Given how strange and emotional the past week has been, Everton’s return seems a timely one.
It was meant to be a run-of-the-mill international break – laugh or cringe at England’s failings, grapple with the logic of Kyle Walker playing while John Stones sits like a spare part on the bench (or just Kyle Walker playing professional football, full stop) and declare with smug certainty that even watching Everton labour through ninety minutes is better than this. But during this period, across the world, thousands of people’s lives were turned upside down. It isn’t our first crisis, but they don’t get any easier to deal with.
You’re not here to read my opinions on political matters – you’re here for Everton after all. But I’d say this much. If you’ve turned your horror and ire towards groups, particularly Muslims and refugees, drop the labels for a second. They’re humans. As in every single group of people you can think of, there will be a faction of knobheads. That is humanity in a nutshell. Whatever our background, colour, creed or religion, the only sides pitted against each other in the end are the ones who want peace against the ones who want to cause pain. It’s the latter group we could do with less of.
So I’m here to advocate peace, love and phenomenal character. Shall we get back to that most beautiful distraction from the many perplexing vagaries of life?
At times you remember how great it is that you have Everton in your life, because they can either bring life a special kind of joy or give you problems which in context aren’t that bad at all. Nobody feels the need to kill in the name of Everton. Sure, there’s fume, but we go back to work or school or bed and move on.
What we’re moving on from is a draw against West Ham that sums up our season rather nicely. Not good, not poor, not inspiring, but perhaps promising. We went behind, as always, but scored, as we have done most times this season. Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku are level as the leading goal combination in the league this season, alongside Ozil & Giroud and…Lukaku and Kone. Looks like we’re having no trouble linking up when on the attack. Deulofeu was off smashing in goals left, right and centre for the Spain under 21 side, so he is in a phenomenal moment of form, as Roberto Martinez would most likely say. Also, James McCarthy made West Ham fans’ heads melt, and while I prefer snide over out-and-out violence, the pure noxious bile spewing from that lot is something to behold. BAN HIM FOREVER FA YOU FAHKIN MUGS.
The issue really is that we’re starting too slowly. Everton’s record in the Premier League this season when we have scored first is played three, won three. When we haven’t it’s a much messier one win, five draws and three defeats from nine. What is needed is more urgency from the first whistle and less fear. It’s fear that sees us play two defensive midfielders at home, because we don’t want to get hit on the counter. Players are less likely to be keen to take a risk if it means the crowd are going to get straight on their backs. The problem is that fear is ingrained deep within us because we’re Everton aren’t we.
So next up is the side at the bottom of the table at home. Sound that right? Except your internal defence mechanism is telling you to predict the worst so you’ve got the bases covered. Forget it, let’s smash these.
Aston Villa roll into town having paid the price for giving Tim Sherwood a reason to be even a small part of our lives, and with that danger off with Harry Kane spreading the petition to CLOSE OUR BORDERS NOW, Remi Garde has come in to take the half-French, half-arsed squad and talk to them in terms they understand. “Sit deep and defend” not “Help my win ratio and I’ll take ya to Maga in 2k16 LADs”. It worked wonders in the Frenchman’s first game in charge, with a 0-0 draw against Man City at home something teams with goalkeepers who don’t want players beat them at the front post can apparently achieve. But they’ve been truly, truly awful this season. Even Villa Park’s atmosphere of cocky self-entitlement because they were sound at the start of the Nineties and their local rivals are all useless seems to be ebbing away. They can’t score for toffee either, so stick a fiver on one of their worst players opening the scoring. See, it’s that defence mechanism again. They’re ripe for smashing, Everton.
Fact of the matter is they’ve drawn five of their last eight visits to Goodison, and they enjoy playing the lot across the road as well. But they haven’t beaten us at our place since 2008, and they will be thinking more about taking whatever they can get than ending that run in style. Therefore it’s up to us to get at them. How glorious was that 6-2 against Sunderland when you think about it? Stick in some goals.
They’ve got Guzan, aka Howard Mark II, in goal. Alan Hutton is still a professional footballer – NO, REALLY – and he’s at right back. Richards and Clark in the middle, Kieran Richardson the man tasked with dealing with Deulofeu’s twinkle toes. Idrissa Gueye, last seen chasing shadows at Goodison in the Europa League with Lille, partners Westwood in the midfield. Veretout, Gil and Grealish flank Ayew up top. That’s a defence, certainly, that deserves a beating.
More of the same for the boys in blue really. Howard in net. Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori and Galloway at the back. Funes Mori is getting more and more likeable with every week that passes, and the void left by Jagielka isn’t so obivous. How glorious the post-Distin era is. McCarthy and Barry, both of whom could do with a decent showing, are in the midfield. The three with Wonderglue on their boots, Kone, Barkley and Deulofeu, will be feeding Lukaku, hopefully a lot.
It has been a tough few days for those still nursing basic faith in humanity. Yes, nothing that happens in this game can be as momentous as what is going on out there, but for 90 minutes it’s all about Everton. Put some smiles back on faces Blues.