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

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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.

Fulham 2 Everton 1

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What did we say about this game, Roy?

You said don’t be a soft get and balls it up like the last fella and ruin our best chance of winning a trophy.

No we never Roy, you big fat bastard, we said these London cup games have a habit of bringing you down to earth.

At half time at Craven Cottage, with Everton deservedly leading 1-0 thanks to Steven Naismith’s smartly taken 12th minute effort, the match report was going to be all about strength in depth and how Roberto Martinez’s system allows players to seamlessly fit in with minimum disruption to the side. So you have to remember that when looking at the game overall.

The Blues’ boss made eight changes to the team that started against West Ham, bringing in Joel Robles, John Heitinga, Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones, James McCarthy, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu.

It was the Spanish teenager who was the star of the show for the opening half an hour at least, mesmerising John Arne Riise and creating openings for the other Everton forwards with his pace and trickery. Naismith, competing here with Philipe Senderos for the title of ‘player most likely to go off injured with rickets’, wasted a couple of those early chances before latching onto Deulofeu’s neat flick around Brede Hangeland and clinically beating David Stockdale with a low shot.

Everton were ace for the much of the remainder of the half but couldn’t score again, despite a Sylvain Distin header grazing the post.

Big Martin Jol, like an ancient talking tree, recently bemoaned the fact that his job doesn’t allow him to have straighteners with supporters who have the temerity to annoy him. You suspect, however, that he has more leeway when it comes to his players as they certainly appeared much more motivated after he’d spent 10 minutes with them in the changies at the break.

Before Everton could get warmed up again Fulham had already threatened Robles goal three times, and on 54 minutes a strong tackle on Lukaku in the centre circle allowed them to quickly break through the heart of the Everton defence where Adel Taraabt held off Stones before squaring for the increasingly influential Dimitar Berbatov to shoot low past Robles.

It had been coming.

Jol introduced Darren Bent on 65 minutes and there was an air of inevitability about his winner three minutes later. With his last touch of the game the tiring Gibson, a player born requiring a late fitness test, conceded a free kick midway in the Everton half. Giorgos Karagounis – you’d never guess he was from Greece, would you? – shaped as if to hoist the ball into the mixer but instead fed it low and wide to the feet of the unmarked Bent. The former Aston Villa misfit finished coolly with his left foot although Robles ‘will have been disappointed’ that the ball flew through his legs at the near post.

To Everton’s credit they put Fulham under plenty of pressure as they chased an equaliser but passed up a number of chances, not least when substitute Kevin Mirallas’s low cross eluded everyone in the six-yard box and presented Seamus Coleman with the lion’s share of an open goal. To be fair to the fullback he and the ball were travelling at some pace, but still he would have expected to guide it into the net rather than ankle his shot harmlessly back the way it came.

For all his inventiveness and undoubted natural skill, Deulofeu became increasingly infuriating as the game wore on. His decision-making seems to deteriorate markedly as he tires and he starts to do a painful American Werewolf In London transformation from Ryan Giggs into James McFadden. More than anything he needs to learn that the obvious option is often the best one: just because you can have another touch doesn’t always mean you should.

He’s clearly still learning and getting used to the pace of the English game, and indeed first team football of any kind, but you can certainly see why Martinez isn’t starting him in Premier League matches yet.

Or do you reckon that’s because he’s got a bit of a Kopite face?

Anyway, Everton did a lot of good things, especially in the first half, but all the changes and the lack of experience perhaps told in the championship rounds.

We’ve certainly gone out of this competition in far worse style before now, but that doesn’t really change the fact that we are out all the same.

Maybe next year, what do you reckon Roy?

Everton 1 Chelsea 0

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It’s weird to keep reading José Mourinho making out that Chelsea battered Everton on Saturday but simply failed to convert their chances.

Both sides were fairly cagey, passing the ball around sluggishly in the first half, but the much-fancied-for-the-title Londoners were hardly dominant. Let’s face it, we know all too well what it’s like for a top side to roll up at Goodison and look imperious – this lot were nothing of the sort. They seem to be discovering, the same as Tottenham, that buying loads of players is all well and good, but the impact all those purchases have is limited by the age-old stipulation that you can only ever field eleven of them at any given time. Where’s the justice?

So, with most expectant eyes on world superstar Samuel Eto’o, it was Everton debutant Gareth Barry who stepped straight into the Toffees’ first eleven, improving the side instantly and stealing the show. The on-loan Manchester City midfielder, ably assisted by Leon Osman, showed all his experience, shielding the back four decisively and using the ball sensibly. His standout moment came though when Tim Howard carelessly passed the ball out to Andreas Schurrle who in turn teed up Eto’o in front of an open goal. Barry somehow got back to deny the Cameroon striker, lunging in to deflect his shot behind.

Eto’o and Nikica Jelavic exchanged poor headers at either end and a surprisingly low key game seemed to be drifting peacefully towards the break when Everton opened the scoring. Osman’s chip to the far post was headed back across goal by Jelavic and Steven Naismith, in for the injured Steven Pienaar, nodded past Petr Cech from close range. The former Glasgow Rangers man hasn’t had the smoothest transition to English football – in fact he’s often looked terrible – but this was certainly one of his better games in an Everton shirt and who knows,with Pienaar apparently out for a while, he might benefit from a decent run in the side now.

Chelsea had a couple of chances straight after the restart, but they never really built up that momentum that makes you feel like a goal is inevitable.

If anything, Everton grew in confidence as the game progressed, with Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas increasingly finding space to run at the visitors’ rubbery backline and win a string of free-kicks in dangeorus areas. We are still looking for our identity to a certain degree – we seem to struggle to up the pace in games, but we have to be one of the worst sides to go a goal down to, such is our ability to keep possession and lower the tempo. There’s definitely a balance to be struck yet, but the pace and physical presence of Romelu Lukaku might well be the key to imposing our will on games when we need to press for a goal.

Leighton Baines lashed a free-kick onto the crossbar in the dying moments as Everton looked the side more likely to score, especially when Mirallas moved up front in place of Jelavic who made way for another new signing, James McCarthy, who legged around loads.

Martinez has got a lot right at Everton, in terms of his demaeanour, his positive attitude and some slick moves in the transfer window. All that was lacking was that first win, and so to get it against Chelsea, when most people where looking more at the West Ham game, has given the club another lift.

Fair play like.