(Team News: Gibson and Mirallas face late fitness tests, Pienaar is out.)
For those unfortunate enough not to be able to make the game, and those so cursed by kismet or its equivalent to rely on BT Sport coverage, you’ll hear the tactless sh*te that emanates from the gaping holes in Messrs James, Owen and McManaman’s faces. As usual, the game will be passed off as the “giants” of Man City against plucky little Everton.
Yeah, right. It’s not even the Citeh sugar daddies against the thrifty Merseysiders. It’s a clash of two boss teams. Except we’re more boss. Everton aren’t we.
We’re unbeaten in the league, while even the B team (of sorts) that collapsed against Fulham in the League Cup looked a bit of quality. Our second string includes two Spain youth internationals and a whole host of players who would’ve sauntered into the 2004/05 squad which made the Champions League. Even Naismith would give Marcus Bent a run for his money. And, as Kevin Mirallas mentioned, the top 4 is the target. Not to be confused with the Kopite expectation of greatness. It’s something to work towards.
Think of the teams we’ve worked our way past thus far. Norwich, West Brom, Cardiff, Chelsea, West Ham and Newcastle. Alright, perhaps a bit meh. But that’s what makes this weekend a real test of character, and a good result would at least give us an idea of our credentials for a spot in that golden elite of the top flight. It was all so much easier nine years ago.
While we were flirting with Europe’s elite (for 180 minutes anyway) Manchester City had negotiated their way to a Premier League high, 8th place. That was back when Stuart Pearce was manager and Citizens captain Sylvain Distin was far from the ice-cool defender/debonair milkman he is now. Fast forward in some chick flick-style shopping montage and Manuel Pellegrini has the range of choice we all wish we had down the local.
For instance, Stevan Jovetic can be bought for the GDP of his home nation and be used as an impact sub. Kinell. We’re guaranteed to have at least one loanee/free transfer in the starting line-up. But it’s more about value for money. Jovetic will never be truly worth his fee, whereas Seamus Coleman made us a profit simply by eating less than Joseph Yobo. We missed out on Negredo when Bill Kenwright and David Moyes realised you had to bid for a player rather than standing in the corner and loudly stating how ace he was to pique his interest, but Lukaku is in now. Sorted.
The mop-headed Belgian, filling our quota of Benelux boys with baffling barnets, is causing the sort of excitement you just don’t expect from a loan signing, and possibly fills us with more hope than that Boss Jelavic who came in from Rangers. He was quality. Pity he didn’t hang around, eh. Lukaku’s main flaws, supposedly, were that he couldn’t work the space and provide an option for the Chelsea midfielders who would set up camp and have a cuppa outside their opposition’s penalty area. Well, he worked it out on Monday against a Newcastle side that must’ve got stuck on the motorway and missed the first half. The Newcastle defence was sh*te because he made them look it. No wonder Jags swerves him in training. He’d be like a solid Yakubu in the tackle.
Not only was he Newcastle’s worst nightmare, Lukaku was a dream for us. Jela and Kone are good at what they do, but when a ball comes through the air they both resemble a kid leaping for a getaway balloon. Lukaku was happy to take the ball on the deck or in the air and distribute. Ross Barkley picked up (hopefully) the first of many Goodison goals thanks to a clever Lukaku ball, and Kev Mirallas looked class without the burden of bitching in Jelavic’s ear when the Croat tumbles while trying a flick-on. James McCarthy showed us what we had got for the second largest fee paid in our history with a lung-busting effort, while it looked like David Moyes should’ve tried to take the entire defence to Fergie’s Kingdom. Seamus Coleman still has the knack of making me chuckle uncontrollably when seeing him, simply due to the fact he cost less than a Kevin Mirallas trip to the car wash.
What it made us was the slick, hard-working unit that only ever performed that way under Roberto Martinez’s predecessor when the big guns rumbled into town. Imagine the thrashing we could dish out to our formerly esteemed neighbours with that sort of performance. It makes the mouth water.
Tim Howard, looking more and more like the egg you should’ve taken out of the fridge weeks ago, has started the season without inexplicably falling backwards when under pressure in the penalty area, and will start. Baines, Jagielka, Distin and Coleman make up, in my mind, the best defence we’ve fielded since we were last challenging for the title. Not that I don’t pine for the days of Stubbs and the Rhino.
There’s an issue in midfield, as midfield general and all-round surprise cult hero Gareth Barry is ineligible. Those calling him a lumbering relic are back under their rocks and Evertonians in general should be a bit miffed that Barry will be sidelined for this one. However, we’ve gone from desperately looking for someone other than Johnny Heitinga to come into the midfield to actually having a choice. Martinez (still working on a pet name, because ‘Robbo’ sounds dire) may play McCarthy, Osman or possibly the fully 50% fit Darron Gibson. Pienaar isn’t back, and Deulofeu – now the man the whiners love to point out when the team sheet is released – cannot last 90 minutes in a high-tempo game such as this. If Mirallas is fit, and it’s 50/50 right now, he could play opposite to Steven Naismith if width is needed. If three central midfielders are chosen, Kev could form the sort of attack with Ross Barkley and Lukaku that excites me more than any Miley Cyrus video.
City have the line-up any team would dream of, if we were playing FIFA 14 or the like. Hart has gone from England’s golden boy to the David James of the present day. He either has the wrong goalkeeping coach or the wrong hair conditioner at the moment. Perhaps he’s been taking tips from City’s seasoned veteran between the sticks, Richard Wright. It would certainly explain a lot. Vincent Kompany needs to be on the weights, as he could be carrying his entire defence this weekend. Kolarov versus Mirallas, really. A bit like putting a tenner on David Haye to survive his sparring session to go down in a fight with Samir Nasri. If the Frenchman hasn’t pissed off his manager/the press/his nation/his lesbian life partner this week, he’ll complete a City left side which should get used to the sight of Coleman and Mirallas’ back pockets. Yaya Toure is all sorts of magic, but looked like a Megabus turning to intercept the twin Mercedes of Schweinsteiger and Kroos in midweek. Aguero could well feature alongside Dzeko, Negredo or even the returning David Silva, but this side just doesn’t worry me. At all.
Typically, the TV pundits will tell us that we’re underdogs, spectators of Man City’s glorious bounce-back after successive defeats. Are we surprised that there are so many Kopites sitting in armchairs, watching games on a TV and spouting off about it every week? Every time they attempt to tell the public that previous form has no impact, and they’re proved wrong every time. Here are a few selected statistics to back up the suggestion that we’re on at least an even keel this weekend.
So, in the week that the immortal words Nil Satis Nisi Optimum returned to our club crest, nothing but the best will be good enough for what is our first major test of the season. Everton’s on the up and the up. City, despite their form, have to struggle with the pressures of being favourites to win.
Perfect. Come on Everton, these are sh*t, these.