Lille got backed into a blind alley, were surrounded, subdued, and roundly Everton’d.
Stage One of Project Europe is as good as done now, and it’s all thanks to a couple of Goodison masterclasses. Wolfsburg was 50 minutes of free-flowing Everton action; Lille was 80 minutes of it. The last 10 we didn’t even need to bother because in their heads the Lille players apart from the brilliant Enyeama were back at home with some chocolat-chaud, watching the latest batch of police brutality on the news. The performance was so good as a team that it covered the individual cracks; McGeady and Osman were mostly crap, but both combined for the opening goal. Great stuff from Osman though – just as the fuming about his contract extension gets going, he bags a goal. That’s 55 Everton goals in nearly 400 appearances, at a rate of about one goal every eight games, or one per every 124 shit passes. Tony Hibbert gets outrun by the plastic bags that sometimes waft onto the Goodison pitch, but with the right support he made FUTURE OF LIVERPOOL, BELGIUM AND ALL FOOTBALL AS A WHOLE, THE STAR OF THE FUTURE, THE-actually, relatively tame Divock Origi look, well, as good as he really is. Not worth the fuss.
Who was boss? Phil Jagielka was. Confident at the back and lethal in the opposition’s penalty area. That’s three goals for his club this season…I’d point out that that’s one more than Mario Balotelli, but I’m not that petty. Who else? Leighton Baines has his fourteen thousand and eleventy-fifth assist of the season, and he’s generally quite boss. James McCarthy.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhfuckinell James McCarthy.
The man’s a marvel. Gareth Barry is a master of his craft, sweeping up trouble, dishing the ball out and doing those “Oops…was I a bit late there ref?” snidey tackles. McCarthy is omnipresent. Contrast that with a predecessor in that position, Phil Neville, who was an omnishambles. Not only that, but he’s a presence on the ball too. It’s a revered role now, the defensive midfielder. The “Makelele” or whatever. To my mind James McCarthy fills the role as well as anyone else in this league. Of course I’m hugely biased. If you’re reading this, you most likely are too. Can we convince the media? Can we hell. They’ll try and sell him to Man Utd for Fellaini and a packet of crisps. He’s worth at least a Monster Munch.
To segue nicely into the next player, Stevie Naismith was responsible for some crisp passing on Thursday. Yes, I am sorry. No, you can’t just stop reading now. Again Naismith read the game beautifully. Watching him exploit the gap between midfield and defence to pick up the ball, spin and move it on was as good as when he saw Lukaku come in deep and powered into the gap he left behind. It’s brilliant. Obviously he’s not the fastest but when he reads the game like that he gives himself a second or two on the defender, which is how he grabbed his goal – which he took with aplomb. Lukaku himself was much better now the phantom toe injury has freed his entire body and mind. Is it a magic toe? I don’t know. But his first touch was better. It could hardly be worse, but that’s not the point.
It’s not sunshine and rainbows all the way through, because a lot of it is Lille’s fault. In France, they did what every team that has worked us out does – pressed high, put the defenders under pressure, cut off the supply line for an increasingly frustrated and therefore useless Lukaku. It’s sensible. On Thursday they sat back and allowed players like Lukaku and the back four to bring the ball down, catch up with the latest newspaper headlines, have a pint and then move it on. We may be afforded that luxury at Goodison, but not on our travels. And that brings us to our next port of call.
For anyone who has missed this long-running blog-drama, there’s a special…a very, very special group of Sunderland fans on a forum somewhere who meticulously track and read every blog, article or preview like this humble offering that mentions their club. If something derogatory is said, it’s meltdown. Attack everything. Their arguments, their club, their prose. So a note to them – alright lads. Like your club. But you sweaty melts need a new hobby. In a bit.
Onto the club themselves, and Sunderland have decided to retain the mantle of early season crisis club despite actually not being in a crisis. The Black Cats were unbeaten for a few games…and then they threw it all away in the most ridiculous, hilarious, tragic style possible. The whole Shakespearean range. 8-0 though. We’ve had many awful, awful teams who have played awful, awful games but never an 8-0 in the Premier League. We’ll keep it at 7, thanks very much. We all pine for a repeat of that 7-1…and no, I don’t mean get the DVD out. Shambolic behaviour. When are we gonna trounce someone good and proper Everton?
That, and a defeat to Arsenal, and it’s “crisis club Sunderland”. What about Burnley, the last club in the top six tiers to win a game? QPR, who keep less clean sheets than R Kelly? Crystal Palace, who actually hired Neil Warnock and gave him money? Not Sunderland. They gave Palace a fair beating to drive home that fact. Gus Poyet’s a good manager too, and should be fine if he stays off Match of the Day.
Basically, Sunderland’s defence is a bit of a laughing stock at the moment. After the comedy of errors – Shakespeare again – against Southampton, Wes Brown and Vito Mannone messed up against Arsenal. Mannone was dropped for the Palace trip, but Brown was still there to put the ball in his own net. So get them down for a clean sheet tomorrow.
The big talking point is Lee Cattermole. At the start of the season when he was running the show Sunderland were unbeaten. He goes missing for a couple of matches, and what do you know? Heavy defeats, through opposing players being able to saunter through the midfield. He’s suspended for this one, which may work in our favour.
But what’s this? Jack Rodwell! Betrayed by his own potential, the poor lad. No ill will to him or Sunderland, but it has been a depressing fall from grace. The emergence, the “big break”, the injury, the failure and the “new beginning” much further down the pecking order – all by the age of 23.
So the team, you’d think, would be Pantilimon in goal. Brown, Vergini, O’Shea and Reveillere at the back, with Reveillere apparently set to replace van Aanholt on the left. Bridcutt, Buckley, Larsson and ex-Martinez charge Gomez in the midfield. Fletcher up front with Wickham, who fluctuates between being brilliant, the future of England, etc etc, and being just pure shite. Or possibly Altidore, who to his credit remains consistent as pure shite. Adam Johnson’s due that post-England squad announcement great game that leads to grumbling about his not being included. Roy Hodgson hasn’t even caught up with the present yet, let alone predicting the future. The shite player who deigns to score against Everton because we’re Everton this week is a toss-up between Altidore and Danny Graham. You choose.
Back to Everton then. The team news looks good. Coleman is available, Kevin Mirallas is closing in, and Alcaraz’s injury isn’t as bad as previously feared – the same goes for Alcaraz himself, by the way. All that’s left is…John Stones. Awh.
So Tim Howard is in goal, and should expect to actually do something this week. Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Baines. Nice bit of nostalgia from this time last year, when the defence seemed so much simpler to assess. McCarthy and Barry as the arbiters of Sunderland’s doom. Naismith, Barkley, Eto’o and Lukaku as the four horsemen of a Sunderland apocalypse. If we’re lucky. If not Osman gets another go, or McGeady, or Pienaar. Grand. *through gritted teeth*.
I’ve seen lots of slightly negative shouts today. “Sunderland are gonna beat us aren’t they. Everton aren’t we” and the like. Sure, the Stadium of Light’s a tough place to go. They’re up for it. So why not throw caution to the wind and play that deadly front quartet? Why not get the full backs raiding deep into opposition territory more than rogue Palestinians? Why not allow the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-tackling James McCarthy to lead the containment job? Roberto Martinez likes saying he’d rather die on his feet than live on his knees. Alright then.
Our previous few results…3-0, 0-0, 3-1, 0-0, 3-0…uh oh. Throw caution to the wind, Everton. And no, you can’t release a DVD if we give them a good thrashing.
Just like our recent glimpse of Samuel Eto’o’s acting, we’re experiencing something pretty great right now. We want more. Play it again, Sam.