Is anyone else starting to forget what Goodison Park looks like?
Alright, that’s an exaggeration, but in reality the School of Science Roadshow winds up in a new town with home feeling even further away than ever, even if in fact it’s just a short trip down the M62. Since the last time we graced (by “graced” I mean frustrated) Goodison, we’ve jetted off to Swansea, taken the short trip across the park and then hopped in a time machine to end up in the 1980s/Russia. So we’ve had to deal with a weird backwards people, some dangerous melts with an abysmal grasp of English, and FC Krasnodar. When does it end?
Not this weekend. In the great wisdom of our league we’ve been put at literally the earliest time slot they could possibly have lumped us with. A midday (that’s GMT – thanks for reading, worldwide Blues) start means that from the final whistle in Southern Russia to kick-off at Old Trafford the staff and players have a total of 65 hours to get out of Krasnodar and to the airport, drag Duncan Ferguson out of the Duty Free, make the long trip back to JLA and Finch Farm, tell McCarthy and Coleman to stop playing FIFA and boot up, do some last minute preparations and make our way to the home of…that team that finished 7th.
At least there’s a break after this one – for some of the squad. For others it’s the international break again, and for most of them it’s just a case of turning up against San Marino, Gibraltar or Andorra, but it’s still a distraction. So between United away and Aston Villa back at good ol’ Goodison Park there’s a total of 13 days off. After that it’s straight back into Lille and Burnley away, so yet more disturbing foreign places to visit – although, in Lille’s defence, it is a hotbed of culture. Burnley’s a hotbed of knife crime, last I heard.
Back to the near future, and Manchester United. This always stirs up a number of emotions, and most are nausea-related. First, we have the Kopites in our ears. “Go on, fucking murder United for us yeah. Hate the Mancs, don’t we. Do it for Merseyside lads”. Next thing they’re celebrating our goals because we’re sticking it to the sweaty meffs from up the road. Get to fuck. For a group of fans who aren’t arsed about anyone but the mighty Liverpool, they aren’t half arsed about anyone but the mighty Liverpool. Next you have the United fans themselves. There are some good ones, I presume. Honest, hard working sons of Manchester. I can honestly say that having lived in a number of places, including a couple of godforsaken hellholes, I’ve met a whole heap of United fans. Spoiler – I’ve never lived in Manchester.
Awful people. There’s just so many of them. Ask them why they support Manchester United and they’d properly struggle to find an answer. Often it’s motivated by a single player, which I still can’t wrap my head around. Erm, I mean, hi there new US fans. Go T-How, Secretary of Defense, etc. Or it’s just because it’s shite supporting Plymouth Argyle or some local side that could do with the fans, and it’s just more rewarding to drift towards that soulless heap that floats itself on the Stock Exchange. That should tell you everything about the club. So it boils down to Liverpool fans from Wiltshire and United fans from Essex throwing numbers like 5 and 20 at each other while we log off Twitter and do something daft like go the game.
Wake up, kids. Your clubs’ golden years are behind you. The new wave of Liverpool fans naturally can’t even remember that far back. For the United lot, though, it was the past, the present and the future. Since football was born in 1992, Manchester United have held dominion over the sport. What? Football wasn’t born in 1992? Oh, in that case, United’s dominance was as Preston’s was at football’s real inception, and every case in which a team has believed they will look down on the rest of football for the rest of time. Doomed to fail. Every empire rises and falls, so at the present time it feels like it’s United’s turn. Of course, that’s met with total glee. Too right. Lording it over eminently more likeable rivals City with the “we don’t buy titles” talk, but when the panic set in they were suddenly £150m down and not winning anything with it. The likes of de Gea, Smalling, Hernandez and Kagawa being trounced by MK Dons is the marker of their downfall. And it was glorious.
Louis van Gaal has come swanning in, bragging of his title wins and sweeping the major discord, poor player relations and ignominious sackings under the rug. Out of interest, has anyone noticed a change of style from last season, in which David Moyes was basically crucified for being Scottish? Of course he was. United conceded fewer goals, so his style was “dull and unimaginative”. The TV people didn’t like that. Leading 3-1 away to Leicester only to lose 5-3 is much better popcorn, so it’s alright. King Louis and all that.
Naturally, their forward line is one that is making this games console generation of fans drool. Rooney, RVP, Falcao, di Maria, Mata, Januzaj, Herrera. Think of the tekkers. More nausea. While this Boudicca of a team sharpened the scythes on their wheels she forgot to actually have some sort of protection from attack. So at this point Manchester United are like a breakfast buffet at a swish hotel where they’ve put out pigs in blankets. There’s excitement, and a rush to snatch everything possible. But eventually it’ll be gone. A semblance of good news for Everton is that we’ve been placed on a table in prime viewing of the bounty. We’re in here.
Let’s dispense with the analogies. This Manchester United side is one of the most confusing ones I’ve ever seen. Their injury list doesn’t look good, despite the fact they’ve played just seven times – Evans, Smalling, Jones and Herrera are all out. Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney is a tit and will be suspended. In a bit Wayne. Yet let’s look at the attacking line-up they’ll have.
Robin van Persie up top. Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria flanking him. Juan Mata sitting in behind. Phwoar. That’s magical. These players can create all sorts from nothing. Falcao and van Persie love putting the ball away. It’ll be a huge challenge dealing with them. Then behind them is Blind, who is doing a good job sweeping up behind them. And then…oh. Darren Fletcher. A cultured midfielder on his day. A lumbering liability on occasion. Throw in a few left backs, shall we. Luke Shaw carries around a few holiday kilos at left back, while Marcos Rojo has to play in the middle. Not only that, but he has to babysit Paddy McNair too. Rafael has always been a menace to his own side at right back and will continue to be said menace. David de Gea looks permanently worried in goal, and not just because he has the nagging suspicion he’s about to drop a clanger. What options are there on the bench? Not many. To my mind the bench would be Lindegaard, Blackett, Pereira, Fellaini, Thorpe, Valencia, Januzaj. I’ll say it again. We’re in here.
Pity we’re in naff form then isn’t it?
Two wins, four draws, three defeats. That’s our record from nine games so far this season – our worst Premier League start since 2010-11 (when we were on three points from six) and an early exit from the League Cup. We’ve only failed to score once but only kept one clean sheet. The Europa League, rather than being a distraction, is in fact our beacon of hope. Four points from two games, including a draw in Russia, is good form. Win your home games, draw the aways, and you’re on the road to success. It wasn’t a great game, and we were unable to deal with the pace of players like Ari and the skill of Wanderson in the second half, which is fine because this weekend we’ve only got to deal with….oh. Oh yeah. Bollocks.
The fans who made it to the Kuban Stadium (who the club have all rewarded with free Lille tickets, which is a great gesture) at least got to see some John Stones magic. He’s becoming one of the very best centre backs around, and no-one can stop him. Apart from that…Phil Jagielka made another error leading to a goal, but lashed one into the Kop End goal from 25 yards, so swings and roundabouts. I don’t remember Darron Gibson completing a pass of over 5 yards, while Christian Atsu was totally useless. He’ll have to fight hard to make an impression here, which is tough for someone who could fit into Marouane Fellaini’s afro. Samuel Eto’o still looks the part as a top goal poacher and provides us with an excellent alternative to Lukaku, who still isn’t fit enough to compete for ninety minutes. Aiden McGeady is a horribly frustrating footballer. There’s magic there, but it only comes in tiny bursts amidst huge swathes of annoyance. The whole squad is going to be pressed hard in the coming months. James, Seamus, boot up for God’s sake. Turn the Playstation off.
The side we want to start on Sunday would surely be: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Pienaar, Naismith, McGeady, Lukaku.
To start with, three of them are still big injury doubts. Pienaar may be back, but might not, so that one’s up in the air. Seamus Coleman recovered from concussion only to suffer another injury, which screams Hibbert to me. You never know. Tyias Browning could be thrown into the pit just as McNair and Blackett have. That’s gone reeeeal well so far. James McCarthy has fatigue in his quad, which is why he shouldn’t have stopped running. It doesn’t matter how much he needed a piss or whatever. Don’t stop running. Hopefully those who played in Russia can do the business again in Manchester.
The reason I keep saying “we’re in here” is because the Manchester United Great Goal Sale is open and running until at least January. Everyone loves beating this lot and piping down the glory hunting masses, and now it seems possible to do it anywhere, any time. Old Trafford? Who’s arsed? Swansea, the MK Dons and Leicester have wedged the door well and truly open. Obviously it’s classic Everton to pass up the opportunity to kick a team while they’re down, but this is the time where we need to think of how great and potentially vital a win would be.
Is anyone else picturing Bryan Oviedo screaming over to the corner flag, Seamus Coleman’s mix of ecstasy and confusion as he works out who to celebrate with, Romelu Lukaku pounding the ground with raw passion? Good. We can have that again. Get at them Blues.