goes into Pienaar’s feet his teammates make run beyond him, confident that he will at the very least retain possession or force a foul.

In short: when he plays, we play.

Martinez’s second successful substitution came on 70 minutes when he withdrew John Stones and introduced Steven Naismith. Quite the opposite to Mirallas, the Scot lacks pace so struggles to make an impact away from home, but he does the basics well enough as a centre-forward that he has his uses at home when the Toffees are on top and pinning opponents back. He also freed Mirallas up to drop a bit deeper, away from the close attentions of the Villa central defenders, and the Belgian’s influence grew markedly from that point.

Only four minutes after coming on, Naismith put Everton back on level terms as he ran onto Pienaar’s clever flicked pass in behind the Villa defence and poked the ball past Brad Guzan.

The visitors offered almost nothing in attack throughout – they are a dismal side managed by a once highly-thought-of manager who now just looks like he should be sat alone at night in a dim pool of light at a motorway McDonalds, reducing a Styrofoam cup to tiny pieces, kneading his forehead almost violently and pleading into his phone: ‘I know I said I’d leave her but it’s just not that simple, you know that. We’ve been through all this already…’

If there was to be any justice, and there often isn’t in football, then only one side was going to go on and win the match.

And guess what, they did!

There’s definitely been a change in Mirallas in the last month or so. He was actually one of the disappointments of the early part of the Martinez reign as everyone else’s game seemed to be lifted but he looked less effective playing the more patient style. He seems to have realised that he is a senior player now though, especially in the face of the present injury crisis, and is taking on a level of responsibility more commensurate with someone of his undoubted ability.

It was Mirallas’s persistence that initially won a free kick on 85 minutes, fully 30 yards from the Villa goal. Are you useless at gauging them distances normally? Thankfully Match of the Day confirmed it was that far with a handy infostatistographic.

Talking of the BBC’s flagship sports show, a couple of points. Firstly, them dead long spindly hairs that stick out of the top of Alan Hansen’s shirt and move in time to his wobbling turkey neck – once you see them you can’t unsee them and they will knock you sick every time he’s on now.

Secondly, Andy Carroll’s sending off at against Swansea. Which bit made Bobby Moore spin in his grave worse, Chico Flores holding his face like he’d taken a right-hander off Ernie Shavers or celebrated Geordie hard-case Carroll furiously removing his scrunchy as he stormed down the tunnel?

Top-knot titheads.

Anyway, with both Mirallas and Leighton Baines shaping up over the free kick, Guzan had to try and hedge his bets. Despite the distance though, the American keeper, who looks like a methodical FBI agent in one of those yellow-stencilled jackets who reluctantly has to deal with the unorthodox methods of a detective he doesn’t trust but who gets results in bizarre cases and let’s face it we’re coming up with nothing but dead ends here looking for the missing girl, was helpless as Mirallas struck what Paul Lambert described as ‘a world class free kick’. He also added: ‘There’s nothing you can do about that’.

There were nervy moments at the end when Villa forced a corner. We’ve suffered late disappointments against these before – Ashley Young, you doe-eyed twat – but not this time, buddy.

It wasn’t always pretty, but all things considered it what was required and what was eventually deserved. You could see that Martinez wasn’t just talking out of his arse when he said it was the most satisfying win of his time in charge so far.

Finally, a quick word on the transfer window. The biggest thing to point out is that Kenwyne Jones looked mustard for Cardiff City on his debut. Everton themselves missed a trick by getting their two targets in so early. Lacina Traore they should have signed but kept it quiet and then only announced it at 11.30pm on deadline day. Everyone would have been made up then. It would have looked like a veritable swoopy coup. And he would be that bit closer to actual match fitness.

John Heitinga has gone to Fulham, to join their collection of arl arses who just fancy living in London for a bit. The Dutchman had his moments, and was apparently wildly popular with the other players, but overall he always retained that look of the panic buy he was – one who got paid more than he was ultimately worth. He had the one decent season at centre-half, scored that last gasp goal at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, but best of all probably was the way he barged into Ashley Cole during that penalty shootout at Stamford Bridge.

Oh, Everton’s accounts were published too. Without even looking at them it’s probably fair to assume that we are not going to be making any massive signings any time soon, the debt remains about the same, we spend a fucking immoral amount on player wages but we get a ton of money from the telly deals so like the rest of the Premier League basket-cases we will shuffle on regardless for another season at least.

You can probably get more detailed analysis than that but that’s what any fancy number talk will boil down to, ultimately.

Liverpool 4 Everton 0

Is it safe to look yet?

Have they stopped scoring?

Just where do you start with a night like that?

Remember against Queens Park Rangers, when we said that Antolin Alcaraz looked like a drunken uncle playing footy in the garden against little kids? Well imagine if that self-same fella got woken up from his hammock and told to play against Luis Suarez.

Clearly the responsibility for one of the worst humiliations at Anfield in living memory – and boy there’s some stiff competition there – doesn’t lie with the paceless Paraguayan. His selection in such a big game though, in a defence that also featured rookie centre-half John Stones at right-back, gives some indication of the cobbled-together nature of the first Everton side that Roberto Martinez took across the park.

As suspected, a number of other players whose fitness was in question were deemed fit enough, but as we feared beforehand, Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar looked lacking in match sharpness after a bright enough opening 15 minutes.

It was a night when almost everything that could go wrong did, apart from Daniel Sturridge blazing a penalty over the bar. By that point though, four goals up, Liverpool could more or less laugh that off.

Imagine that. In the derby.

Liverpool’s opener came on 21 minutes when Steven Gerrard connected with Luis Suarez’s excellent corner to crash a header in at the near post.

To add injury to insult, Gareth Barry not only lost Gerrard’s run but he also slipped and crashed into Romelu Lukaku, taking his leg out like a skittle. The Belgian striker hobbled off with ankle ligament damage, replaced by the willing but ineffective Steven Naismith, and our fate was pretty much sealed.

A load of coins also got lashed at Suarez as he took the corner and the police are now involved. It’s not clever, and neither is trying to convince a magistrate that ‘Banzai! You horrible fucking crab!’ is a term of endearment where you come from.

The only players to come out of the game with any real credit for the Blues were Kevin Mirallas and second half substitute Leon Osman. Mirallas has been accused of being something of a fair weather player in the past but despite Everton’s glaring deficiencies in this hopeless encounter he almost singlehandedly took the game to Liverpool at times and nearly equalised with a low shot that skimmed narrowly wide, just before the roof completely caved in.

On 33 minutes Phillipe Coutinho released Sturridge into the space where Everton should theoretically have had a defence and the England striker finished easily past the helpless Tim Howard.

If that one wasn’t bad enough, the next, less than two minutes later, essentially killed the game stone dead.

Sturridge again latched onto a high, straight ball out of defence, unencumbered by anything as gauche as a blue-shirted marker. He still had some work to do though, to bring the big hoof down and get himself facing the goal, but Howard spared him all that by legging out towards a ball he could not possibly reach. Only one of them golf sale signs with LOB ME written on it would have been more inviting.

3-0 at half time, they are all going bananas, understandably, while the Everton team shuffle down the tunnel with the haunted look of men who should be wearing necklaces made of ears.

After the restart Osman comes on and they pin Liverpool back initially, but as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. The hope, and suicide passes by Phil Jagielka.

Suarez cut out the England defender’s lazy sideways pass, surged from just inside his own half and slotted past Howard as everyone knew he would.

All that remained, as if that wasn’t enough, was for Sturridge to toey the penalty over. We could complain about the supposed foul itself by Howard on Raheem Sterling – it’s getting to the point where referees might as well point to the spot the moment a player is put through now – but that wasn’t really the night’s big talking point.

If only.

Liverpool were very good. They pressurised Everton expertly, they broke ruthlessly and when the Blues did pose a threat, which they did on occasion, red shirts crowded them out.

For Everton the result was an absolute disaster in itself – 4-0 at Anfield for fuck’s sake – and also as an indication of where the present injury crisis has left the team.

This certainly represents the first big test of Martinez as an Everton manager and he may well need the help of the supporters to get through it. Let’s face it, we knew it wasn’t always going to be brown shoes and ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.

The style of play Martinez demands from his players is one that is more dependent on confidence and assurance than perhaps more traditional British methods and when it works, as we have seen for most of this season, it is spectacular. When it doesn’t though, as occurred at Wigan on many occasions and now at Anfield, well, it’s still pretty spectacular to be honest.

Aston Villa, one of the division’s best counter-attacking teams, will come to Goodison on Saturday and seek to exploit the same weaknesses as Liverpool and play on any residual fear and self-doubt that lingers from Tuesday night.

Everyone at the club – the group, if you will – has to pick themselves up then, as hard as that is in the wake of what was an absolute fucking massacre, and pull together again for the remainder of a season in which there is still so much to play for.

However, that said, until 3 o’clock Saturday:

JUST FUCK OFF EVERTON

West Bromwich Albion Preview

‘First they came for the Geordies and I did not speak up, because I was not a Geordie.

Then they came for that terrifying kid who supported Leeds and was crying when they got relegated from the Premier League and I did not speak out, because I was not a Leeds fan.

Then they came for the Manchester United fans who wear the green and gold scarves and I did not speak out, because like most of them I’m not actually sure what the real point of the scarves is any more. They must have lost a couple of games.

Then they came for the Hull City supporters who did the tiger maul dance and I did not speak out, because I was not a Hull City supporter. Or a tiger.

Then they came for those Arsenal lads who held up the Eduardo shirt when he got injured, and I did not speak out because I was not an absolute bellend trying to get on the telly.

Then they came for the Liverpudlians who dressed as cardinals and to be honest I did actually speak out this time and I said ‘there’s well more than them you know, they are just the tip of iceberg’.

Then they came for West Brom fans who do the ‘Boing, boing’ thing and I did not speak out, because I was not a West Brom fan and to be quite honest I was still seething that they only took the cardinals last time they were here. I did point though, to where the West Brom fans were hiding, because all that bouncing around is really fucking irritating.’

So then, West Bromwich Albion, eh?

West Brom.

The ‘Baggies’.

They’ve got a new manager. His name’s Pepe Mel. Apparently he left his last job because it was a grind.

What? Get out of it.

He actually left because Real Betis sacked him but he apparently worked wonders there, getting promoted and into the Europa League with no money to spend. To be honest, this was all gleaned from listening to a couple of podcasts – if it’s factually incorrect take it up with Sid Lowe. Anyway, on the strength of those passing comments we are branding him the Spanish Iain Holloway.

Unlike Everton’s own Latin smoothy, Mel isn’t particularly Spanish-looking. In fact he looks a bit like Brian Dennehy in that creepy film about John Wayne Gacy. However, he doesn’t win the Premier League ‘check his passport’ award for this season – that clearly goes to Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal who looks like he should be limping dead fast down Park Road with his Berghaus hood up in the height of summer, drinking a bottle of Lucozade Sport and only stopping occasionally to remonstrate with his Pirates of the Caribbean-looking Judy who is trailing in his wake screaming abuse at the top of her lungs.

Doesn’t he?

Going back to West Brom, apparently they will be without the services of Hull-bound Shane Long, the Irish striker who always looks pretty decent against Everton and indeed is often linked with a transfer to Goodison Park. He’s big, strong, doesn’t score many goals but absolutely works his stones off for the cause. Baggies fans need not worry though, they have a ready-made replacement in Victor Anichebe who, let’s face it, has all the same attributes as Long. Apart from the effort part, obviously.

And yes, that might seem a bit two-faced given that we always tried to look for the positives in Anichebe before his £6 million move to the Midlands, but that’s the nature of the beast. You can’t help yourself sometimes, especially when you don’t want to feel as if you are adding to the tsunami of shite that’s being heaped on a player from the stands. At his worst though he really never helped himself. For someone of such limited ability he needed to find some area in which to compensate and he never realised that early enough. The penny did seem to drop towards the end of his Everton career but it’s safe to say that a move was the best thing for all parties.

Apart from West Brom.

Long will be joining Nikica Jelavic at Hull – the crafty Croatian is their record signing and leaves with nothing but good wishes from the Evertonians. No one ever doubted his effort, regardless of how he completely disintegrated as a functioning Premier League forward, and so the supporters stuck with him and were palpably willing him on whenever he featured in the side. That he was so grateful for that and wished it to be known in his open letter was a nice touch. You want people to leave the club with their head held high and with fond memories.

Who, if anyone, is coming in to replace Jelavic though seems like anyone’s guess at the moment. Martinez seems unfazed – but then he always does – but releasing our second choice centre-forward would seem on the surface at least to weaken our hand when negotiating to bring someone in. The selling club is going to know that we are snookered if a deal doesn’t go through and as we have seen during countless transfer windows in the past, the Goodison hierarchy won’t think twice about walking away from the table if they think some Johnny Two-Phones foreign representative is taking the piss with the demands.

‘No mate, you don’t understand. Not all at once. Comprende? Installamentos. Er, how do you say it? Drip. On the dr… EL DRIPPY-DRIPPY! Is he deliberately acting soft this kid? That’s it, give him a Delta Taxis card and tell him to fuckin’ beat it. GO ‘EAD LAD, SLINGO YER ‘OOKO. NO DUCK TOUR FOR YOU NOW, GREEDY ARSE.’

We were linked with that young Belgian striker from Anderlecht, and Kenwyne Jones of course, but now it is being reported that Martinez’s quest for another massive black lad to play up front has seen him turn his attention to some character called Lacina Traore. Or, to be more precise, West Ham are apparently on the verge of signing the 6’8” tall Ivory Coast forward on loan from Monaco but Everton are looking to ‘do a Lukaku’ again and step in at the last minute.

To hijack an old Iain Holloway analogy: ‘Hang on, I’ve been buying her ale all night!’

Lord only knows if this Traore is any good like. He’s been scoring goals in the Romanian and Russian leagues which, as we know, means absolutely nothing.

Going back to the Baggies for a moment, another striker who could be missing from this game is Niclas Anelka. The Jewish owner of Zoopla, West Brom’s shirt sponsor, has demanded that the French striker be dropped in the wake of his goal celebration the other week: the anti-Semitic ‘Quenelle’.

Presumably the full name of the weird gesture is: ‘Quenelle! What are you thinking there you daft, offside, aardvark-faced nugget?’

Finally, did anyone hear Grant Holt being interviewed after his transfer to Aston Villa? He was asked what he brings and, rather sheepishly he said: ‘I’m different from the other strikers they have here already. I’m not as fast as Gabby Agbonlahor and I’m probably not as sharp as Christian Benteke.’

Reach for the stars, son. Reach for the stars.