In the great ongoing drama that is football, we endure all sorts, living for those moments of exquisite glory. The trophy, the wonderful run of form, the position that exceeds expectation and silences critics, or John Stones making a tackle. However, almost as enjoyable are the moments of pure serenity as you look to whichever competitions we happen to still be in and are content. That’s where we are now. Obviously no-one wants Everton to be 9th at the end of the season but being only a couple of points off 4th and on a run of five league games without defeat is better than, say, being on a run of successive defeats that leaves you closer to second from bottom than fifth from the top…whoever that may apply to. Meanwhile, in the Europa League, we’re top. Top of something. What heady days these are.
The win over West Ham was pleasing for a number of reasons. For one, they’re a good side in fine form. Also, they’re a bunch of snidey bastards, which is why they’re good. I’ve got plenty of time for snide. Tomkins holding his face after a push in the chest is pathetic though. Cue Naismith.
Brilliant. That Stevie Naismith is boss. And now injured. More on that later. But back to what was a classic Everton win at the weekend. Take the lead – check. And that was offside too. Great stuff, bad luck West Ham. James McCarthy clatters Amalfitano, it kicks off again, and now both teams are getting fined. Read carefully here, kids! You’re allowed to send racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic messages to your heart’s content, but shove some lid and you’re in trouble. Anyway, to the second half and the customary equaliser we love to give teams to convince them they’ve got us on the ropes. Absolute pearler as well. Jagielka couldn’t do it again if he tried. Then on to the run-of-the-mill frustrating play and multiple scares designed to make them think we’re there for the taking when obviously we all knew Samuel Eto’o would set up Leon Osman to score the winner….right?
Samuel Eto’o to Leon Osman. Takes some getting used to doesn’t it.
In a way the fact we stumbled to victory is quite pleasing, actually. We didn’t play our best by a distance but still dealt with the side that was at the time in fourth place. They were without some of their best players, and so were we. In a war of attrition we established ourselves as the better team and took all three points. Now our home form is back to its imperious best and we’re picking up points on the road. The fixture list from now even to the end of January looks favourable so now is a great time for momentum. All in all we can shift focus from the Premier League to the Europa League knowing we’re in a good position.
So, onto the Europa League, and the best away day on offer.
Germany. The culture. The people. The beer. Oh yes, the beer. Get a stein in hand and watch the Fußball. It’s not down the west of Germany this time in Nürnberg (that’s Nuremberg for die Engländer) – we’re stuck in the middle with Eto’o. Sorry. Anyway, for a place built under the Nazi government for almost the sole purpose of having somewhere to house the people who worked in the Volkswagen factory, Wolfsburg is an alright place. The home end will have some of the “ultras” that are definitely softer than the nutjobs out in Turkey but can be a pain in the arse. As tourists or TV viewers we love waxing lyrical about the great atmosphere the Germans create because of the free tickets they get with a crate of beer or whatever it is. Truth is there are plenty of bad liquored up meffs out there, so swerve them and enjoy Deutschland. Best place to be on a cold Thursday night.
VfL Wolfsburg are also one of the best around at this point. We dealt with them at Goodison, dispatching them 4-1, and such were the levels of fume coming off it that they went on a run of 8 straight wins not long after , including battering Krasnodar twice. And when I say fume, I mean it. “We have a score to settle” said coach Dieter Hecking, sounding too much like he’s auditioning for a jarg thriller. This lot score goals, and have been doing so all season. That’s the reason they’re second in the Bundesliga. Now that the defence has been shored up a bit they’re even better. Does that sound familiar?
Diego Benaglio in goal. Träsch (he’s rubbish. Ahaha. OK, I’ll stop), Naldo and Knoche will make up the defence for sure. However, Ricardo Rodriguez is a doubt and may be replaced by Schäfer. And that’s great news because he was by a long chalk Wolfsburg’s best player in the reverse fixture. Luis Gustavo will most likely partner Junior Malanda in the midfield with Hunt, Perisic and de Bruyne ahead of them. Olic was piped down by John Stones at Goodison but he might fancy it at home. Kevin de Bruyne has been the best player in this group so far and will be the biggest threat. 12 assists so far this season means he’s their Baines. More importantly, he’s fit to play for them.
To be honest, this isn’t a high pressure game. Win and we’ve won the group. Draw and we’re through. Lose and we’ll most likely finish second but it’d still take just a positive result at home to Krasnodar to wrap it up. But we’d rather get this group finished sooner rather than later so we can put out a second string a la BATE Borisov, and a win at the Volkswagen Arena would make for a big scalp. Sadly, we’ll have to do it without Leighton Baines, John Stones, Antolin Alcaraz, Gareth Barry, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Bryan Oviedo and Steven Naismith. Not that we’ll complain.
So it’s Tim Howard in goal with Coleman, Jagielka and Distin at the back. Like our opponents we’re desperately trying to replace an influential left back – so do we throw Luke Garbutt in at the deep end for this one? Even though we did win at home to West Ham the fact that Tony Hibbert played at left back instead of Garbutt was disappointing off the back of Roberto Martinez’s promise to blood the young talent. As an established England Under 21 international he’s no mug, and the sooner he makes a full debut the better. No Barry so it’ll be McCarthy and Besic…or will it? Damn, this is perplexing. Leon Osman stunned us all by playing well on his 400th club appearance, so he may start again. Not many choices in front of him, so Besic may well have to play, with Osman on the left, Mirallas on the right and Barkley behind Lukaku. Perhaps Eto’o could start. Throw in McGeady to do some boss stepovers and then pass to no-one and it’s clear we still have options. But seeing Barkley behind Lukaku would be a boost as that’s precisely where Barkley wants to play and there’s certainly a rapport between the pair. They’re out taking Instagram pictures and eating KitKats together so they may as well link up on the pitch too. Basically we still have so many options that we can say that Samuel Eto’o will start from the bench. Samuel Eto’o.
It’s interesting to see some of the names in the squad – Griffiths, Browning, Ledson and Atsu, who wants to establish himself at Goodison Park through Europa League involvement. But what’s this?!?! Arouna Kone? You remember. Signed for us…well, it feels like years ago, but I think it was last July. Achieved the remarkable feat of hitting the post against Hull when it was easier to score. Then disappeared on a camel tour of the world.
To think we could see Arouna Kone participate in a football match. It’s quite hard to take in. But that’s the world we’re living in now. Hey, don’t worry about it. Get to the local Brauhaus or Bierkeller if you couldn’t get to Wolfsburg and drink in what should be an excellent encounter between two high quality attacking units. It’s the Europa League, and it’s good fun. So let’s put on a show Everton. Auf geht’s la’s.