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.

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Swansea City Preview FA Cup Special

Cambridge City v Milton Keynes Dons - FA Cup First Round

Let’s win this sucker for Ric Wee.

With home advantage, at least two of the ‘big guns’ going out and Roberto Martinez standing on the sidelines with one brown brogue resting on his trophy, it’s safe to say that Evertonian expectations are building around this FA Cup fifth-round tie.

Let’s be honest, if we dip out here we are left competing for a European competition of some description via the league, and the advantage for the worthwhile one is firmly with Liverpool following recent results and performances. It just is.

When we were winning the game at Old Trafford and the passing at the Emirates this season’s possibilities looked endless, what with a bold new style and a team full of brash young players, so to have the potential outcomes for Martinez’s first campaign whittled down to ‘maybe the Europa League’ in February – a ‘Moyes season’, essentially – would feel like a proper boot in the goolies.

That’s just the fact of the matter. The season is starting to ‘solidify’ here, for wont of a better word, and individual results are going to have a lingering effect on its eventual shape. As a result, there is perhaps real pressure on Martinez and his players for the first time, especially in the wake of the derby performance and the Tottenham result.

Typically, Everton face a Swansea no longer under the laissez faire stewardship of Brian Michael Laudrup, a man whose unarsed nature makes Sven Goran Eriksson look like Don Revie, but instead enjoying one of those caretaker boss revivals that the Toffees seem to stumble into with peculiar regularity.

Garry ‘Harry’ Monk may look like he’s come straight from the same dim, green-glowing bubble-boy ward as Philippe Senderos and only had the feeding tube removed from his nose for the telly, but the man running Tim Sherwood close for this season’s ‘body-warmer bellend’ award certainly ‘galvanised’ his side when they faced Cardiff City 3-0 the other week. Whether coating them with a protective layer of zinc was strictly within the FA rules is open for debate, but it certainly worked as they triumphed 3-0.

The big news for Everton is that Lacina Traore has had even longer to recover thanks to the Crystal Palace game being closed to high-sided players and is expected to feature on Sunday, possibly even from the start. There is certainly an intense curiosity regarding just how the Premier League’s tallest player, who has been playing in the shocking Russian league but cost Monaco £16 million, will actually perform. He just has the potential to be absolutely anything, from sensationally unplayable to something like one of those big luminous fabric figures they have outside car showrooms with the arms that zip up and down in the wind.

Admit it, you can’t wait to be either blown away or laugh your cock off.

Anyway, there is pressure then, but that’s what football is about: important matches with plenty at stake. No risk, no reward and that all that.

Everton are fearsome at home and Martinez has more options to pick from than he has in recent weeks, especially in attacking areas, so the Blues have to be heavy favourites. However, we’ve been in this position plenty of times before and our well-honed instinct is to expect the worst. Under Martinez though it’s all been about ‘new Everton’ instead of ‘typical Everton’ and dispelling those ingrained feelings of dread when in touching distance of glory, with only really the Anfield derby as a blot on his ‘copy book’, whatever one of those is. This is yet another chance to show then that we don’t have to always disappoint when opportunity awaits.

So onto Goodison we stride, heads held high, expecting, nay demanding, a crushing Everton victory and safe passage into the next round.

And talking of making your way to the ground, one chap escorting his 10-year-old lad along Goodison Road on Wednesday night tried to protect him from the whippy winds and flying debris by getting him to walk inside his coat. It quickly became clear though that the greater peril came not from the skies but from the pavement, as from the folds of his Berghaus came the muffled cry: ‘Dad! Dad! I can’t see the dog shit!’

Stay classy Saint Domingos.

See you on the other side.

Swansea and Sunderland and That

coleman

Big wheel keep on turning.

This is being written dead late by which time you’ve read every last match report online or if you’ve not got a computer you’ve at least been to the barbers especially to read all their papers. That last bit obviously only applies to subscribers reading via the TINF semaphore service.

Anyway, given that so much time has expired, and the Arsenal game’s coming on the telly in a bit, this whole piece is going to be smooshed together with the Sunderland preview and the whole ungodly mess is going to be diced into bite-sized Parmentiers.

The term you are reaching for here is ‘phoning it in’.

Roberto Martinez warns about over-hyping Ross Barkley.

And rightly so. The midfielder scored a brilliant free kick and had another powerful run and shot, but some of the reaction in the press after the game was way over the top. By the standard Barkley set in the derby and at Old Trafford and the Emirates his overall performance here was way below par, to the extent that he looked like he was carrying an injury for most of the first half.

Anyone who writes about matches can’t help but have their report take shape while the game’s in progress and when he slipped when put in by Steven Pienaar the old faithful crutch of saying, ‘summed his afternoon up’, loomed large.

It would seem from now on though that much of the tabloid media have got their story where Everton are concerned.

Barkley doesn’t practise free kicks.

Firstly, why not? What else has he got to do that’s so pressing that he can’t have a little go now and again?

Have a word, Roberto.

Anyway, practise or not, what a timely humdinger this one was.

The top players nowadays – and we think Barkley is one, if you’ve got a bit of a titty lip about saying he wasn’t quite as divine in this game as the papers reckon – kicking these NASA footballs with their isosceles boots, seem to approach free kicks from improbable, post-modern angles. It’s almost as if they aim for an imaginary goal set at 30-odd degrees to the posts. Which is problematic for goalkeepers who are notorious for dealing almost exclusively in reality.

Anyway, whatever plane Barkley was operating in he struck the ball such that it arced viciously, like a mis-hit Swingball, but instead of striking a French exchange student in the neck it caromed off the slick underbelly of the crossbar and crossed the line in rain-sodden triumph. For a ball.

Seamus Coleman’s goal wasn’t bad either.

In fact it was utterly sensational, and no more than his performance deserved.

Coleman has always been popular just for his sheer enthusiasm and endless energy, but he just seems to improve all the time in every aspect of his game. In interviews he always comes across as level-headed and all that, but on the pitch he is utterly fearless and respecter of no reputation. No matter who he is up against his attitude seems to be, ‘Sound, dead skilful are you? Well today I am planning on running up and down here like fuck until someone tells me to stop. Care to join me, you bad jockey? Well let’s dance.’

‘Why didn’t David Moyes buy Barkley instead of Marouane Fellaini?’

Loads of observers are saying that. And the simple answer is ‘because only one of them was for sale’.

The same applies to Arsenal fans who keep assuming that they can just have Coleman as a replacement for Bacary Sagna.

Until they all inevitably spunk it up the wall on players’ wages the bigger-than-expected telly deal has given everyone a bit of financial leeway, at least to the extent that clubs like Everton, for so long scratching around to keep paying their three points over the vig every month, no longer have to cast a desperate eye over their prettiest daughter whenever the light is blocked through the pane of glass on the front door and those heavy knuckles begin knock, knock, knocking.

In short, fuck off.

Something about Sunderland.

We nearly always batter them at Goodison but this season has shown plenty of clubs that if you take any opponents for granted then you can very well come unstuck where you least expect it. They are bottom of the league for a reason though, i.e. because they are cack.

Their manager, Gus Poyet, comes across as something of a crank – one that looks a lot like a cartoon wolf who drives a car in an old, vaguely racist Disney feature.

His suggestion last week that the FA should consider having the season running to coincide with the school terms was an absolute doozy that never really got as much attention as it deserved.

Essentially it boiled down to, ‘Yeeeeeeaaaah, you think being in football is good like, but the holidays are shite. Not like them teachers, fucking hell…’

None of the reports confirmed whether he then went on to say something about ‘lazy frigging firemen. They’ve all got second jobs doing building and that, you know’.

Or whether he whistled as an attractive lady walked past, prompting his beating heart to literally protrude a foot out of his chest and his massive tongue to loll all the way to the floor.

He probably never, in fairness.

Swansea Preview

willywonka

‘The English language is the wall that divides us, and ‘fuck’ is my chisel’

– Tommy Tiernan, 2008

Right then, Swansea City away. It’s going to be a short one as there’s Christmas stuff to do and this isn’t being written on the man’s dime. You know how it is.

First and foremost this one will be interesting simply because of the similarity in approaches both sides have in terms of their possession obsession. In fact, they both hog the ball so much that the coin toss could actually prove crucial.

‘Don’t sweat it, we’ll get it back at half time. Be patient, like they are abroad.’

Despite cutting a dash in the Europa League, the Swans haven’t been as impressive in the league as they were last season, with people already speculating that To Live And Die In LA-looking manager Michael Laudrup might fancy moving on already, with the job at Tottenham looking like it could be a snug fit. Being, well, Michael fucking Laudrup would certainly carry more weight with the massive mob of gum-chewing, big-headphone wearing snides at White Hart Lane than looking like a prefect and telling everyone that you used to carry the laptop for Jose Mourinho.

Broken-hearted-English-holidaymaker-consoler-in-chief Michu has been a bigger disappointment to Fantasy League smartarses than even Christian Benteke, and a look at some statistics that we can’t be bothered doing would tell us whether he has actually been injured loads or he has, to use a ludicrous term, ‘been found out’.

An even bigger let-down has been the rather ironically named Wilfred Bony. This big unit looks more like a 1990s heavyweight boxer than a 21st century football player. You know, the sort from a ‘troubled background’ with shorts pulled up to his neck who you still see on Mike Tyson knockout compilations staggering around with what the legendary boxing writer Bert Sugar called ‘bad spacker legs’ as Richard Steele or Mills Lane tries to intervene and stop his head getting punched out of his arse.

That’s exactly what Wilfred Bony looks like.

Obviously the most obvious connection between Swansea and Everton at the moment is Roberto Martinez who still gets credit for everything good that happens at the Liberty Stadium despite leaving the club in 2009.

It’s ace, he’s like the Foxy Bingo fox, striding through the streets of football spreading tiki-taka tremendousness everywhere he goes. And for that reason, the follow up to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ should be this.

‘Hey, is it just me, or has this Chang actually started to taste a lot better this season?’

‘You know, funny you should say that…’

Feliz Navidad, to Toffees, Toffettes and various non-Evertonian heathens everywhere.