Once more unto the breach, dear friends. We’re off back into that great shroud of uncertainty, assured of drama, ecstasy and heartbreak, but with no idea in what measure each one will be dished out. Who will be Everton’s heroes and villains? Will this season be one to remember or one we’d rather forget? In the absence of knowledge comes only speculation and debate. It’s time to put all that to bed and get the 2015/16 campaign underway.
Are you ready? You pumped? Up the ‘ton.
What is for sure is that the previous was like watching the Tories winning the General Election, but spread over nine months in slow motion, with the kicker of Margaret Thatcher leaping from her grave and stamping on John Stones’ ankle at Old Trafford. There were some highlights – thrashing Man Utd, Newcastle and Aston Villa 3-0 at Goodison, Phil Jagielka piping down the Kop in true Andy King or Graeme Sharp style…er…some other stuff. Beat Wolfsburg home and away, and they were boss in Germany, so that counts for something.
Really though, it was a great shiny turd of a season.
What makes it worse is you can’t put your finger on precisely what went wrong. Was it merely a result of a difficult opening set of fixtures or the strain of European football that threw us so far off course? Was it a crisis of confidence, a lack of quality or a lack of quantity? Was it that we were too predictable, too pedestrian or can Roberto Martinez really not organise the defence? Or was it all one big anomaly?
I think it may be the worst option of all – a smattering of all of the above. The real issue is the fact that we haven’t exactly plugged the gaps. Everton aren’t we. By the way, try keeping a tally of every Everton moment. First to 100 gets a prize.
To start with, the defence. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines had very on-off seasons, and that impacted not only on our ability to keep clean sheets but our ability to create chances and score goals. Phil Jagielka had what Martinez would call “a moment of bad form” or what we’d call “an absolute load of shite” at the start of the season, and at that point we looked completely lost. John Stones is still an Everton player – yes he is, Sky Sports, pipe down, you’re not getting a commission if he leaves – but if Stones or Jagielka pick up an injury, there’s not much cover. It was the right decision to get rid of Distin and Alcaraz because playing them was like a chess game where you sacrifice the king to save the queen. Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway may be the answer, and it’s great to utilise young prospects, but is it worth the risk? Martinez has identified a centre back as a transfer target because experience is vital back there. Basic skill is needed too, hence not keeping Distin or Alcaraz around. And, of course, all this concern over centre backs mean we’ve taken for granted the fact Tim Howard will be our number 1 for another season. Hold me.
The midfield is the one area in which we look alright. As a squad we look all uneven and middle-heavy, like a professional darts player, but without the predatory instincts of a Phil Taylor type, the fat sweaty danger. Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu are both good additions and will slot right in. There would have been questions over signing Cleverley had he commanded a fee but he was a free transfer, he’s versatile, he’s keen to prove himself and most of all he IS NOT AIDEN MCGEADY. Deulofeu is a prodigious talent who was popular when here two years ago on loan, he’s more mature than before, he provides width and energy, plus he IS NOT AIDEN MCGEADY. Another winger would be sound, mostly for their un-McGeady-ness, but what we really need is that creative No.10 type, that player who drifts through the game at times but then provides that sumptuous, inch perfect pass that helps us win games. Think of your Mesut Özils, your David Silvas, your Eden Hazards or your John Ebbrells. Wait, that’s not right. Eden Hazard tends to drift out wide. Steven Pienaar has that sort of intelligence, but I’d really like us to get a number 10 who doesn’t have muscles made of jelly.
Up front…OK, first things first. Can we please stop calling Conor McAleny a “bright young talent” or a “future prospect”? Here’s a list of players he’s older than: Romelu Lukaku, John Stones, Muhamed Besic, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley, Luke Garbutt and Steven Pienaar’s newest hip replacement. Away from Everton, there’s Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, half the Nigeria national side (so they’d have you believe), Marco Verratti and Julian Draxler. Mario Götze is only a couple of months older and he has scored the winner in a World Cup final, so the “wave of the future” hype has passed. He is however a sound lad and a decent player who has impressed in pre-season. Against Swindon.
One player who is not attracting such plaudits is Arouna Koné – there aren’t many Evertonians who would get behind the Ivorian right now, unless they were doing so in order to shove him out the exit. His two uninspiring, albeit injury-hit years have yielded just one goal, which for an outlay of £6m is unacceptable. More than anything Koné’s failures have put Romelu Lukaku under serious pressure as the only recognised striker capable of scoring goals on a regular basis. We need another striker more than anything else, one that can provide consistent goals. But we’re Everton, so the curse would get him as it has got Koné in emphatic fashion. Add another one to your “Everton aren’t we” tally.
But there are positives. There’s plenty of quality within the squad, and James McCarthy committing himself to the club for another five years is a sign that the players are backing the manager’s vision, or at least that we have the power to keep our best players. If John Stones and Kevin Mirallas can follow suit, we’re in business. Shall we get on with it then?
Watford are first up, and hosting a newly promoted side at Goodison means we’ve either been handed the easiest possible start or the biggest possible banana skin. They haven’t got John Barnes or Luther Blissett, and in their two previous Premier League seasons they’ve finished bottom both times, so naturally you’d edge towards the former. But they’ve shaken things up this summer, with a new manager and ten new players, so there’s a real air of unpredictability.
Ex-Atletico Madrid manager Quique Sanchez Flores has replaced Slavisa Jokanovic as boss at Vicarage Road, and becomes Watford’s fifth manager in the last year. Given that turnover rate, plus the pressures of the Premier League and the fact he is untried in English football, Sanchez Flores is in the firing line more than Bruce Forsyth in the next round of Operation Yewtree investigations. He has acted quickly and spent wisely to add real depth to the squad. Defenders Seb Prödl, José Holebas, Miguel Britos and Allan Nyom have all joined to bolster the back line. Nyom is another product of Watford’s Pozzo circle-jerk with Udinese and Granada: he joins from the Italians, but never played for them, having spent six years on loan with the Spanish side. Must be some sort of record. And you thought we were the loan masters. The “special connection” with Udinese, like one a mother may have with the thirteen year old child she’s breastfeeding (such is the early life of a Daily Mail reporter), also sees the handy Matej Vydra join on a permanent deal after a couple of loans. Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami add some reliability to the midfield, while Jose Manuel Jurado is an attacking option. Steven Berghuis scored plenty in the Netherlands for AZ Alkmaar and could do well in England. If all the new signings gel, the Hornets could stage their best effort at staying in the Premier League. If not they’re going down faster than a double whiskey in Howard Kendall’s living room.
So, who’s lining up for the Blues? In goal, number 24 Tim Howard! *audible groans* Number 23, Seamus Coleman! *cheers* Number 3, Leighton Baines! *cheers* Number 5, John Stones! *Paul Gascoigne interlude* Number 6, Phil Jagielka! *cheers* Number 18, Gareth Barry! *murmuring* Number 16, James McCarthy! *cheers*.
That much is easy to predict. Those seven are nailed on to start every game if fit. Yes, I know. I see Howard and Barry in there too. But there are more pressing matters right now. In an ideal world, the attacking line-up is either Mirallas-Barkley-Deulofeu with Lukaku up top or NOT MCGEADY-NOT MCGEADY-NOT MCGEADY with NOT MCGEADY up front.
Have I been too mean to Aiden McGeady today? Please send your complaints to www.hahahahaidontgiveafuckpal.com.
Injuries mean we may have to shuffle, and although Mirallas may well start it could be with utility man Tom Cleverley on the left and Steven Naismith or Leon Osman in the middle. If Lukaku isn’t passed fit, it’s…still Lukaku. Don’t care. We’re not putting Koné up top. It’s potent and vulnerable at the same time. Like Achilles, although complaining of a case of a massively swollen Achilles heel with a bullseye painted on.
But now’s the time for positivity. Well, you’ve got no other choice. You’ve sat down in this rollercoaster car and we’re about to set off. There’s no getting out now. It’s up to you to find out if you’ve gone to Alton Towers by mistake.
But without a single game played this season, the possibilities are endless. We’re up for the league and up for the Cup. There’s a lot of drama to come, and amongst the fuming and failure there will be flashes of glory. Who knows how much we’ll get. So make your way up to the Promised Land, take your place, roar the Blues on. Feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention as the first strands of Z-Cars resonates through your body and mind. And brace yourself.
Here we go again.