Right, one of you has accidentally run over a black cat or something. It’s alright, I won’t be mad if you just own up. It’s either that or Walton Hall Park is actually an ancient burial ground and Bill Kenwright has doomed us all.

But seriously – what have we done to deserve this? Merry f*cking Christmas Everton, ya gang of tw*ts.

I swear because I care. And because our club is really that frustrating.

Anyway, where are my manners? Merry Christmas all. Hope wherever you are you’re having a fun and peaceful time. Because, let’s face it, Everton is rarely one and sometimes neither.

With Christmas cheer and the vital necessity of holding back all sorts of Everton-based emotions for the good of a peaceful household, it has been difficult to write this preview. Luckily after the omnishambles against Southampton on Saturday I wrote a list of grievances. So let’s start from the top. The top of the teamsheet, that is.

stoke1

Tim Howard. You may have a great big bushy beard pal, but that’s no excuse for dishing out gifts for opposition attackers like Santa Claus. The penalty against Man City wasn’t easy to save at all, but there have been some howlers in and around it – the two that come instantly to mind are the goals by Roberto Soldado and Sone Aluko. Howard is a talented goalkeeper and was once vaunted as a rival to the likes of Sagar, Southall and Martyn as the best keeper we’ve had, but now he’s making mistakes we’d expect from Robles…or Wessels. Baardsen. Westerveld. Mucha. Wright. Good God, we’ve had some atrocious keepers. Simple errors too – not covering the front post. Not judging when to come and collect the ball. Diving the wrong way before the shot’s even come in. Is it a confidence thing? Is his mind still in Brazil along with his reputation? Or has he lost it? If it’s the latter we’re all doomed, but somehow I don’t think it is. Time for Inaki Bergara to earn his crust.

We’ve been plagued by poor individual showings this year. Phil Jagielka started poorly but recovered and now looks much closer to his best. So what about Sylvain Distin? Now 37, he only shows signs of decline, which suggests that a sustained run of poor form could be the death knell for his career. But few players have had a sustained run of good form – Barry, Besic and Eto’o have sometimes looked out of their depth, while McCarthy, Coleman, Baines, Naismith, Oviedo and Barkley have all had their seasons stalled by injuries. Aiden McGeady has yet to prove he is anything but a liability on the wing, while Steven Pienaar either pissed on Roberto Martinez’s favourite potted plant or, closer to the truth, is not showing the quality to be in the Everton starting XI, because he hasn’t been anywhere near.

Romelu Lukaku is currently the player attracting the most heated debates – one side claims he is lazy, ineffective and a flop at £28m. The other suggests he’s the best striker we’ve had in years and a guaranteed hit. The answer to both sides is the same – he’s just 21. He’s no star at this point. Let’s face it, he does drift out of games. He does lack the edge Samuel Eto’o has earned from a wealth of experience. Finished article he ain’t, not by a long chalk. But how can you write off a 21 year old just months after he signed a permanent deal with the club? £28m is a fee set to cover at the very least five years of service, and possibly much longer. If he’s here in 2024, no doubt he will have been worth the £2.8m + salary per year. Laying into a precocious young talent is not wise – and certainly something these boo-boys don’t seem to do with the equally unpolished Ross Barkley and John Stones – but being an apologist for poor form isn’t good either. Lukaku needs to rediscover what made him a hit last year – getting to the penalty area as soon as possible and getting the sort of service he needs.

So the players must reassess their own performances. With the rest, the buck stops with the manager. If Roberto Martinez can recognise his own shortcomings rather than slide into delusion, believing the same formula will eventually work, he will be a better manager for it. Come to think of it, we’d all be better off.

There were a number of glaring tactical issues, principally the lack of substitutions and the “too many cooks” formation. The former is more understandable – if a team gets itself in trouble, it should be made to dig its way out of it. The latter was just ridiculous. Eto’o. Barkley and Naismith all operate best in the middle, so putting two of them out wide was like starting with nine men. What’s more, it put undue pressure on Baines and Coleman too, as none of them are known to be the most prolific defenders. It was just so unecessary – but it does lead me to wonder if it could be because Martinez just did not trust the likes of McGeady and Pienaar to have an impact. When Mirallas is out, there don’t seem to be many options on the wing. So that means we need to sign another winger (especially now Atsu seems to be on his way out – cheers for nothing lid) or change the formation. 4-3-2-1, Barkley with McCarthy and Barry, Eto’o and Naismith in front, Lukaku up front. The Christmas Tree. How festive.

Gerard Deulofeu’s loan at Sevilla isn’t working out, you say? I wouldn’t want to comment on such gossip.

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Those were the main tactical talking points, but for me Ronald Koeman won the game when he told Clyne and Bertrand to pin Baines and Coleman back by putting them under constant pressure. It is worrying how easy teams have found it to neutralise the pair recently. It’s also a sign that we’ve been worked out. Everton play out of the back and don’t like to hit it long, so commit players forward to press high and force mistakes. Put pressure on with set pieces, because Everton are notoriously bad at them. The result? Eight mistakes directly leading to goals. This is the point where we need that Plan B everyone’s talking about. The tempo in every game has stayed the same – our play has looked pedestrian most of the time. Lukaku can deal with long balls, so try it. Ross Barkley isn’t the only player who can bomb past players – so try it. It’s one part a managerial plan that needs to allow for differing styles, and one part necessity for players to try the runs, one-twos and perhaps more speculative balls. But possession needs to remain the basis for everything. The team that retains the ball retains the chance to score.

Anyway, on to today’s festivities. An absolute treat as all our football Christmasses come between the hours of 12 and 7 on a Saturday. Just how it should be.

Ah, Stoke. Remember when we battered this lot? Deulofeu, Coleman, Oviedo and Lukaku all on the scoresheet. It was a footballing wet dream that now seems like more of a pipe dream. We did a great job enforcing the Southampton Myth last week, and now the Stoke Myth needs piping down instead. Mark Hughes deserves great credit, apparently, for “changing the Stoke philosophy”. Except he hasn’t. At all. Same mix of ugly grocks who hack anything that move and smart players who keep the ball moving. If anything, they’ve become less effective from set pieces, but also less reliant on route 1 football. Same old mid-table standing. Yet they’re just behind us. so there’s no time to be smug. 0 clean sheets in the past 11 for Stoke, so stick a tenner on 1-0 to them. Everton aren’t we. Dishing out the Christmas presents.

Begovic in goal. In front of him Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa and Pieters. If anything sums Stoke up it’s that back four. Whelan, general angry bastard N’Zonzi, lifelong Blue and guaranteed pain in the arse Jon Walters, Bojan, Arnautovic, Diouf. Bojan is tricky and can cause problems for sure, but like with Arnautovic and Diouf it depends if he turns up or is too intimidated by the James McCarthy-sized spectre of death that haunts Everton’s defensive third. It’s a side set up to punish teams on the counter attack, and the defensive midfielders will have to be ready to deal with it.

And just look at this Everton line-up. Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas, Naismith, Barkley; Lukaku. Stones, McCarthy and Mirallas all back. I could cry with joy. But what’s this? Barkley out left again? Sake. Better out left than left out I guess. But he has to find a way to make it work, which mostly involves cutting inside on his right foot and getting at the defence as much as possible. The line-up looks more solid than last week at least.

You owe us large Everton. All we want for Christmas is a win. A big one would be nice, but we know you’re hard done by. So just win.

#ChristmasOviedo

#ChristmasOviedo

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