You know what it’s like. The Merseyside derby. Another edition comes along, chock-full of fear, anticipation and that little sliver of hope that things can change. Then you watch ninety minutes of that sliver being trampled on remorselessly. Ninety minutes gone, you’ve seen the goal that condemns you to more misery.
But then Phil Jagielka stonks one into the top corner and everything changes.
I’m still trying to wrap my head round it. Phil Jagielka. Our captain. A man whose idea of a great hit usually would involve a Kopite in the outer reaches of Anfield taking a sweetly struck clearance to the head. Or the sort of hits Mo Besic laid out in the greatest opening seconds of a derby debut, ever. But there he was, striking what is to my mind the greatest derby goal of the 21st Century, and one which rivals King and Sharp in the annals of the all-time great hits.
Phil Jagielka though. Magic exists.
If our lovely neighbours try that “your Cup final” nonsense after the absolute limbs of an unprecedented 92nd minute wonder goal by our centre back and captain in the derby as defeat looked nailed on, they don’t understand football at all and need to be avoided like a vulnerable young girl might want to avoid BBC studios. Most will hold their hands up and accept the beauty of the goal, if not the result. Let’s compare. Steven Gerrard took it manfully and told the press that he was gutted his team couldn’t secure all three points. Brendan Rodgers flipped, accused Everton of not trying to win the game and altogether came off as the very bitter tit we have been lampooned for being in the past. Different people, different reactions. Rodgers may be a top manager at this point but he’s certainly a questionable human being.
Let’s step back at this point and actually look at the result; 1-1 at Anfield. Alright. It’s a point, more than we accrued there last year, and more than any team that’s not Aston Villa or Chelsea seem to get most years. It is a fair reward for a performance in which sometimes we rode our luck but also one in which we had a plan and for the most part made it work. Tony Hibbert’s right back slot wasn’t the Anfield House of Horror we thought it would be, and to be honest Lazar Markovic seemed to actually struggle when on that side. But then again he was utterly shite. Raheem Sterling ran the show, creating the most chances of any players in the whole weekend, yet he does that every week. Hibbert actually functioned as a footballer, which not many saw coming. Did anyone else notice he was actually in the Liverpool penalty area in open play as well? I’m sure I wasn’t hallucinating. That happened. When he was slow to get back James McCarthy was there to cover. He was truly excellent at that covering job on Saturday, and he’ll be needed on Sunday.
I’m going to go ahead and give Mo Besic the honour of having the greatest opening five seconds of a derby debut of all time, sliding Sterling twice and stamping a physical authority on the midfield in an instant. His touch was excellent and clearly Besic is oozing confidence, what with the flicks and cute touches employed on a regular basis, but his decision-making was a bit slow. Bear in mind that last year he was playing in Hungary, which isn’t as frenetic as England’s top flight. Call me mad but I actually thought Romelu Lukaku was effective in his role drifting out right and taking the game to defenders. His confidence and fitness are apparently still both far from at their peak, which is madly exciting. He’s 21 years old. Lukaku isn’t meant to reach his peak for at least another five years. Then consider what he has achieved already, and there’s reason to keep encouraging him, not shout that he’s a lazy bastard who needs dropping (yes, I heard you on the Top Balcony. You know who you are.) Ty Browning is the first of hopefully a whole load of Academy players this year to get a chance in the Premier League, and he had a huge hand in the goal. Good start Tyias. It has also gone under the radar a bit so far this season but Leighton Baines has been magic. World Cup hangover? Don’t think so.
Let’s not pretend we’ve fixed the lot here. The defence still has leaks despite Stones and Jagielka looking like exactly what we want in the middle of it, and Tim Howard is prone to a flap as much as he is to making some of the boss saves made in the derby. At times we were wasteful on the ball. The first touches of Lukaku and McGeady are actually more lethal than Leon Osman’s attempted shots, which needs to be worked out. Considering how naff Simon Mignolet is, it was a pity he wasn’t tested more, even if it was just an Osman trundler. Squad depth is also something to think about. We love you, Seamus. Come back, and never get injured again. Speaking of injuries, Kev Mirallas doing his hamstring in doesn’t help much with what now looks like a giant void on the left. Maybe it isn’t giant. Maybe it’s, say, Oviedo sized. Hmm. But most of all, it’s time we saw Ross Barkley’s name on a team sheet again.
Anyway, enough of domestic affairs. We get to leave that all behind for now, for we’re off to the magical exotic land of…
…Russia. Ah, right.
Incredible place, Russia. A country as massive as it is, spanning two continents as it does, always manages to be categorised as just one huge pile of scary left-wing basket cases. But the differences between St Petersburg and Moscow in the west and Vladivostok on the eastern fringes are huge. It’s not all Georgian butchers, dreary backwards people in dreary backwards places, and maniacs with more power than sense crushing whoever they fancy. One place that fits the bill quite well is the south-western portion, the bit between Crimea and South Ossetia. That place is basically trouble.
Oh, look! That’s where we’re going. Everton aren’t we. Or, should I say, Эвертон. Shouldn’t really should I.
We may have been to dodgy places before like Kharkiv, Borisov and East London before, but they were all harmless unless someone taught them English and they realised what we’ve said about them. Krasnodar is a relatively safe distance from the conflict that is doing a great job of shifting world focus from the mindless shelling of Syria and Gaza and the possibility of unspeakable crimes that remain in Iraq and Sudan (Not to get too political here. Still an Everton page, this) but it’s probably the worst away we could’ve been handed. Major kudos to the hundreds who are making their way out there. We’re never under-supported, us.
They’re going to get to see a side even Russian fans are new to, because FC Krasnodar are still in their infancy. It’s like that dream you have (and we all have it); make untold riches, buy your local club and revolutionise them. Sergei Galitsky did just that, and in a fashion not typical of Russian billionaires he did it legally and not cornering the world’s oil market. In a city that’s not really that arsed about football Krasnodar injected a bit of excitement* and have climbed up the league. Being promoted to the top tier after finishing 5th in a league with no play-offs is a bit dodgy but that’s Russian football for you. They made their way to 5th in the Russian Premier League and lost to FC Rostov on penalties in the domestic cup final, but the Russians have done well in Europe. Some bang average teams were swept aside and then, surprisingly, were Real Sociedad. It looked like they might take three points from Lille but a point (albeit a good one) was all they came away with.
*Bags of money
I don’t know loads about this squad – the only ones that are widely known (perhaps) are Anders Granqvist, who was at Wigan, and Marat Izmailov, who was played in the Champions League before. Apart from that their trio of Brazilians, Joaozinho, Ari and Wanderson is highly rated, and they’re known for having quite a solid defence. Ask the experts. I’m here to talk Everton. Everton page aren’t we?**
**I’m now obliged to remind you of this in case at some point you get the impression this isn’t an Everton page.
Anyway, here’s the full squad: Joel, Howard, Garbutt, Stones, Browning, Alcaraz, Jagielka, Baines, Hibbert, Oviedo, Besic, Gibson, Barry, Osman, Ledson, McGeady, Atsu, Naismith, Eto’o, Lukaku.
So who would you pick?
This is my personal choice: in goal, Howard, because regular football will help him shake off the inconsistency that keeps plaguing him. In defence – Browning, Stones, Jagielka, Baines. You do need to have plenty of experience, which is quite harsh on Luke Garbutt, but Baines, Stones and Jagielka should all be able to complete games. Alcaraz is good on the ball but painfully slow so it’s a risk. Perhaps it could be Hibbert and Garbutt instead. Gibson and Besic in the centre; Barry doesn’t need to play this one. He’s still picking pieces of Adam Lallana off his right leg, so let Gibson have a long-awaited start. Oviedo should be nailed on for the left hand berth, Atsu on the right, perhaps McGeady in the side as he knows the Russian game but given his inability to compete for ninety minutes Osman seems a better bet. Eto’o up front. He certainly knows how to do it in Russia.
To make that clear – Howard; Browning Jagielka Stones Baines; Besic Gibson; Oviedo Osman Atsu; Eto’o.
Yes, Osman. Shush.
But here’s an alternative XI – Robles; Hibbert Alcaraz Stones Garbutt; Barry Ledson; McGeady Naismith Oviedo; Lukaku.
Yes, always Oviedo. Always.
So there are options. Of course the particularly old or young players need to be protected by the strongest ones, but there’s enough depth if you trust every player. I think we’ve learned recently that these players are capable of all sorts.