Everton 0 Swansea City 0

Not even anything to say here

What promised to be a feast of football between sides managed by two of the most progressive managers in the Premier League actually ended up something of a bore.

Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City didn’t exactly come and park the bus at Goodison Park; it was more as if they drove it slowly and deliberately around some cones in the depot, concentrating intently with their tongue stuck out the corner of their mouth.

The Welsh side look to play in the big spaces on the pitch – the ones that the opposition willingly concede. It’s a style that never got them anywhere – they only had one real effort on goal, a brilliant chip from Michu that Tim Howard touched onto the crossbar – but it ate up time and made it hard for Everton to really build up a head of steam.

Despite looking more attractive, as they knock the ball about neatly in their own half, in its own way this approach is as negative as that of a side like Stoke City defending deep and humping the ball up towards some big yard dog. It’s equally legitimate though and certainly effective – Everton spent more time hunting for the ball than they are used to and despite creating almost all the game’s scoring chances never enjoyed a spell where you felt that a goal was inevitable.

In such tight games against unadventurous sides you need someone to be ruthless in front of goal and as we all know by now, that’s not Everton’s strong point. That’s one of the things that separates us from the very best sides – Manchester United, for instance, face teams desperate for a point in every game they play at Old Trafford, but more often than not someone will find a way to break the deadlock and force their opponents to come out and take some risks.

Leon Osman put a free header wide in the first half and Phil Jagielka followed suit in the second. Nikica Jelavic did well to spin a defender in the six-yard box but could only stab Steven Pienaar’s deep cross wide of the mark with Michel Vorm beaten.

In the second half the Swansea keeper got enough on Victor Anichebe’s header to allow Ashley Williams the time to get back and hook the ball off the line. Jelavic missed a spectacular overhead kick and substitute Steven Naismith summed up a disappointing afternoon when his attempt at a Marco Van Basten-style blammer from a tight angle almost knocked the lead off the church roof.

No one was in the least bit surprised then when Jelavic curled the last chance of the match over the bar in the dying seconds. 

David Moyes was correct afterwards when he said he couldn’t fault the effort of the players. What they did lack was a bit of guile going forwards against a side that defended well and were frustrating whenever they got the ball. Without Kevin Mirallas in the side the Blues quickly resort to the deep ball towards Marouane Fellaini and on the whole Swansea negated that tactic pretty well.

Leighton Baines and his battered old lady legs look like the season has started to take their toll on them too – he will more grateful than most for the extra couple of days’ rest thanks to the Southampton game being moved to Monday night.

There doesn’t really seem a lot more to add about what was a pretty forgettable afternoon other than who ever thought that Everton would get booed off at the end of a goalless draw on the same weekend that Liverpudlians are almost considering sewing another star onto their shirts to commemorate the ‘playing better in the second half trophy’ they earned while being beaten by Manchester United?

Strange days.

Swansea City And That

file under cuntish

Before the start of this season few people would have had this game down as an ‘eagerly anticipated clash’ but the way the ‘campaign’ – terrible word but it saves us saying season again – has unfolded for both clubs, this ‘encounter’ – same again – has an intriguing look about it.

The match at the Liberty Stadium encapsulated Everton’s season so far and, to a certain extent, this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons – we actually used it twice there but possibly got away with it. Everton absolutely murdered the home side for long stretches and eventually ran out 3-1 winners but that only tells part of the story: as well as squandering a ton of chances to make the scoreline even more emphatic they were caught on the break repeatedly and just before half-time Swansea might have actually levelled the scores and changed the outcome completely.

Michael Laudrup’s team are mustard on the break and they will certainly look to soak up Everton pressure on Saturday and then spring counter-attacks when the opportunity arises. The onus is on the Blues then to pin them back and keep them chasing the ball to the point where they start to get dispirited and doubt themselves when the time comes to try and commit men forward.

Their midweek win at Stamford Bridge showed just what they are all about and underlined once again how cool their star man Michu is when presented with a sight of goal. Both goals on Wednesday night were very similar, with Michu and then Danny Graham pouncing – yeah, that’s right, pouncing – on Branislav Ivanovich errors. When you are long-haired and slightly Christy-looking like Michu your finish gets noticed by everyone whereas if you are Graham and resemble one of the lads off the stacker trucks in the Wernham Hogg warehouse you barely get a mention. Such is life.

That result against Chelsea will have certainly given Swansea a boost then in terms of confidence but Goodison Park is one of the last places they would want to visit only three days later.

It will be Marouane Fellaini’s first home game back following his three match ban and if the newspapers are to be believed it could well be one of his last. Many of them are of the opinion that there’s a release clause in his contract somewhere north of £22 million and that Chelsea are prepared to activate it. That fee is the equivalent of 11 Michu’s – the Spaniard is has become a standard unit of measurement now, the transfer fee equivalent of London buses, full-sized football pitches and areas the size of Rafa’s shadow.

We’ve been through this whole Fellaini to leave thing countless times now so there’s really no point sweating it. It is worth pointing out though what a snidey development these provisions in contracts are though. Essentially, when you negotiate a new deal you insist that if you actually justify your pay rise then not only do you have the right to move elsewhere unopposed, but there should be a limit on how much money the club can make on the deal –therefore maximising the amount you can leverage in terms of a signing fee. That said, no one forces the clubs to agree to these terms in the first place so they only have themselves to blame when players and agents exploit them.

Wigan’s James McCarthy is said to be the player David Moyes sees as a replacement for Fellaini, even though their styles are not really alike. The young Republic of Ireland midfield rarely scores but he does look a good player though – big, quick and all action, sort of like a Jack Rodwell who doesn’t mind getting his kit muddy.

 

Swansea City 0 Everton 3

Imagine being a Swansea supporter, looking forward to the match all week, rolling up to the ground in the sunshine, full of hope and expectancy, only for Everton to happen.

Happen all over you.

Despite missing Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson the Blues were mostly magnificent. As at Villa Park they turned up, took over and played the way a big, scary top four side does. As stated after that Villa game, they looked like Manchester United used to when they were good and came to Goodison and treated us with haughty contempt.

The only criticism that could be levelled at the Toffees is that they had a mad spell either side of half time when they seemed to mesmerise themselves, such was the ease with which they were controlling the game, and all of a sudden the home side had four or five great chances to score and potentially change the whole shape of the match. Thankfully, Tim Howard, who wasn’t exactly the villain of the piece against Newcastle but definitely an accomplice or henchman, made a number of great saves and preserved a scoreline that still doesn’t reflect the overwhelming scale of Everton’s superiority.

Victor Anichebe, playing in place of Jelavic, had arguably his best game for the first team, repaying David Moyes’s faith in him with a level of effort that belied accusations of a lack of desire and, crucially, the first goal. Incidentally, for anyone who hasn’t worked it out yet, the reason that Moyes makes reference to Anichebe’s lack of confidence all the time is because he wants people at Goodison to stop groaning at every touch he has that doesn’t end up in the back of the net.

Anyway, how it took 22 minutes for Everton open the scoring is a mystery – well, it isn’t, some of the finishing was shit – but Anichebe was on hand to lash a shot past Michel Vorm after Marouane Fellaini bamboozled futuristic space commando Ashley Williams with a chest trap and then inadvertently elbowed the ball past Alan Tate’s attempted clearance. Even Michael Laudrup conceded that Everton deserved that slice of fortune.

The second goal, just on half time, was a thing of beauty. Kevin Mirallas’s eventual finish was like a Phoenix From The Flames recreation of the 1995 FA Cup Final, with the Belgian playing the parts of both Graham Stuart and Paul Rideout as his own shot from Steven Pienaar’s raking low centre came back off the underside off the bar and sat up for a header into the open net. The move started deep in Everton’s half though, as Phil Neville expertly ushered Michu off the ball and then played it inside for Seamus Coleman who in turn found Fellaini. His pass down the right sent Pienaar into space and the rest, well, it’s described back there, and you’ve already seen it on the telly.

Coleman had a steady game at right-back in place of the injured Tony Hibbert, and you would like to think that Moyes took a leaf from Brendan Rodgers’ book of humble wisdom before the match, grasping Coleman’s head in his hands, in a tableau reminiscent of Michael and Fredo Corleone in their fishing boat, and telling the young fullback that he sees him as someone who can run, and kick the ball, and stuff.

Swansea still had some great chances though, and although you always expect the home side to exert some pressure there was a spell when Angel Rangel was missing sitters that had Newcastle United written over it. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of being a more attacking team now that we concede space at the back because we commit so many men forward.

Even 2-0 down then, there were glimmers of hope for the home team, but when substitute Nathan Dyer was dismissed for a stupid tackle on Leighton Baines following a booking for dissent, all that remained was to see how many Everton would score.

As it turned out, only one, a header from Fellaini deflected off the hapless Williams. Man alive though, some chances were missed. Or ‘spurned’, if you prefer. Does anything else ever get spurned, other than chances and advances?

Mirallas, who is just a proper, big time player – how did we get him for £6 million? – hit the bar while Fellaini and Anichebe demonstrated that for all their qualities they are not exactly born goalscorers as they both missed identical sitters, side-footing volleys wide from close range.

Overall though, it was just another mad game, with Everton at times almost frighteningly good.

Finally, it’s a shame that Everton never bought Santi Cazorla*. Not because he’s good – which he is – but just so we could sing a song for him based on the big 1992 hit by Canadian ragga star Snow.

Over and out good buddies.

* Corrected as per the comment below, cheers

Swansea City And That

Everton travel to the Liberty Stadium for the early kick off on Saturday, with both teams looking to temporarily go joint-top of the Premier League table.

Granted, it would be very temporary, but it was just an indicator – blogging shorthand if you will – of how they have both started the season reasonably well.

The still-really-fucking-cool-even-though-he-has-the-look-of-a-female-PE-teacher’s-special-friend Michael Laudrup has confounded many of the finest minds in the game by managing to hold together a club that was expected to implode spectacularly following the loss of Brendan ‘sideways is the new forwards’ Rodgers and his Jedi apprentice, Joe Allen who, rumour has it, after every match cuts himself with a razor, like Richey Edwards, once for every time he concedes possession. That’s how much it means to him.

Anyway, Laudrup added a number of players to the squad with the proceeds from the sales of Allen and Scott Sinclair, with the pick of the bunch being the former Rayo Vallecano striker Miguel Pérez Cuesta, otherwise known as Michu. He would be dubbed ‘Pleestu’ in no time at all if he played for Everton.

The elegant forward looks the business so far, with four goals in as many games. Alongside him is Danny Graham, a player you have to admire for his attitude if little else. Bless him, he’s a poor man’s Shane Long.

They apparently have a load of problems at the back though, with a number of injuries and suspensions to more or less their first choice back four. Hopefully Everton, who twatted them home and away last season, will be able to exploit those deficiencies even without Nikica Jelavic who, reports would have you believe, is out for the next two or three weeks.

That’s a blow, but David Moyes has enough options in the attacking positions to allow the Croatian cracker to recover properly. He can replace him with Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe or Steven Naismith and rejig the right-hand side of midfield accordingly if necessary.

A bigger concern is the continued absence of Darron Gibson in central midfield. The ex-Manchester United man is being built up in his absence into some sort of combination of Paul Bracewell and Howard Kendall, which really isn’t the case. He is just a really competent midfielder with decent control to whom the position comes naturally.

Most importantly, he is not a converted defender whose first instinct is self-preservation. Phil Neville sometimes holds his own in that position against better sides when we are under pressure and we need the third centre-half that he essentially plays as. Against anyone else, when we look to take the initiative, he’s a waste of a shirt, turning his back whenever Tim Howard wants to roll the ball out and playing nothing passes across the defence that force the fullbacks to clear down the line.

It’s not his fault, he seems a decent enough sort after all, but his ability in central midfield simply isn’t in keeping with the players he now has around him. It’s no surprise that Moyes is considering moves for free agents such as Thomas Hitzlsperger – who seems ideal – and Owen Hargreaves. The latter is clearly a joke figure in the wake of his infamous YouTube video showing him doing every type of fitness workout imaginable apart from, crucially, playing top level football.

Whenever we get linked with write-offs like Hargreaves, or indeed Michael Owen, there is a tendency to venture that they ‘might be worth a punt on a pay-as-you-play deal’ which suggests that these multi-millionaires are willing to turn up and give their all in training every week in the hope that they might get the nod on a Saturday and actually earn a bit of coin for their troubles.

You can imagine Mrs Owen now, settling in for X Factor in their North Wales mansion when she hears the front door open and a sports bag dumped heavily in the hall. With practised trepidation she calls, “Hiya love, missed you today. Did you get a game?”

“Fucking unused sub again. UNUSED! He couldn’t even bring me on for the last five minutes, the twat.”

“Oh, never mind love. You know, if we tighten our belts a little bit this week we’ll be fine. And I’ve been thinking, I’m bored in the house sometimes and they are always looking for someone to do a few hours in the paper shop. I know it’s not ideal but every little helps…”

If you get any of these bleeders in, on any basis whatsoever, it costs proper dough, guaranteed. Apart from James McFadden getting a short-term deal at Sunderland, obviously. He’ll be getting his ale money at best.

Finally, and apropos of nothing apart from the Europa League being on the telly at the moment, the competition is widely derided by the clubs playing in it because they make very little money out of it. A rather shitty attitude but one that the supporters have generally been browbeaten into accepting. Some incentive is clearly needed then, to get the clubs involved to take it seriously and field their best players. There’s no comedy punchline coming here, by the way, this is a serious suggestion. Why don’t both the finalists get immediate access to the following season’s Champions League gravy train? The winners could go straight into the group stages while the runners-up go in at the qualifying stage.

A short crisis of confidence forced a spot of Googling then just to double-check that they don’t qualify already. They don’t, but the idea has been mooted elsewhere, including in this article, where a parallel is drawn with European basketball who have seen positive effects on their second tier competition by offering the winners qualification to the top one for the following season. If you are still reading, that is.