Everton just love to confound you. They do it deliberately, you know. And on Saturday, with major rumblings of discontent among the fanbase, they did the sneakiest, most under-handed thing of all.
They gave you exactly what you wanted. The bastards.
Amidst the gloom surrounding the club, at least from the perspective of many, Saturday lunchtime’s game at St Mary’s was a glorious ray of sunlight piercing the grey skies over Everton heads. Everything fell perfectly into place. The game plan was perfect – let Southampton keep the ball all they want in their own half, but terrorise them the moment they venture into our territory. Allow Kone to drift out wide or into the middle to keep them guessing. Southampton’s game plan suited us too – their open, flowing football also meant Ross Barkley had the freedom of the city on occasion in the midfield, and had they exposed Seamus Coleman a bit more we may have been in trouble. But it all went to plan.
Kone worked hard and provided a sumptuous cross to assist the first goal, while Tom Cleverley looks like he’ll be regarded at the hardest working player at the club pretty soon. Well, maybe second, because James McCarthy still manages to look like he’s everywhere. Seamus Coleman enjoyed the chance to bomb forward, while Brendan Galloway is taking full advantage of Roberto Martinez’s faith in him. However, the catalysts for this superb 3-0 win away from home against a side we had not beaten at their place since 2002 were Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku. When the two are on form simultaneously, they form an unstoppable duo.
Barkley’s decision-making still needs work, but even by making nine mistakes from every ten chances he gets, he still manages to make the difference once in the game. On Saturday he was afforded plenty of chances by a Southampton midfield that seemed absent at times, and he took his chance, recording a goal and an assist in a game for the first time in his professional career. That speaks volumes, but his last two performances also suggests Barkley is on the up again after a poor 2014/15 campaign. Lukaku is often described as lazy, which I find ludicrous. Yes, he doesn’t chase down defenders much, but they’re unlikely to make a mistake when only one striker is chasing four players with plenty of space to work with. Wasting energy to chase the very slim possibility of a defender giving him the ball is just illogical. It is true that Lukaku’s movement still needs work, and there were times on Saturday when the ball was crossed into the penalty area and the Belgian was nowhere to be seen. But Lukaku is smart, and his awareness is improving. Meanwhile, if he can use his physicality and pace to bully defences like he did on Saturday, not many sides will be too confident of facing up to the big Belgian. Naturally, all this relies on both Barkley and Lukaku maintaining their fine form. Inconsistently has plagued the pair for too long, and now it needs to be cut out. That goes for all of you, Everton.
Anyway, a ludicrously ugly kit went with some ludicrously beautiful football, so I hope we wear it every week. Yeah, even at home. You don’t mess with a good luck charm. And yes, it is ugly. Looks like pure vomit. And that’s just the Chang logo. My girlfriend (curb your surprise please) pointed out that if you search the term “shitty green” in Google Images, the colour of that kit turns up, which is quite sad. But it’s ours and only we get to lay into it. Like Leon Osman.
Of course, the win doesn’t fix everything. The questions about the board remain as pertinent as ever and despite the rumour mill going into overdrive we are yet to see new signings arriving at Finch Farm to bolster the squad and frankly give everyone a bit of a boost. But the victory, comprehensive as it was, did give us a renewed sense of hope for our actions on the field. It was hard to see where wins were coming from during the tough run of games after the Watford draw, but beating a very capable Southampton side away from home has provided one, at least. Who’s next in our sights then Blues?
Oh, it’s only early pace-setters and all-round behemoth Manchester City. Don’t worry about it.
City have started with the sort of form that saw them win the Premier League in 2012 and 2014, and that put them in contention for half of the season but then faded away to secure second place in 2013 and 2015. A 3-0 win away to West Brom was straightforward, but it was a potential banana skin and Manuel Pellegrini’s side made it look easy. Then defending champions Chelsea came to the Etihad Stadium and were swatted away by the exact same scoreline. It wasn’t a surprise, either. Man City slaughtered them. No pressure then Everton.
City fans always tend to pack out the away end at Goodison and despite the talk about the influx of plastic fans in recent years those who come to L4 tend to be the hardy souls who are relishing City’s success after years in the doldrums, like retiring from an awful job to live off a very generous pension. However, they’re all very Manc Pride, so expect some DEAD DEAD BANTEROUS shouts about Scousers, mostly to do with council houses and benefits, something that obviously doesn’t affect the good people of Manchester. We’ve lost all bragging rights in recent years, as a record of beating them home and away most of the time has completely dissipated. But here’s a fun fact – Everton have scored in 20 of the last 21 meetings between the two sides at Goodison Park. The only time we’ve failed to score against them at home since 1989 was in a 0-0 stalemate in 2003 which the Guardian described as “Sunday sofa football at its most soporific”. Needless to say, meetings between the two sides are normally better than that.
We come up against a City side that has yet to land on its preferred line-up, and may be rotated again this weekend. Joe Hart is the obvious choice in goal, and it may be new signing Nicolas Otamendi who lines up alongside current top-scorer Vincent Kompany. It’s either Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala or Martin Demichelis at centre back, and if you could pick one for Lukaku and co. to terror, you might pick the new boy. Welcome to England, Nicolas. Aleksandar Kolarov was absolutely magic at left back against Chelsea and will play there, while for some reason Bacary Sagna has played ahead of Pablo Zabaleta twice so far. Zabaleta could return the starting line-up, but then again, he might not. I’m good at this aren’t I?
Human battering ram Yaya Toure makes the City midfield tick, and he’ll be alongside Fernandinho, who was superb against Chelsea. Jesus Navas is still blagging a place in the City side despite being the Spanish Matt Jarvis, and that lad Sterling who is apparently worth just short of £20m more than the price we were “greedy” to reject for John Stones will start too. David Silva and Sergio Aguero aren’t human. They’re something else, something where their brains and feet work quicker than those of mere mortals. They’ll be throroughly piped down by John Stones and Phil Jagielka in the attacking midfielder and central striker positions respectively. They will, right? Right?
So, for Everton…is it worth changing the team? Perhaps. The defensive line-up of Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka and Galloway can stay as it is. It would be nice to see Barkley drop deeper, alongside McCarthy, Mirallas to play wide right with Cleverley (or even Deulofeu if you’re feeling really racey) on the left, and Kone being given the chance to stay central and play just behind Lukaku so the pair can link up. But we will need to counter Man City’s threats. Somebody has to keep Silva close and take advantage of his lack of physicality, and that’s Gareth Barry. Kolarov loves to get forward and so the player wide right needs to track back and support Coleman. That’s Kone or perhaps Cleverley, who can certainly cover the ground. Their right side is the weakness that can be exploited – nobody has really tested Sagna yet, and Navas isn’t known for being the best at covering his full-back. Galloway will need protection too. So perhaps we could see Mirallas drift out left, tasked with causing Sagna a major headache. Deulofeu could do the job too. It’s nice to have options isn’t it? Barkley behind Lukaku. After all, they do work well together.
It’s not nice to be the underdogs at home, but that we are. So much so that bookmakers are offering shorter odds on City youngster Kelechi Iheanacho opening the scoring than Romelu Lukaku. What do you mean, “who”? He’s our first-choice striker, we signed him for £28m last summer. Honestly, keep up. We could even use being the underdog to our advantage. City will be chasing the win, and so they will open up the game. Instead of looking to frustrate us their style of play will allow the likes of Barkley and Lukaku space in which to operate. That plays to our strengths, but it also plays to theirs, and this Manchester City side is lethal. It all points to a good game for the neutrals and a nail-biter for us. But admit it. After last week, there’s something inside you who reckons we can win this one. So let’s let them know what we’re really made of.
And if someone could hijack the plane that’s set to fly over Goodison on Sunday and change the banner message to “Fuck off Mourinho you googly-eyed queg”, I’d appreciate it.