These are the weeks we wait for all year. Everton Saturday, Everton Wednesday, Everton Sunday. Of course, we’d like to see Everton play on many more midweek nights, but that’s something we’ll have to strive for. For now, it’s two games in quick succession following a magnificent win – and two real belters as well. Bliss.
We’re about to kick off a rather tasty double-header of trips to grounds we last won at in a time when Ryan Giggs could count on a full head of hair and a friendly phone call off his brother, and Tom Daley wasn’t even born, let alone causing half the world to spiral into endless, pointless hype because he’s going out with a bloke. Simpler times.
(Around the same time that Norwich last beat the sh*te at Anfield too. Gorn lads)
Arsenal, who will be top of the league no matter what, host us on Sunday. But before that, there’s just the league champions and temporarily – so we’re told – fallen giants, Manchester United. Anything else? Ah, yes. Roberto Martinez heads up the M62 to face David Moyes and beat United on their own stamping ground, something Moyes himself could never do. Throw Phil Neville and Steve Round in as his sneering cohorts and Marouane Fellaini as the inept bodyguard and you’ve got a real story on your hands.
Unsurprisingly, a whole lot of talk surrounds us and Moyes, which makes sense when you think he was in the away dugout at Old Trafford in the blue of Everton just ten months ago. And we were sh*te too. Cue the whole “knife to a gun fight” talk. The way I see it is that, firstly, we should be grateful to David Moyes for turning us from the sort of side thinking Mike Walker’s a suitable boss or actually looking at the bottom half of the league as if we’re arsed. And, to an extent, I’ll forgive him for that ‘derisory’ bid for Leighton Baines when he paid hilariously over-the-odds for Fellaini. I hear we chucked in the wigs for free though, so there’s a bargain for him.
Yet the outlook ahead of this very game shows that the grass was actually greener when the ‘Moyes Out’ brigade came marching in. They were often just off on one because we’d been rolled over by QPR, but the fact remains that we went a bit stale after reaching the Cup final in 2009. The tactics didn’t change and, although we were strong throughout last season for once, the fact we had the joint-highest number of draws sticks in the mind. They were some abysmal ones too. 1-1 at home to Norwich with Bassong’s injury time equaliser and a pitiful 0-0 against Swansea in January spring to mind. We just weren’t going anywhere. So he’s not the Moyesiah – he’s a very naughty boy.
And, in fact, there was little to no antipathy towards Moyes when he left. So what changed? Roberto Martinez came in and showed us what we had been missing out on. The transition has been tough, and it’s still ongoing – six draws so far, four of them 0-0 – but the style of play and attitude is actually progressive. In that smooth Med way of his, Martinez has demanded that we go to places like Old Trafford and ‘be ourselves’. Not ‘get out alive’. Even though it’s just talk, it’s a big difference.
And Saturday showed that we can walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. Although Stoke were complete sh*te, we rolled them over in a manner not experienced at Goodison for many a year. And what’s more, it felt like it could be a regular thing, rather than the half-decade phenomenon a boss Everton thrashing normally is. Although I could sit back now and wax lyrical about that game for hours, I’ll just conclude that Saturday was a clear sign of our evolution under Roberto Martinez from a strong team to a strong team that proves it with enjoyable football. Halcyon days, these.
What it does mean is the cliché of the day for us is ‘selection headache’. Tim Howard’s taking time off from his ZZ Top tribute band rehearsal night for this, so he better be on it against the club who decided he was good, but no Roy Carroll. Coleman, Jagielka and Distin will be playing in this side until they drop, or Bill Kenwright allows Martinez to splash out on suitable replacements – whichever comes first. I’m presuming that Baines won’t get a painkilling injection to fight his way through these 90 minutes, so the choice is between Oviedo – who was top class against Stoke but could be vulnerable against an opponent guaranteed to be better than Charlie Adam (one of life’s certainties) – or Gareth Barry, who did a shift there in the second half of the derby. Something tells me it’ll be the former. Oviedo Baby.
One reason for that is that moving Barry would split up one of this season’s most effective central midfield pair. Both have been solid, reliable tacklers, who can also spray the ball around. Whisper it – it could be even better than Gravesen and Carsley. Without those two acting as the anchor which keeps the side stable, Oviedo and Coleman wouldn’t have found themselves anywhere near the Stoke penalty area on Saturday. Pienaar and Deulofeu would’ve had to have been looking over their shoulder all the time instead of bombing forward.
Which brings me on to wingers. It’s grand having the old Pienaar back. The flicks are working wonders, the crossing and passing is precise again, and the work rate is faultless. The secret’s in growing back those dreadlocks, Peanuts. Needless to say, it’d be nice to see that “God is Great” shirt again. In the middle will certainly be Ross Barkley, although it’s worth crediting Leon Osman for a performance against Stoke which reminded us why he ever got a cap for England. Keep it up Ossie. So, on the right, will it be Kev Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu? Logic would point to the fitter, stronger Mirallas, but Deulofeu was sublime against Stoke. He needs to work on picking out team mates – translated from “PASS THE F*CKING BALL” – and stamina, as he fizzled out a bit towards the end. That points to a Mirallas start and Deulo to cause havoc in the closing stages – and that means before the 85th minute. Are you watching Mr Moyes? The Beast has played four or five average games in a row, but still has goals to show from them. He’s only on the pitch to score, so keep at it.
The perennially timid-looking de Gea keeps goal for United, backed up by a half-decent defence of Rafael, Evans, Vidic and Evra. The right flank certainly looks weaker, although the same could be said about our left. Lukaku will have a good night if Evans picks him up, or if Vidic decides to man-mark him, Barkley can spring from the midfield into space and have an impact. Apparently Fellaini and Cleverley will sit in midfield with Jones suspended. Laughable, but worth being wary of. Valencia will probably start on the right, and Moyes should pick Kagawa. He should. But knowing Moyes, he’ll go for a more conservative player. Get your kit on, Fizzer. Robin van Persie’s only bench-fit, I’ve heard, so it could be Rooney and Welbeck again, or Rooney and Hernandez. As usual, United’s threat is in their depth. But we’ve got that too.
I’ve never felt so confident going to Old Trafford – as you can tell by the way I’ve rambled on here – and there’s good reason for us all to be. Everton’s on the up, United are stagnant, and there’s more than one good reason to win tonight.
Time for Everton to throw away the knife and show that bunch of weapons how it’s really done. ‘Mon you Blues.