Deception Perception

With the calendar set to be turned and unveil September, it’s up to you to decide whether it signals the dying embers of summer, or the beginning of autumn, and the point of change. Depends how much of a miserable get you are. Similarly, you can look at the start of our league season in a couple of different ways: we’ve a few new players come in, and we’ve 4 points from a tricky opening three games- or, you might be a bit concerned at the football we’ve seen so far. An acutely shite opening half against Stoke was momentarily lit up in such style that it may well have been from a pen brandished by Agent’s K and J from Men in Black. It erased all memory of the previous 45. It was abject misery watching a team devoid of any real idea, any discernible formation, for that matter. In the interests of fairness, we were far better in the second half, and were good value for the win.

 

Last Monday night was a pretty good away performance against a good side. Our resolute defence gave way late on courtesy of the kind of inexperienced mistake that is fair to expect every so often from a young player. Mason Holgate was excellent otherwise. But we have to be fair: we did ride our luck. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, City are good team- so it must come in that context, but City finished the match having over twice as many shots as us (17 to our 8), and three times as many shots on target (6 to our 2, having played the entire second half with 10 men. A second half that you wouldn’t have believed City had a numerical disadvantage, such was their dominance).

 

Lastly to Sunday, and again we see a side with the shape and rigidity of a day old Come Dine With Me blancmange. There’s two ways to look at this again- Chelsea are going to be a good team again this season, but we didn’t even attempt to lay a glove on them. It was our third game in six days, tiredness was to be expected- a positive result was probably only marginally more likely than the suckers backing McGregor “only needs to catch him with a good left”. But the style of play was again, underwhelming. And that’s before we mention the Martinez-esque defending that allowed Chelsea’s lone striker to rise between three centre halves and nod home an unchallenged header that effectively ended the game as a contest.

 

I’m OK with the results so far, we’ve played good teams. As fans, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘ah we need time’, or ‘we’ll gel’- and to a certain extent that is right, we will definitely play better football than we have so far this season. But there are fifteen other sides having the exact same thoughts. It’s about what you do with it from here.

 

Too often there has been no plan other than to clip balls forward to Calvert-Lewin to contest out wide. Nobody close enough to support him. Players have, at times, looked confused and frustrated. Given the first of the really big buys under the Koeman/Walsh era was Yannick Bolasie, there has been a frustrating lack of width in his extended absence. With no guarantee of how Bolasie will look when he returns, to not invest in another wide player is a bit of a head-scratcher, signing Gylfi Sigurðsson to play wide left adds to the confusion: a player who likes to drift inside toward goal leaves us with almost no width, given Leighton Baines can’t be expected to run the line as he did in years gone by- and we need to keep everything crossed that he doesn’t get injured, because there’s nothing behind him. This lack of width has been exasperated by Kevin Mirallas falling victim to his own hype and- from the sounds of things- falling out over a lack of game time.

 

The worry is, none of these problems are new, and while we’ve improved in some areas- massively so, in a couple- we’ve stagnated in others.

 

Footy isn’t more complicated than this: get more of your players around the ball more often than the opposition can in a match, and you’ll probably do alright. At the moment, we’ve full backs who’re struggling to get forward and offer meaningful support, central midfielders playing sideways, and isolation in front of them. After a full season thinking there’s no width or balance… We’re still thinking the same.

We failed to register a single shot on target at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Same story the previous year at the Bridge. Again, not saying we should beat them. But given your mates had your ear in the pub before the Stoke game telling you how many characters/captains/winners we’d signed this season, it would be nice to see them puff their chests out and hold one another accountable on the pitch.

 

Koeman could play his compact style last year and rely on the fact he had Lukaku up top slotting more goals than you would reasonably expect with the chances he got. That’s the new xG thing you see on MOTD- as much of a high maintenance pain in the arse he was, he slotted goals. Koeman needs to breathe life and an identity into his team. They all need to be sure of their role, their purpose, and how it all knits together, because it’s all well and good being a tight arse down one end, you need the same kind of cohesion down the other end, too. People want a new striker, and while a top striker would obviously help us, it’s the play before it gets to the striker that we should be watching closest. I’ve said this before, but it needs saying again: for most teams, about a third of shots hit are on target. About a third of those shots you hit on target result in goals. If you’re blessed to have a Lukaku, you can get a better return than that- and that’s the difference between a pretty good season, and getting what your play deserves. We don’t have a Lukaku now. After 3 games this season, we’re averaging 7.67 shots per game. Only Swansea average less. We are averaging 2 shots on target. Only Swansea are averaging less. It’s really that bad.

Yes, we’ve been dealt a gobshite of an opening run of fixtures. Yes, like any side, we hope to improve beyond what other sides will want to improve themselves, and no, we shouldn’t write anything off three league games into the season. But there’s no bliss in ignorance. This team has to play better. The manager has to get more from them.

 

As always, for more nonsense, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

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Ashes to Ashes Tern to Tern

There’s a developing symmetry to Ross Barkley’s Everton career that completes a rotund circle almost as perfect as a silhouette of the ruddy faced manager who has stood beside- not in front of- the door; unmoved, unnerved, seemingly unconcerned at the Barkley impasse. The decision was Barkley’s to me made, and a pragmatic shrug would’ve probably greeted any result. Now? The boyhood Evertonian discovered by an Everton scout playing football on ‘The Mystery’- playing fields close to his Wavertree home, has told his boyhood club- our boyhood club- he wants a new challenge. As his Everton journey begun at The Mystery, it ends as exactly that, too. Who better than us does he think he’s going to start for on a regular basis? What happened behind the scenes with the manager? How much influence has the crowd had on him? What’s his best position? Would he have got a start next year under this manager, should we end up bringing in Gylfi Sigurðsson? Why as a twenty year old did he only sign a four year deal, bringing us to this point just three years later? Why doesn’t he want to stay at his boyhood club, especially after a summer blues ten years his senior have been waiting for all their lives?

We’ll never have any knowledge of the kinds of conversations Barkley’s camp have had with Koeman, but there’s been nothing to make you think this is not a decision that both of them have long been at peace with. There’s an element of truth in Barkley being badly advised: does he think he’s going to walk into any side above us in the league? In a World Cup year? Risky. But he’s a 23 year old man- he knows his own mind. He can only be cut so much slack, in that sense. Leaving your boyhood club- and in turn leaving Everton without any manoeuvrability in this situation, is pretty unpalatable.

Ross

 

This whole situation has slowly unfurled into a mess. A mess that all parties must take their share of the blame in. By the manager’s own admission, he was too public in his criticism of Barkley at times last year, and Barkley, apparently as fragile a footballer can be at the top of his game, unable to shoulder the burden and demands of a manager who evidently saw more in him than he was giving at times. Stripped of the comfort blanket an utterly dependent Roberto Martinez swaddled him in, Barkley ironically ended up shining in the second half of last season. But constantly gnawing at the fans- or half of us- apparently as fractured as the relationship between player and manager, was this situation looming on the horizon at season’s end. Creeping towards this bemusing, mysterious end- as slowly as a 5 year old at the wheel of a Nissan Sunny with its handbrake off, trickling towards the caravan next to us. Sorry dad. Like that five year old bathed in Welsh summer holiday sunshine, who knows what’s going through Barkley’s mind at this point?

 

He’s not the first to want out, and he won’t be the last. A young man who infuriated many with his apparent lack of decision making at times, has saved his biggest decision for last, and perhaps now we know why he was reluctant to make his mind up all those times. There’s no mystery in this: Barkley’s is a poor decision, but one that will leave Barkley worse off than Everton. And that’s all that matters.

 

Up the toffees.

 

As always, for more nonsense, you can find me here on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Rooney

 

Marmite: you either think it’ll sell shirts, be a good squad condiment in a year of Europa League togger, and bring a winning mentality… Or you hate it. How often have you heard people talking about Rooney’s play taking us into the Champions League places we covet? You probably haven’t. Because it won’t. United didn’t think his play would over the course of their league campaign. And they finished one place above us in the league.

 

Phil Neville was supposed to bring a winning mentality, but all turbo-grass brought was pointing and hair of a man 25 years his junior. Thrice bald ™ can’t even offer us the latter, and the fire and brimstone that was such a massive part of his game hasn’t been there since he was just OG balding. Which is apt, because it makes him sound American. America is where he should go next, not China. Yer weird closet-racist workmate moans about how foreigners won’t integrate here, but can you imagine 15 stone of Crockey’s finest integrating in Tianjin? Smoking would be about it. But time and time again he’s proven how much he loves money, so don’t discount it. I look forward to reading about it in his fourth of five (?!) autobiographies that he signed up to. Was it the third that had to be pulped because he’d provably lied in, in order to sex it up to sell more? He was twenty when the first came out. An autobiography at twenty. Oh and shout out for a Scouser having his book serialised in The News of The World, the now defunct sister paper of The Sun. Money, money, money. Yummy.

 

Rooney was a top player. He isn’t now. When he left Everton for Man United, he played alongside another prodigiously talented young player. I think most people would say he was the more talented of the two at the time, but one worked relentlessly at their craft, their body, and if the results aren’t already obvious enough now, let’s revisit this in three years. There’s only one of the two I’d take at Everton now. And he’s older than him.

 

 

 

To me, Rooney would be like bumping into a girl you used to like at school that you haven’t seen for years, while you’re out picking up a few bits at Speke Retail. She’s still got a twinkle in her eye, and you can’t help but remember all those feelings you once had, but the unavoidable truth is her three kids are out of control running in and out between the cars, and she’s got the flaky remnants of a Greggs sausage roll adorning the Ellesse t-shirt she got free with the kids trainees in JD. Things have changed for both of you.

 

Sentimentality has, to a certain extent, held this club back. Players underserving of new deals rewarded for being ‘good lads’. Sure they were, but were they good enough? Or were we settling? Rooney’s single-minded determination to leave Everton when he did is a characteristic of a trait that separates people like me from people like him. One of many, in fact. He was a top player, and an Evertonian like you or I. That didn’t stop him going as soon as it suited him. Well, the salt and pepper is on our side of the table, now. The clinical, honest truth that he used to decide his time was best served elsewhere? He isn’t good enough anymore. He’ll have his days for someone- maybe even us. He’ll still do the occasional great thing, maybe even take the odd game by the scruff of the neck. That’s the romantic in us pining for the potential of performances like that again, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Save, potential isn’t really applicable for a man turning 32 this year. Patterns of performance are. Rooney has scored over 12 league goals once since 2012. He’s bagged 11 in his last 60 for club & country. In 2016/17, his league goals per minutes played ratio was 0.29 goals per 90 minutes. In other words, he’d have to play over 3 full games worth to get one goal. That’s less goals per minutes on the pitch than Nathan Aké, Vincent Kompany, Hal Robson-Kanu, Stefano Okaka, and Oumar Niasse. Yes, Oumar Niasse. A one off? In 2015/16, he scored at a rate of 0.30 per 90 minutes played. Some of the players who scored more goals with their minutes on the pitch than him that year? Salomón Rondón, Bafétimbi Gomis, Connor Wickham, Andros Townsend, Enner Valencia, Steven Fletcher, and Arouna Koné. Yes, Arouna Koné.

 

Rooney’s play won’t justify the money he’ll inevitably want. The shirts won’t pay for him, because we only get ‘royalties’ on sales, on top of a guaranteed 3 million per year from the Kit Bag deal. Nobody wins trophies ‘selling shirts’ or ‘making statements’ anyway. Just sign better players. We Will Rooney improve us enough to justify the cost? Or are you just desperate for him to?

 

 

As always, you can find me here for more nonsense: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Does Pressure Even Make a Diamond?

 

Does Pressure Even Make a Diamond?

 

Because if it did, bling bling- just what exactly would we have in that number 8 shirt, given the pressures of life in L4?

Does anyone even listen to you if you aren’t saying something edgy, or nailing your colours to the mast with absolute conviction? Would anyone even click your article if it wasn’t clickbait, bro?

Because I’ll paraphrase here, but some of our fans (and local media) are now happy to be heard saying ‘Barkley’s thick’ or ‘Barkley’s shite’. One ‘journalist’ even had the gall to say he possessed the footballing brain of a sixteen year old. In the interest of fairness, those who don’t like Barkley are equally as frustrated by what they perceive as a refusal by some to accept he can do anything wrong. The truth of the matter lays somewhere in between. Barkley is a huge talent, with some massive question marks next to his game. To write him off as ‘thick’ or ‘shite’ is arrogant, in the first instance, or- in my opinion- misguided, in the latter.

 

There’s a reason ex-players/managers/referees often talk about Goodison being one of the hardest places to go. We’re boss when Goodison is a snarling bear pit. But there’s a flip side to that- we’re fucking dreadful as a crowd at times, too. Remember those bellwhiffs who cheered the Tom Cleverley substitution after trying his heart out but being…. Well, just not good enough, in the game against United on December 4th? Everyone who went the game saw how badly he struggled, you don’t need to prove how much of a super bloo you are to the people sitting round you by kicking an already demoralised player while he’s down. At least that puts to bed the arl myth that Evertonians will ‘get behind’ a player who gives it their all. Perhaps David Unsworth might’ve been able to tell him better than I, at Finch Farm the next day.

 

Barkley has suffered from the same fate. Who can imagine what it must be like to be a young man, burdened with the pressures of trying to create in front of a tetchy Goodison crowd? Because it’s been tetchy for years now. ‘He isn’t mentally strong enough’ your mate might tell you- and that may well prove to be the case- wouldn’t bet against it… But what’s the point of holding that against him, if it is true? He may get help through the club, he may not- I don’t know… But he can’t exactly stay behind after training and work on his mental make-up, the way Phil Neville would stay behind with a bag of balls and practice his long throws and his pointing, can he? He is what he is. But can you imagine being tasked with creating something in that team he’s had to play in over the last few years? This isn’t to say everything is fine with Barkley, because it’s far from it: he can be indecisive and hold onto the ball for too long. He can be guilty of trying too much- and some of the stick he’s taken on that front has been completely understandable. But those who watched us in the first half at Leicester before Barkley came on will have seen the scale of the (all too familiar) task facing Barkley with the ball at his feet: this team is abject shite. This entire squad is stale, and it has been for several years now. Boris Johnson will take more responsibility for Brexit than any Everton player will take with the ball at their feet. At least one of our kits should be orange, because they’re all crabs. Sideways, no ambition, no desire, no drive, no invention: this is the size of the task faced by Barkley. Factor in the teams he’s played in, along with the fact Moyes didn’t have the patience to coach him (ask Kevin Sheedy if that’s unique to Barkley, or whether it says more about Moyes), and Martinez didn’t have the ability, and actually indulged Barkley in the most important years of his development. It’s been a perfect shitstorm. Back to the current day, and Lukaku is isolated, the wingers don’t run into space… Only Gueye has really earned his money this season in the middle third. So who can blame Barkley for trying to take some ownership, and trying to create something? Because who else will? But his confidence has all but gone, and we’re worse off for it. I honestly don’t know how I’d respond to the crowd getting on my back, and neither do any of you reading this. Wanting more from the players is one thing, being a dickhead about it is another. In 20 odd years of going to the game, there have probably only been a handful of times I’ve thought ‘Christ, I didn’t see that pass’, but I’ve lost count of the amount of times when playing football that I’ve told someone they should’ve passed to me, or been told by someone that I should’ve passed to them: the game is easy in the stands. You don’t miss a pass, your lungs are never burning, your heart is never beating out of your chest, your legs are never heavy, and you haven’t got any pressure on you. Barkley’s done the near-impossible: he’s the local lad who has made it to the top of his tree, and been more successful than 99.999% of us ever will be. It was just last season when across Europe’s top 5 leagues, only three midfielders 23 and under scored more goals than him, only three got more assists than him, and only five played more key passes than him, all while playing in a side that finished in the bottom half of the premier league: the kinds of company he’s keeping there? The likes of Pogba, Draxler, Sané, Alli, Jesé, Halilovic and Denis Suarez (amongst others). Barkley deserves your respect, even if he hasn’t earned your admiration. He frustrates at times, but he’s been sublime, too. There are different types of player: leaders, tacticians, technicians, drivers, athletic players, explosive players, and so on… Barkley plays beside almost none of those. He needs help, more support around him, and I’d argue he needs a change of position, too.

I honestly believe Barkley has been to Everton what Paul Scholes was to England around 1998. Scholes was one of England’s better players, and he was shunted wide left because there was nobody else who could play there, and he was deemed most capable by default. The same is true for Barkley. Barkley had to endure a year of being played wide left by Martinez, and his development suffered for it, regardless of what Martinez might’ve tried to bluster about giving him a greater understanding of a new position, and it helping his growth. Barkley is now asked to play off the striker, which is an improvement on him being played out wide, but it still, it doesn’t suit him…

 

With his back to goal, Barkley frequently has to receive the ball in tight spaces, but he isn’t really the kind of player who can spin his man and turn away from him… He isn’t explosive over half a yard to get past a man and create space for himself. He struggles to turn and pick a pass, but he’s suffered from the form of those around him, too. Who moves for him? Who runs between the lines? Who drags opposition players out of position with a bit of intelligent movement? Nobody. In a team in need of overhaul, Lukaku has been the only attacking constant, and even he has had his own struggles with form over prolonged periods, from time to time.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Everton player rely on their instincts quite the way Ross Barkley does. He can struggle when he’s got to think what’s coming next, but when the game is in front of him, and he can see it unfolding before him… It becomes instinctive. I honestly don’t know whether Barkley will make it at Everton long term, or whether ultimately the club’s ambitions will mean he will be left behind and become a ‘what if’. A story of untold potential, component bits of a footballer that never quite meshed into the one he threatened. But when Barkley has been played deep, he has done well… Which makes me think, who do I think his game is most similar to? He’s clearly nowhere near as good at the moment, and chances are he never will be, but Barkley reminds me most of Yaya Touré…

 

Firstly, physically: their body shapes are not too dissimilar. Last season, Barkley was considered by some to be overweight, but his BMI (21.3) is right in the middle of the appropriate range. Touré’s BMI is greater (25.5), and both are fairly unique. Stout and powerful, but both are athletic enough to carry the ball past others with ease when they have the ball at their feet. Neither are twitchy enough to be effective in tight spaces, but give them 30 yards to build up a head of steam and run into on the break, in broken play, and both are near impossible to stop. This kind of powerful running from deep could be the staple diet of Everton on the counter, were Barkley afforded the chance to play from closer to half way. Don’t think he’s got it in him because he’s carrying too much? Take a look at his goal away to Arsenal last season…

barkley-2-1

barkley-2-1-part-2

And just like my point earlier- if Barkley isn’t doing the driving, taking the responsibility- who is? Look at the state of the rest of them, still in their own half.

Barkley coming onto the ball from deep means not only can he pick a pass much easier (as he did away to Leicester), but he can find the space to unleash the rockets he has in both feet…

It’s just over five years since Barkley made his Everton debut, and at the time of writing this, he’s scored 18 league goals in 129 appearances. In the first 129 league games of Yaya Touré’s career, he scored 9. I resent the comparison being made by some to Steven Gerrard, because I don’t see the similarities in their game the way I do to Touré, but in Gerrard’s opening 129 league games, he managed 14. Barkley has done better than his recent form would have you remember. And Touré was playing in Belgium, Ukraine and Greece, in that time. Barkley has been in one of the most demanding leagues in the world. When Touré moved from Belgium to Ukraine, he went from playing in a stadium in front of 12,000 people to one that holds 5,000…

donetsk-metallurgical-factory-stadium

He made his mistakes in backwaters, away from the spotlight. He grew away from the physical and mental stresses and of the league we all take for granted.

Even the worst aspects of both of their games are similar: neither has a great desire to get their hands dirty and help out on the defensive side- and they both need a more disciplined, responsible midfielder to play alongside them. But given how often we’ve bemoaned playing two holding midfielders, why not have one who is there solely to break play up, with no need to support attacks beyond making themselves available for the occasional pass to keep play ticking?

There’s no avoiding that ultimately, it’s up to Barkley- he has to do better, he has to give the team more, but he deserves to be put in a position to succeed. Barkley should be played where his skills are best suited, and to me- that’s deeper. He needs better players around him, with better movement. He’s desperately in need of some proper coaching. The club have to put him in a position to fulfil his potential, because he’s old enough now- but he has to give them reason to believe that’s what they should do. Most of his current teammates won’t be at the club in three years, it’s time to sink or swim for Ross Barkley. But diamonds are surprisingly tough things.

For more nonsense, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Middlesbrough Match Review (September 16)

Ronald Koeman’s record breaking Everton were back in action on Saturday. Our best ever start in the Premier League football, or, if you’re watching at Sky: our best start since records began. Middlesbrough were the next lambs to the slaughter, at a sun drenched Goodison Park…

average-positions

The same side that started against Sunderland on Monday was named again by Koeman, which meant Ross Barkley coming back in after being subbed at half-time on Wearside, following his disappointing evening. Gareth Barry played his 600th Premier League game- to think we all got a little twitchy when he was handed a 3 year deal- he continues to set the standards for those around him, and those who will come after- even at 35 (and a half). Barry didn’t really have anything to prove when he left City, his motivation to continue to perform at the level he has, is a credit to him. At the risk of sounding like Roberto Martinez describing him, he really is ‘unique’. Middlesbrough (on the right of this graphic), were 9th before the weekends fixtures, and named a side that featured Victor Valdes, who has won just about anything you can name. It’s only a matter of time until Valdes inevitably wins the lot, and a ‘TS’ postcode is a winner on the postcode lottery- a grinning Valdes tells the camera how he’s ‘needed to get the boiler done’ as he pulls a cheque for £2,000 from an envelope in slow motion. He lived in, and played for Barcelona: now he’s on Teesside playing at that soulless, identikit bowl of a stadium. So keep that in mind when your alarm goes off for work on Monday morning, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Spare a thought for Victor.

It was a tepid start to the game. Particularly from Everton. There was no fluidity when in possession- we weren’t getting the ball into Mirallas, Barkley or Bolasie- and giving them the opportunity to turn at Middlesbrough. It was all a little clunky. Without the ball, we weren’t playing with the tempo it would appear Ronald Koeman wants us to. We weren’t as snappy, weren’t as forceful in closing down the opposition, and Middlesbrough made the brighter start, albeit one without really causing us too many issues in our defensive third- or at least until midway through the first half, that is, when they of course took the lead. It was a foul on Stekelenburg…

middlesbrough-0-1-negredo-on-stekelenburg

But it wasn’t unstoppable, by any means. And the defending in the build up to the goal was a momentary regression back to some of the bad stuff we saw last season. Ready?

 

The ball was worked wide by Middlesbrough, and, as per our effort without the ball to this point, there wasn’t enough of an effort to get out and close down the man with the ball…

middlesbrough-0-1

Yannick Bolasie the man who was uncharacteristically short on effort to pressure the opposition. George Friend has time to get his cross in unopposed, as we saw all too often last season. So what’s happening in the middle?

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Ashley Williams is five yards deeper than the rest of the defence as the ball is worked wide. Again, like last season, the defence isn’t reading from the same hymn sheet. Williams is too deep, but he isn’t in the worst position, by any means. The bigger issue is that he’s not defending the same line as Baines, Jagielka and Coleman: and we saw this at Sunderland on Monday night, too…

everton-defending

Five yards too deep. It might be force of habit: Swansea holding a slightly deeper line over the years, or it might be something slightly more concerning, in that he’s approaching the age when he’s becoming increasingly aware of being less able to rely on his pace in these kinds of situations. Time will tell on that. The line drops deeper to join Williams before the ball comes in: it’s not like he’s badly playing Negredo on side at that point, but it just may be something worth keeping an eye on as we go forward. Williams is aware of Negredo, and has him in his sights as the ball is worked wide to Friend. But from then on, he doesn’t look over his shoulder again. As the ball comes in, Williams has lost him, and doesn’t know where he is. The only reason Negredo manages to get a free run at Stekelenburg, and a clean leap to challenge for the ball as he does, is because he goes unchecked by Williams…

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Who tries (and fails) to box Negredo out as Stekelenburg prepares to jump. It isn’t great from Williams, but again- it was a foul, and it shouldn’t have stood: Koeman won’t be happy with what preceded Negredo’s challenge, however. He’s come to demand more from his rejuvenated toffees.

We were only behind for two minutes, and it was our favourite Gareth Barry who drew us level. Ashley Williams charged in at a Kevin Mirallas corner, and his studs could only have missed the face of Victor Valdes by a matter of inches- the referee seemingly choosing to ‘even things up’, as he didn’t blow for dangerous play, as you might’ve expected. Or maybe he was just that inept. Who knows? But the ball eventually wormed its way to Barry on the back post who curled in a composed equaliser, a nice moment on his big day.

Our midfield started to exert the kind of influence on the game that we would’ve expected before kick off. A special mention to Ross Barkley, who was putting in a mature performance after a difficult evening on Monday night, and the fallout from it- not least amongst our own fans. No Everton player had a higher pass completion rate than Barkley’s 91.7% (save for Tom Cleverley who had a 100% completion rate with literally his only touch of the ball). Barkley played 4 accurate long balls from 4 attempted, and nobody played more ‘key passes’ than him. It was a quiet game from Barkley, but it was a more efficient, responsible performance. Exactly the kind of thing Koeman appeared to be demanding of him after Monday night. So while his performance wasn’t pulling up any trees, hopefully it will be a needed boost to his confidence as he looks to play himself into some kind of form. Barkley was coming deeper for the ball, which will mean more space for the front three if he’s followed, and if we manage to get the ball into Barkley’s feet in more central areas, he’s far more suited to moving at speed over 30 yards towards goal than he is receiving the ball with his back to goal in crowded areas- the manager appears to already be aware of that.

 

We took the lead minutes before half-time, and it was like watching Seamus Coleman from 2013. So often under Martinez we’d see Coleman stood up as high as the opposition full-back when we were in possession, but it never really worked: it negated Coleman’s biggest strength- his athleticism: when he had a head of steam up, he was difficult for anyone to live with. Clearly Coleman was mismanaged under Martinez, but his own standards slipped, too. He looked like he had his boots on the wrong feet so often, but this was Coleman at his best- and he’s got Romelu Lukaku to thank, too…

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Here, Lukaku is being marked closely by Ben Gibson at centre-half, as Coleman turns the ball infield to Idrissa Gueye. Lukaku then moves Gibson out of position as he comes looking for the ball, leaving a huge gap to Daniel Ayala at right centre-half…

coleman-goal-2-1-part2

Coleman instinctively senses the space, and Lukaku’s deft touch into his path is perfect. Coleman’s just ahead of his marker, and this is when he’s so dangerous. This is where Martinez didn’t put him in enough positions to try and get the best from him. He’s too quick to catch if you end up on the wrong side of him, and he has a clear run on goal from here on out. Ayala comes across, but Coleman shifts the ball past him, wrong footing him, and then Valdes, as he clips the ball in at the front post with his left foot. Coleman at his absolute best, and hopefully- the first signs of recovery in his own form. Getting him back approaching anywhere near his best would be a huge boost to the team. It’s been a long time since ’60 grand’ has properly reverberated round Goodison.

 

A third came on the stroke of half-time, Lukaku claiming a touch on a Bolasie cross, but I’m happy to think of that as Bolasie’s first, despite Lukaku’s reaction being enough to convince ‘Rossy’ or whichever Radio Shitty fart they’ve got on the PA these days at Goodison. Middlesbrough’s afternoon unravelled with the third- they’d have been content enough going into half-time at 2-1, having played well enough as the away side, but the third was a killer. It was a score that wasn’t really in keeping with the play to that point, but we appear to be a more explosive side under Koeman, and we took the game away from Middlesbrough in a matter of minutes, just as we had against Sunderland. We conceded in bunches last season: we conceded two goals within seven minutes of one another on eleven occasions under Roberto Martinez in 15/16, we’ve scored two within seven minutes of each other in two of our five premier league games already this season- three, if you want to bump it up to eight minutes. A very nice habit to have.

 

We were well on our way to our best start in 38 years. Roberto Martinez managed four league wins in his last five months at Everton(!)- Ronald Koeman has managed to guide us to four in our first five games. A very encouraging start to life at L4. Moreover, it’s the second time Everton have come from behind to win in Koeman’s first five league games, having had just two wins from losing positions over the previous 90 league games, prior to his arrival. No, we haven’t beaten anyone decent yet, but we couldn’t have asked for more a month into the new regime at Goodison.

The second 45 was pleasingly dull. So much so, I’m barely even going to talk about it- that little happened.  The only blemish of the half being a knock to Lukaku which forced him off, but it was a thoroughly professional performance from us, seeing the game out in a way that always seemed too much to ask of the sides managed by Roberto Martinez over the last couple of years. Middlesbrough didn’t have enough quality to trouble our defence in the final third- but they struggled to get past Barry and both Gueye’s in midfield to even find our defence. Barry was his usual Rolls Royce self in the middle, but Gueye was head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch in the second half. Just the 8 tackles for Gueye on Saturday, 3 more than anyone else on the pitch. He’s now won 31 tackles this season, the player with the second most in the league- Sam Clucas (Hull)- has won 22… Gueye has won 50% more tackles than the player with the second most in the league. It’s ridiculously good. No player in Europe’s top five leagues have won more tackles than Gueye. He’s everywhere, and he’s growing more and more confident when in possession, too: showing a good understanding of when Lukaku wants the ball rolled into his feet when he’s isolated with a centre-half. Next time you get a bad appraisal at work, tell your boss someone at Aston Villa agreed to a £7.1 million release clause in Idrissa Gueye’s contract. Having signed him for 9 million just 12 months earlier. We’re now down to having allowed an average of just 2.2 shots on target on our goal this season, and Gueye’s played as big a part in that as anybody.

 

Given the standard of the opposition we’ve faced so far, we can’t get too carried away- it’s like running a good bend from the inside lane in the 200 metres final at the Olympics- it’s quite difficult to gauge where we actually are at the moment: the acid test will come when we get a difficult run of fixtures. But between now and then, if we keep picking up points like this, there’s nothing wrong with a big fat dollop of optimism.

 

For more really flawed logic, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Sunderland (a)

Seven points from nine for the blues, prior to the tedious international break. Lowly Sunderland were our opposition on Monday night. Managed by a startled David Moyes wielding a potato peeler as he stared down Ronald Koeman and his dazzling array of weaponry. Lukaku, Barkley, Mirallas and Bolasie all starting: talk about taking a knife to a gun fight, eh?

average-positions

Seamus Coleman came straight back into the side, Mason Holgate can consider himself unlucky, given the standard of his play in the Irishman’s absence. It would appear that this side is what Koeman would consider to be his best, at the moment. Jermain Defoe and an assortment of Subbuteo pieces stood between Everton, and our best start to a premier league campaign. Win by four, and we’d go second. If Koeman managed to guide us to victory, he’d be the first Everton manager since Thomas McIntosh in 1919 to win the first two competitive away fixtures of his tenure. So, on with the match…

 

Less than a minute in, and there was already a hint of what was to come. A cross from Bolasie toward Lukaku, and as the ball squirted away with Lamine Koné challenging Lukaku, Jordan Pickford was alert to the loose ball, and managed to dive on it just before Lukaku was able to get a toe on it…

pickford-denies-lukaku

Sunderland set their stall out early to retreat deep when out of possession, and try to hit Everton on the break. Jermaine Defoe drew a smart block from Jagielka on the edge of our box, before we tried to exploit the way they were playing…

sunderland-deep

Idrissa Gueye taking advantage of Jack Rodwell and Jan Kirchhoff leaving too large a gap between themselves and their defence, who are sat deep (concerned about our pace in behind). A quick one-two with Ross Barkley allowed Gueye to drive forward into the empty space, only to drag his shot wide. Encouraging stuff from our midfield dynamo, who made sodium reacting with water look static, over the course of the evening.

We breathed a sigh of relief on ten minutes, when Jermaine Defoe skied an opportunity- the kind of half chance he normally has ice in his veins for. A deflected nothing shot took the most fortuitous Sunderland flight as it looped over our defence and into the path of Defoe…

defoe-chance

Only for him to put his chance over the top. Good goalkeeping from Stekelenburg who is on his line as the initial effort is hit on the edge of the box, and manages to cover six yards towards the ball as it drops towards Defoe, who will have been aware of him. Stekelenburg mightn’t be the long-term plan at the position, but he’s begun life at Goodison very well.

Down the opposite end, and Jordan Pickford made a stunning save to deny Lukaku the opener. A brilliant, early, whipped cross from Yannick Bolasie was met powerfully by Lukaku, only for Pickford to make the reflex stop…

pickford-denies-lukaku-2

There was very little in the way of quality for the rest of the half. Sunderland were so eager to shift the ball from back to front quickly that they were frequently wayward in their passing: of those who started the game for Sunderland, they attempted 52 long balls throughout the match, and only 14 were deemed ‘accurate’ (26.9% accuracy), compared with Everton’s 42 of 64 (65.6% accuracy). Defoe was isolated, and his frustration was palpable as they were unable to give him the ball in the areas he wanted. It was our concentration that was hurting us in the first half. Lax at times with the ball, we were careless in possession when approaching the crowded final third…

sunderland-defending-in-numbers

You can’t afford to get your passes wrong when things are this tight, but we often did. Ross Barkley was most guilty of this, but that was in part because he was as busy as anyone, looking for the ball. But it was a disappointing evening for Ross, and he would go on to be replaced at half time. During the break, I noted on twitter how no player has had less touches of the ball (10) than Lukaku in the first half, but that he was the only player on either side to register a shot on target (2)- what I meant by this was: get the ball into him with a bit more good service, and he would take advantage.

Into the second half, and Deulofeu replaced Barkley, with Kevin Mirallas slipping inside. It improved us immediately. For what already feels like the umpteenth time this season, a Koeman substitution paid off wonderfully. Koeman’s substitutions look likely to pay the full value of the £10.75 million awarded to Roberto Martinez in compensation, through league placings alone. Deulofeu played with urgency, and gave us impetus to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Minutes in, and his positional awareness was already causing Sunderland problems…

deulofeu-positional-intelligence

Dropping into space here to receive the ball from Phil Jagielka, before turning and driving at the Sunderland defence…

deulofeu-positional-intelligence-2

Only showing some rust as he didn’t quite manage to thread this ball into Lukaku, and Sunderland were able to scramble clear. From the clearance, the ball was worked back to Yannick Bolasie, whose shot drew a diving save from Pickford, only for the ball to manage to evade Deulofeu and Lukaku, both in close. We were beginning to ask questions.

Ashley Williams was unhappy to see Jack Rodwell afforded enough time in the middle of the pitch to slide a pass into Jermaine Defoe, before he closed him down and blocked his shot, but it was Williams who retreated deeper than his teammates, playing Defoe onside…

everton-defending

Gueye and Barry are circled to the right, having been trying to win the ball back, before the ball made its way to Rodwell. It was a rare moment of disorganisation from us, and it was pleasing to see Williams demanding more from his midfield, even if it is pointed out to him that he’s the one playing Defoe onside, when they review the footage at Finch Farm. Lamine Koné actually won a header over Phil Jagielka from the resulting corner, but headed straight at Stekelenburg. There was to be no repeat of May’s debacle, and we would go on to take a stranglehold on the game from this point on- built off the back of the absolute dominance of Gueye and Barry in midfield. Barry was superb all evening- it felt like he didn’t put a foot wrong throughout. He was our midfield metronome: as always. As good as he was with the ball at his feet, he does some of his best work when the opposition are in possession- to illustrate, nobody on the pitch won more tackles than him (7) – and we had 67% possession! Gueye? As cliché as it is, it’s been like playing with 12 men. Nobody on the pitch touched the ball more than Gueye (120), the second most touches belonged to another of our own- Ashley Williams, but he only managed 86. Sunderland’s entire starting five man midfield managed 131 touches between them. Gueye was everywhere…

idrissa-gueye-touch-map

He covers more ground than Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.

If it hadn’t been for a heavy touch, Deulofeu may have opened the scoring, having been released in behind with an excellent ball over the top from Bolasie, some 30 yards away. Deulofeu’s touch took him wide, and although he managed to cut back inside and get his shot away, it was well blocked. Idrissa Gueye (who else) seized on the loose ball, and fed it to Seamus Coleman whose cross-cum-shot was almost turned in by Lukaku at the back post…

lukaku-half-chance

We opened the scoring on the hour, through Lukaku- bagging his first in 13 for the toffees. It was a Sunderland corner, and Deulofeu managed to scamper clear with the clearance. His intended pass was cut out, and who was there to pick up the loose ball? Who else: Idrissa Gueye…

lukaku-1-0

Who stands a beauty up to the back post, begging for Lukaku to put it in…

lukaku-1-0part2

And Lukaku obliges, setting the toffees off on our way to another 3 points.

Then something unfamiliar happened: as the game entered its final half hour, as our opposition began to feel the pace, we found another gear. Bolasie, Gueye and Lukaku each grew stronger as the game wore on. Gueye continued to buzz about, and fed a couple of nice passes into Lukaku’s feet in dangerous areas. Lukaku was proving to be the kind of physical menace that he’s previously only threatened on the odd occasion, and Bolasie was beginning to electrify us down the left flank. It cannot be said enough: the days of us being happy to have Tom Cleverley playing wide left because it meant Arouna Koné wasn’t, are long gone.

Sunderland had a pretty good chance to equalise not long after. On a break, Ashley Williams tried to press high up, rather than the more conventional- drop & try to buy teammates time to get back- Jagielka did just that, and once the ball was moved past Williams, Duncan Watmore had time to get his head up and see Wahbi Khazri in space on the back post, with Everton now desperately short on cover…

sunderland-chance

A better player would’ve seen his teammate free, and it would’ve been a good chance for them. We were fortunate in this instance, but it’s a sign that as good as we’ve looked defensively, there are still improvements to be made. But last night was ace, so I don’t want to make too much of it. I’m choosing to embrace this royal blue rose, and ignore the thorns.

The second and third came soon after. The second was the result of a classic piece of wing play from Yannick Bolasie, slowing his movement to stand his man up, only to then accelerate past him to the by-line, and lofting a perfect cross with his left foot, Lukaku couldn’t miss on the back post for 2-0. The third was a thing of beauty, playing some keep ball, trying to frustrate the opposition and the crowd, we eventually picked up the pace, and Kevin Mirallas played a delightful ball through for Lukaku- the best compliment you can pay him is that you never thought he was going to miss…

lukaku-3-0

 

Slotting with ease, to end a 25 pass move from Ronny Koeman’s silky blues.

 

That was pretty much that, from then on. We conserved energy, Sunderland had lost all hope, and the remainder of the game was played out at a genteel pace. Deulofeu was released in behind again, but couldn’t quite get the ball under control in time to get his body between the ball and the covering Sunderland defender. A bit more rustiness from the Catalan winger, but he played a big part on us taking hold of the game, even if he was a touch quieter in the final twenty minutes or so.

 

There must’ve been something very therapeutic about this win for the squad. It was only May when Sunderland comprehensively dismantled us, and we’ve gone back and we’ve completely gotten that result out of our system. It could’ve (should’ve?) been more than three, but from a personal standpoint, I think it’s even more pleasing how solid we’re looking. Sunderland were afforded just 2 shots on target at our goal, meaning in Ronald Koeman’s first four league games, we’ve conceded an average of just 2.75 shots on target on our goal. For context, the last four of the Roberto Martinez reign- which included a trip to the stadium of light- we allowed an average of 7.75 shots on target per game. Koeman has come in and steadied the ship quicker than anyone could realistically have hoped for. The fact he’s done that while winning games, gives us all reasons to be hopeful. Imagine what we might be like when we eventually put together a good performance for a full 90 minutes…

 

For more really questionable logic, you can find me here:  https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

West Brom Match Review

Off the back of a decent point against a good Spurs side, West Brom were next up for the toffees. No team gets an easy game against the Space Jam grock’s that line up in a Pulis team, and the eleven Midland wardrobes we’d face on Saturday would provide a test in the areas we were most vulnerable under Martinez: they’d be tough, physical, difficult to break down, and- of course, a threat from set pieces at one end, and stingier than John Aldridge at the bar down the other. So, how did we line up?

Average Positions

An unchanged starting eleven from the game against Spurs a week earlier, with Lukaku on the bench after his injury, joined by new signings Ashley Williams, and Yannick Bolasie. We started again with three at the back (we’re on the right of this graphic), although that didn’t last for long this time round. Idrissa Gueye sat in front of the defence beside the evergreen Gareth Barry- only Claudio Yacob made more tackles than Gueye, but it should be said- we had 66% of the ball. Another promising performance from Gueye. But it was Barry who pulled the strings for the toffees: nobody on the pitch touched the ball more than Barry who has continued his form from last season, the boss, age-defying bastard.

Owing to the fact the twenty minute highlight package on EvertonTV was the only decent set of highlights I could find, a slightly slimmed down match review is to follow, you lucky lot.

We started poorly- sloppy in possession, we were unable to get the ball up the pitch and have it stick. Deulofeu wasn’t getting any change out of a group of defenders that could have Nikolai Valuev come in and not look out of place

Russia's WBA heavyweight boxing world champion Valuev listens to his coach during WBA title fight against Haye of Britain in Nuremberg

It didn’t take long for West Brom to take the lead, and if you’ve got your West Brom vs Everton bingo cards to hand, get your dabbers ready, because we’re about to check off most of the card…

Everton line

It came from a long West Brom ball, clipped into the box (check). Our defensive line weren’t on the same page (check) with McCarthy, Holgate and Jagielka (moments before the ball in, Jagielka had clearly called his line up),  defending a couple of yards higher than Mori and Baines, who now play Salomón Rondón onside as he sets off to meet the ball…

Everton line 2

Mori probably knows he’s in the wrong as the ball is coming down because he then goes full playground hero as he tries to win the header, completely underestimating Rondon’s strength as he ends up on the wrong side of the Venezuelan…

Mori positioning

Even if Funes doesn’t contest the header, and gets himself between Rondon and the goal, it’s much better than this. If Rondon takes it on his chest and then rolls Mori or does a piece of skill that affords him the space to shoot- sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say ‘well played’- but this chance only happens because of Mori’s recklessness. Koeman’s staff should be asking why he isn’t where the blue line is here, goal side of the attacker, because once he doesn’t win the header, we’re left completely exposed by him, our last line of defence here, as Rondon manages to get a free shot off, under no pressure whatsoever…

Rondon chance

Our only saving grace being it’s Rondon getting the shot off, and Stekelenburg saves, forcing the corner. West Brom scored from the resulting corner (check)- Stekelenburg ended up in a heap on the ground, seemingly perhaps a little too preoccupied with Saido Berahino backing into him as the ball came in, and Jagielka (circled) ended up in the wrong position, backpedalling as he tracked McAuley’s arched run from front to back, he never stood a chance to get himself off the ground to contest the header once he’s managed to get himself a bit muddled up…

McAuley goal West Brom 1-0

The less said about this goal, the better. But we were up against it now- we hadn’t won having being a goal behind since September 2015- against? West Brom at the Hawthorns. The last point we took from a losing position? Against Crystal Palace at Goodison in December 2015. How would we respond?

Shortly afterwards, Gareth Barry pressed high up, and won the ball back, before playing it wide to Leighton Baines. Baines played a low cross, dummied by Barkley, only for Barry to momentarily fall short of footballing perfection as he hit a tame effort straight at the ‘keeper when well placed…

Barry chance

It was a rare moment of decent play from us as we were unable to pick our way through the West Brom’s well organised team of sequoias: in part, thanks to our own poor play, but also because West Brom were defending far deeper than Spurs had the week before. West Brom’s ambition throughout the game can neatly be illustrated by their ‘heat map’…

West Brom heat map

The Baggies defending so deep meant there wasn’t any space for Deulofeu to run into, and they were mopping up any balls that were getting close to their goal with a relative ease. Something had to change, and Koeman took decisive action, calling Romelu Lukaku from the bench after just 38 minutes, with James McCarthy making way, and a shift to four at the back.

The dynamic of the game hinged on the substitution- Lukaku immediately provided a physical presence that West Brom didn’t have to contend with to that point. It would prove a gutsy, correct decision from Koeman, acknowledging that things weren’t working, and being brave enough to change things. We drew level almost on the stroke of half time. It was an excellent Everton goal, Mirallas at the heart of it, his dynamic movement allowing him the chance to get a shot off following some nice one touch play from Barry and Barkley on the edge of the West Brom box…

Mirallas goal 1-1

With Mirallas firing in a low left footed equaliser to draw us level.

 

Into the second half, and West Brom almost opened the scoring- a fortuitous Baggie bounce meant the ball squirted to Darren Fletcher at the back post in space, but his low effort was saved well by Stekelenburg in net. Craig Gardner went relatively close with a set piece from distance, but it was pretty much all Everton in the second half from this point on. Funes Mori hung brilliantly in the air, nodding a Mirallas free-kick on goal, drawing a decent save from Ben Foster in net. The danger wasn’t over for West Brom, however, as Deulofeu’s corner was hooked back across goal from Mason Holgate, who was having an exceptional game raiding up the right flank and looking comfortable defending at right-back, and was then nodded in by the brilliant Gareth Barry. Scenes in the away end.

Barry goal 2-1

West Brom were forced to try to actually play a bit, and substitute debutant Yannick Bolasie thrived in the resulting space as we played on the break…

Bolasie pace Barkley chance

Backing himself here, knocking the ball into space past Jonny Evans, easing through the gears and delivering a peach of a cross that Ross Barkley really ought to have scored from…

Bolasie pace Barkley chance part2

There was time for Bolasie to run at West Brom again and set up a great chance for Lukaku (there was a tantalising glimpse into what could be a very promising partnership between the two), who you’d hope would take the chance when he’s back into the swing of things…

Lukaku chance

Phil Jagielka did superbly well to hold up a West Brom counter late on, outnumbered, he managed to delay their attack for long enough for help to get back, sliding in to make a block, it was heroic stuff from the Everton captain, and was every bit as valuable to the win as either Everton goal. That was it, the toffees held on for an important psychological win, and a palpable sense of optimism sweeping through the players, as well as the fans.

 

It’s still early days, and we did win away to West Brom last season, but an encouraging afternoon’s work joins a promising game against Spurs in the reasons to be cheerful column. Whisper it quietly, but somewhere between the assurance of Barry, the industry of Gueye, the rejuvenated Mirallas, the returning Lukaku, the emergence of Holgate, and a manager that isn’t too stubborn to change things when they aren’t working out… The toffees may well be on their way back.

 

For more nonsense, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Spurs Match Review

The only thing more reassuringly predictable than crawling along Queens Drive when heading to/from L4 amongst blue brethren on a game day? The calamitous queues that ensue at the turnstiles on opening day. Or at least outside the Bullens Road.  Football was back, but more importantly, the toffees were back, and Roberto Martinez was not. So, in our first competitive game under Ronald Koeman, how would we line up?

Average positions

Three centre halves for the toffees on the left of this graphic. Idrissa Gueye sat in front of the defence on his debut, and made a very promising start to life in royal blue: 7 tackles- the same amount as Spurs’ five man midfield (Wanyama, Dier, Alli, Lamela and Eriksen) managed between them. No Everton central midfielder managed to make more tackles in any league game last season than Gueye’s 7 in his first outing. He slotted in like he’d always been there. Special mentions to James McCarthy and Holgate in defence- McCarthy in the unfarmiliar position of right wing-back, and Holgate making his first competitive start was at the heart of the defence. By Koeman’s own admission, it was a formation born out necessity due to injuries, but Holgate was excellent, and McCarthy performed about as well as could’ve been expected. To date, Holgate has done nothing to make you think he mightn’t reach (surpass) the levels John Stones did at Everton- still only nineteen, as Stones was a parting gift from Moyes, Holgate may well prove the same from Martinez. We might have a very good player on our hands sooner than anybody expected. An injury to Lukaku against Espanyol meant Deulofeu had to continue up front, as he had for much of pre-season, and he had Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas trying to provide the support. Few players will have been as happy to see Roberto Martinez depart as Kevin Mirallas: if you put the squad last year in order of who played the most minutes, Mirallas would rank 17th– he barely saw the field under Martinez, but he took advantage of his first start under Koeman with a display of industry. When the rust is knocked off, it could be a big season for Mirallas.

It took just five minutes for us to net our first goal under Koeman, and it came as a result of a free-kick for a challenge on Kevin Mirallas, driving at the Spurs defence. We were one of only a handful of sides who didn’t score a direct free-kick in the league last season, five minutes in and Ross Barkley did just that. No sooner were you thinking ‘how has nobody managed to det a touch on that’ did the ball manage to find its way in at Hugo Lloris’ back post. A brilliant delivery from Barkley, and one that probably had Sam Allardyce wide-eyed,  coughing up a “bloody ‘ell” as he spluttered half a packet of salt and vinegar McCoys in his excitement, watching on from his floral settee at home, as a large portrait of “er majestee” keeps watch over the Allardyce living room.

Barkley 1-0

The only other point of moderate interest was Deulofeu’s role in the free-kick… He stood offside- but didn’t attempt to get back onside as the ball came in, as you might expect…

Deulofeu blocking

He lined himself up with a couple of Spurs players, and was trying to block them from running in on the anticipated flight of the ball. He actually brushed Jagielka’s marker, and Jagielka came closest to getting a touch on the ball. Clearly instructions from training, it will be interesting to see if this continues. It’s pointless Deulofeu trying to win a header, so his sole responsibility is to spoil the run of an opposition defender. Cunning Koeman, eh?

Minutes later, and Gerard Deulofeu’s trickery made a half chance to double our advantage, but more significantly than that, it was the first real glimpse of how we will look to play under Koeman…

Deulofeu chance part1

Here, Deulofeu (circled) is trying to play on the last man, and make a (sorry in advance) Shane Long type run, as he used to do for Koeman at Southampton. Deulofeu was trying to attack space on the same half of the pitch as the opposition had their fullbacks advanced. So, here, Kyle Walker at right back is caught up the pitch as Everton win the ball back. Deulofeu wants to make his run in behind down the right side of the Spurs defence, to attack space and spread their defenders further. When running these channels in this kind of situation, it will mean Deulofeu will have to be challenged in space by a centre half, who will rarely ever have to deal with pace and skill like Deulofeu’s when they’re isolated. Deulofeu manages to get Toby Alderweireld, as good as he is, shifting his weight the wrong way as he cut inside, the faintest threat of attacking the by-line was enough, and Deulofeu cut back inside, breezing past him, and managing to get a shot off…

Deulofeu chance

With Alderweireld now stretching to try and slide in and get the block. It was a tame effort, straight at Lloris- more on that later. The ball is going to be ran into the channels under Koeman, and it’s going to be up to Lukaku to make the most of it. Think his goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup- he’s going to be getting the ball in those areas against centre halves he should be faster than. It’s Koeman’s way of trying to create mismatches. It’s going to be up to Lukaku to make the most of it. If he’s as good as he says he is, he’ll thrive. We’re going to be playing in a way that will give him the ball in space, to attack defenders as he says he likes.

A quarter of an hour in, and Everton were the better side. Gueye was rarely drawn from an area that wasn’t just in front of the defence when Spurs had the ball, pressing at the right moments with the others meant they couldn’t pick their way through. Funes Mori was fortunate to see Harry Kane penalised for what appeared to be a legal shoulder barge that left the Argentine international on his back in front of the ‘Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End’, but Everton were comfortable. Jagielka had forced a decent save from Lloris, tipping his header over from another excellent Barkley free-kick. It was an absorbing game.

Mirallas forced a routine save from a shot on the angle which almost isn’t worth mentioning, save for the reason it came about:

Mirallas chance

Here, Deulofeu has the ball, and Mirallas has made a strong run from deep to get ahead of him- how often did we see that last year? Next to never? There was hardly ever someone further up the pitch than Lukaku, and almost literally never anyone making a run like this trying to offer a ball into a threatening area, drawing defensive attention. Encouraging stuff, even if it was an unspectacular shot at the end of it.

We made 26 tackles on Saturday- Spurs had less of the ball than they did in this fixture last season, but we made more tackles. Throughout last season we averaged 19 tackles per game, the bite and urgency that had been so lacking throughout last season was evident through the first half, and the crowd warmed to the effort on display. It was solid, robust stuff from us. Spurs were unable to get in behind as we had, they couldn’t play through the middle in the areas their most skilful players want to play, their main threat was coming down the right from Kyle Walker, and that was only because he was often able to attack thirty meters of space before he was challenged, given Baines had no wide support ahead of him, as we can see here…

Jagielka positioning

With Walker having whipped a ball in, only to find Jagielka well positioned to deal with the cross. Still, it was comfortable stuff for the toffees, this was a rare moment of threat from Spurs in the first half. They weren’t playing well, but they weren’t being allowed to build up a head of steam thanks to the high intensity defensive effort from the Everton players all over the pitch. No longer are we content to concede two thirds of the pitch before we try to put a challenge in, or even just impose our own will on where the opposition can move the ball…

Everton pressing

Here, Barkley, Mirallas, and Deulofeu are each pressing almost level with the edge of the Spurs area, forcing them backwards. Had Danny Rose tried to play the ball inside to Wanyama, look at the speed Gueye is moving at as he sniffed the potential unfolding- it didn’t happen on this occasion, but it will at some point. Everton will wrestle the ball back in threatening areas as a result of this play- it’s the polar opposite of the Everton we saw under Martinez.

Spurs couldn’t get the ball out of their half in the last couple of minutes before half time- in part thanks to a pair of excellent interceptions from Funes Mori as he read the play developing, but also because Everton’s pressing was forcing them back more often than they’d like. It almost paid off on the stroke of half time…

Deulofeu second chance part1

Here, Danny Rose stepped in to win the ball back for Spurs, but is immediately put under pressure. He turns to play the ball back, but gets it wrong, and Deulofeu manages to pounce on the loose ball for a great chance to make it 2-0…

Deulofeu second chance part2

Only to hit an unconvincing effort, saved at the feet of Vorm, on for Lloris, who’d managed to hurt his hamstring. We wouldn’t have as good a chance for the remainder of the game, and you want to see more conviction from a player with so much potential. At least Deulofeu was alive to the opportunity, and it’s pleasing that our pressing game forced Spurs into a mistake, but we can’t afford chances like this against good sides to go begging.

Spurs drew level just before the hour, and it was a reminder of the work to be done…

Lamela 1-1

It was from a familiar source- a cross out wide, and there wasn’t enough of an effort made to get close to keep it from coming in. Jagielka is too far from Kane who would’ve won a free header had the ball come his way. Similarly, Holgate is affording Lamela too much of a cushion, and he ends up nipping in front of the young defender to glance in the equaliser. It’s a really harsh lesson for Holgate who was excellent all afternoon, but perfect experience. Moments like these will improve him as a defender- still only a teenager- there’s no shame to be beaten to a good ball in, provided you learn from it.

Spurs metaphorically huffed and puffed for the remainder of the second half, Everton literally so. It’s clear the players aren’t yet as fit as Koeman wants, and they tired throughout the course of the second half. We lost our fluidity with the ball, especially as Deulofeu and Mirallas tired, before being eventually replaced. We can take encouragement from how solid and organised we were, and the mental toughness we showed against a very good side. It was a far cry from the weak stuff we saw last year. Debutant Maarten Stekelenburg had to make two very good saves, the first, a point blank reaction save after the ball came back into our box from a corner cleared…

Stekelenburg save

Diving to his left here to keep us level. Then just minutes later, a fortuitous break allowed Spurs to work the ball wide to Lamela in space who smashed a shot in, taking a deflection from Mason Holgate, diving to get a block. It would’ve been a cruel goal to concede, but Stekelenburg managed to readjust and tip the ball over the bar for a corner. Goodison rose in appreciation for a top save. Regardless of whether another goalkeeper does come in, it would appear Stekelenburg is an improvement on Joel, who in turn was a massive improvement on Howard towards the end. It’s moments like that which save points- a game of two halves ended without much further incident. A good start to a new era. Plenty to work on, but evidence of the work Koeman has already done was clear to see.

 

For more questionable logic, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

It’s Time To Get Excited

It’s time to get excited. Yes, we’ve had our hopes up before and we’ve been burnt. We wanted so badly to believe there had been a sea change when Roberto Martinez swept into Goodison and told us we could compete. His first season saw us dispense with a ‘sgian-dubh’ (dem knives what them there Scotsmen tuck in their socks when they wear kilts) as we went into the proverbial gun fights that David Moyes had grown weary of, and we took big, fuck off cannons. And it was boss. Especially when Martinez drafted in a tank who ran all over Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal in Spring 2014. But it wasn’t to be.

lukaku arsenal

There are different kinds of revolutions, but make no mistake, one is underway in L4. The Walton White Socks are in flux, and 32,000 of you boss, loyal bastards are going to have a front row seat. On one hand, there’s the kind of 1979 Islamic Revolution that made Farhad Moshiri flee Iran, leaving thousands dead. At the total opposite end of the scale, there’s the kind of “body sculpting revolution” that has Ronaldo on our TVs selling some witch doctor electrodes with all the conviction of Tony Grant in a one-on-one in the late nineties. Don’t mistake the poised, calm, reserved entrance Farhad Moshiri has made leave you confused. Iran’s loss was our gain, a royal blue revolution of our own has begun. He isn’t fleeing this kind of revolution, he’s the driving force, the catalyst. Yesterday’s announcement of Steve Walsh as Director of Football was the second tangible result of his ownership so far. So what about them and their decisions to come?

 

Ronald Koeman had it good at Southampton. They’ll be playing European football next season, whereas we finished in the bottom half- level on points with Swansea City. They had just managed their highest finish in the top flight since 1984/85: Koeman was loved there- he won over 48% of his league games throughout his time at the Saints- a full 10% better than the 38% win rate enjoyed by Mauricio Pochettino in his time at St. Mary’s (and he’s just guided Spurs to their best placed finish since 1989/90). When asked about Everton’s supposed interest after Roberto Martinez had been relieved of his duties, Koeman was dismissive. He was happy. Then we showed our hand. Everton wanted him. He heard what we had to say, and he couldn’t resist.

 

Walsh is widely acknowledged as the visionary behind one of the most incredible stories ever told in football- anywhere in the world. His keen eye for a player and savvy buys were instrumental in their successes.

Kante Vardy Mahrez

According to the official Everton website, “he (Walsh) has been credited with scouting and recommending the signings of such players as Gianfranco Zola, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante”: all great successes, but just to focus on the Leicester three- Vardy signed for a million pounds from Fleetwood in the lower leagues; Mahrez from Le Havre, in the French lower leagues, for £350,000; and Kanté for £5.5 million from Caen in the top flight of French football- pffft…. Anyone could’ve spotted Kanté, right? Right??

 

A story too fanciful to imagine before we watched it unfold. From promotion to into the Premier League- the richest league in the world, to champions, just two years later. Walsh was a living legend at Leicester. He had Champions League football to look forward to next year. Just six weeks before we came calling, he’d signed a long term deal to stay with the champions- his future was there. Then we showed our hand. Everton wanted him. He heard what we had to say, and he couldn’t resist.

 

The question is: just what exactly is Farhad Moshiri saying to the likes of Walsh and Koeman in private? He’s clearly a man of few public words, it appears he’d rather his work speak for itself. But behind closed doors, Moshiri is painting a picture of our future, and it’s captivating established, fantastically successful football men, who’ve no doubt heard it all before. Only, they buy into Moshiri’s vision, they trust him, and it couldn’t be more exciting. It was a gamble for both men to leave jobs that they probably could’ve kept for as long as they’d like- as rare as can be in modern togger. No doubt they’re being paid more money than they were, but as Koeman himself said, he could retire tomorrow if he wants. He doesn’t need the money. He knows success is in the air at Goodison Park, and it’s only a matter of time.

 

And to be clear, it might take time. We have to be patient, too. Out of ourselves, Man City, Man United, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Leicester, and Libpewl, someone on that list is finishing at least eighth next year, and it may well be us. And that’s before any of the rest of the league make a run. As exciting as it is, we, the fans have got to show patience with the team. But it’s time to be excited. We deserve some excitement, especially any of you reading this who, like me, are too young to have known Everton as a top side. Just as Koeman and Walsh have bought into Moshiri’s vision, so too will players, and so should we as fans. As difficult as it is when you’re an Evertonian, you can begin to let your guard down a touch. It’s time to get excited.

 

As always, you can find me on Twitter for more questionable logic: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

Celebrating Differences

Different isn’t necessarily good, and good isn’t necessarily different. But in the case of Ronald Koeman, he’s different from the last guy. Or, for his own sake, as well as ours, he’d better be. There are thought to be a hundred million reasons why Farhad Moshiri better have it right when he believes the Dutchman to be good.

When a manager leaves, it’s common for directors to seek someone who can improve on a previous managers perceived weaknesses. When Moyes left, Martinez was thought of as an openly ambitious, enthusiastic, attacking manager- a breath of fresh air after Moyes’ steady, middling style of management. Now for Koeman, how different is he?

 

It’s just over three years since the bright-eyed Catalan was thrust into the national spotlight as he was unveiled as the new manager of nine time league champions Everton.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton FC Press Conference - Goodison Park

 

The sweat-shine that day was a physical manifestation of the nerves within. That’s not to sneer a natural reaction- it was completely understandable. “Roberto, almost his first words to me were: ‘I’ll get you in the champions league’” probably shouldn’t have been uttered that day- and that wasn’t his fault, but the perma-smile Martinez struggled to contain barely changed as those words were delivered to the gathered press. Martinez was, as you would, doing everything to keep his new boss happy. He didn’t show what a sense of discomfort that someone else had written his headlines for him, he didn’t try to play it down in any way. Martinez was doing everything he could to fit in, and who could blame him? Three years later, and Koeman? Almost every indication to this point would suggest he is Everton manager in all but the pdf version of his CV. Compensation between the clubs is boxed off, personal terms agreed, but no press conference, no announcement. The hold up? It looks as though the only reason Koeman hasn’t signed his contract and been officially announced is because he’d paid off his £250 deposit for his week at a Sandals resort in Barbados, and he was intent on going. Who can blame him? A man who has one foot in the door of the biggest promotion of his managerial career, is keeping the other propped against the bar rail in Barbados. Everyone else can wait for Ronald. He’s on his own time. It could be the disastrous sandals and socks combination on one foot for all I care- just as long as the foot keeping the door ajar isn’t dressed in a brown shoe. He’s different, alright. And he’d better be.

koeman holiday

Somewhere in Barbados, a sunburnt, ruddy faced Ronald Koeman is slugging his umpteenth Corona, floating along in the adult pool atop a blow-up alligator, humming along to the sounds of Bob Marley wafting over him. Maybe. He only marches to the beat of his own drum. Just as he did as a player. Cool and confident, he has an obvious belief in himself that only a lifetime of winning could give you. Or so I’d imagine, anyway.

 

“You can talk long about who deserved to win, who played the football, who played the offensive football, which team did the pressing” Said Koeman after Southampton undeservedly lost 2-1 to Manchester United in 2014, “but everything is shit because we lost”- is pretty different from the quotes that irked so many of us under Martinez when he spoke about performances being more important than results. Martinez’s quotes were always well intentioned: you could even make a case for saying you can sort of understand the point he’s trying to make there, but his quotes all too often boiled down to a load of arl bollocks dressed in spin, didn’t they? Not with Koeman, he’s different.

“When we are winning in a game, we keep a good organisation. I think the most important thing is that we develop ourselves in a very good way about our ball possession. That’s very important, that you don’t make stupid mistakes and you keep organisation. I think this is the biggest qualities of our team”- guess which of the two managers this wasn’t said by? Discipline is a big theme of Koeman’s style- both tactically, and away from the pitch, too. Saido Mané was reportedly dropped on a couple of occasions for being late to team meetings, and mobile phones are banned in the dressing room under Koeman. Jan Kluitenberg will join Koeman in the move north, his trusted fitness ‘guru’, who, like Koeman, is thought to be a strict disciplinarian- he will seek to address the injury record that has plagued L4 for so long. If one player being out injured for one week accounted for one point, we’d have accumulated the second most points in the league last season: 248. Southampton? 11th with 165.  We can only hope that our treatment room will be different.

None of this is to say Koeman will be our saviour- in fact, lots of stats about our performance and Southampton’s last season are actually startlingly similar, but the important thing is how those numbers were accumulated. While we scored the same number of goals (59), Southampton conceded just 41 to our 55, but Southampton only lost by 2 or more on 4 occasions in the league last season- we lost by two or more six times. Southampton’s heaviest league defeat came, would you believe it, against us: a 3-0 loss, we lost by 3 twice, and we won’t mention our 4-0 defeat. See, while plenty of numbers (some being quite boring: I’ll spare you) are similar, the fact Southampton won 7 games by a margin of 1, compared with just 3 for ourselves, is evidence of a pragmatic approach by Koeman- you’d struggle to imagine him bringing this fella on, when up by two, and down to ten men, for instance…

Niasse v West Ham

Which should see us collect more points. Because, the absolute opposite of what Martinez publicly declared is true: nothing but results matter. We all want to win with style, but above all- we want to win. Southampton won 18 games last season to our 11. We took the lead 23 times last season- Southampton the same, but we conceded 12 equalizers (only one side in the league conceding more), Southampton? 5. Fewer than any other side in the league. That’s the difference between finishing 11th, and finishing 6th. Or one of them, anyway.

Koeman has excited our fans, understandably so, after a couple of disappointing years. Only time will tell whether he’s the right man for us, and there are question marks against him- as there is with just about any manager. That being said, if Koeman can continue to win games as he has at Southampton over the last couple of years (or even improve on it)- winning 47.78% of his league games with the Saints, that’s a rate that- caretaker managers not included- can only be bettered by two Everton managers: Howard Kendall during his first spell at the club between 1981 and 1987, who won 54.13% of league games, and Dick Molyneux (50.26% between 1889 and 1901).

Nothing really matters except winning. Clearly, Koeman is different, let’s hope he’s as good as our major shareholder believes.

 

For more questionable logic, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings