Everton vs Middlesbrough – The Preview

Had a traumatic experience today. I was strolling through the sun-drenched park, minding my own business and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere. A group of young lads were playing football nearby, and a stray pass by one of them fell to my feet. I looked up, drew back my foot, and…out of nowhere, Idrissa Gueye slid in, took the ball, and played a perfect pass back to the group, leaving me in a heap on the floor.

He’s everywhere.

Omnipresent midfield dynamo aside (we’ll get back to him), things are looking pretty sweet for Everton, which is quite something considering we pay Oumar Niasse to act as a constant cautionary tale, and Marc Albrighton has scored more Champions League group stage goals than we have. Third in the league, solid at the back, more menacing going forward and still demanding more. If this is the hallmark of the Koeman era, then things look very promising. But we’ve got baggage, Ronald. We’ve been hurt before. You, with your head like a braised ham, with the endearing way you say ‘half’. Can you truly bring back the glory days? Time will tell.

 

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Monday had the lot. First things first, the camaraderie and compassion shown by those from both Sunderland and Everton to help young Brad Lowery reach his target and get what is hopefully the treatment that will see him enjoy a long and happy life was truly moving. The £200,000 donation, orchestrated by Bill Kenwright, was another reason to be proud of what is so often not just a football club, but a vehicle for positive change in the community. We may be trying to swerve the “People’s Club” stuff on the pitch as we hatch a plot to ruthlessly scoop up all the trophies, but using the club’s stature and cache to help people is something we should always be proud of. By the way, if your response to this news was “why didn’t every club donate the same?” or anything else that refused to focus on the fact it was a great gesture, just fuck off a bit. Bit more. Keep going. Haven’t quite fucked off enough yet. Go on….there you go.

No, actually, fuck off a bit more.

We were great in the second half against Sunderland. The first isn’t really worth talking about, as so little happened. But as time ticked on, we got better. That’s right, better. Not like the Everton sides of such years as, say, 2015, or early 2016. We have the stamina, discipline and focus to eke out results over the course of 90 minutes, which will stand us in good stead. 10 points from Spurs, West Brom, Stoke and Sunderland is pleasing, but we will face much tougher tests. How this side reacts to adversity will be the truest test of all. But right now, we’re playing good football and picking up points. Long may it last.

Let’s just say what needs saying. Idrissa Gueye is wonderful. He’s doing everything right at the minute, and if there’s anything Evertonians love, it’s hard work and passion. That reverence for industry has seen us back many woeful footballers over the years, but he has the accurate passing and clever movement to add style to substance. Romelu Lukaku doesn’t have the same dynamism, so he gets stick. But the man scores goals. He loves them. He has a picture of goals in a heart-shaped frame by his bed. If he doesn’t score goals, he mopes and fumes like a child. Every football club needs one of those players. And now he’s grabbed a hat-trick, Lukaku will be desperate for more.

 

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Ross Barkley was abysmal on Monday night. Let’s not dress it up. If we don’t demand high standards from him, he might never hit the heights he’s capable of. But abusing him won’t do it either. Barkley doesn’t have an arrogant or self-destructive personality, so his poor form isn’t for a lack of trying. He needs to focus on cutting out the stupid mistakes and making the most of his talent, however. Every player and manager he has worked with say the same thing, that he has an incredible amount of skill, so they can’t be wrong. But if he only applies that skill one match out of ten, for how long can he be considered a valued first choice player? It’s not worth giving up on Barkley yet – there’s a lot of potential, and the fact he is one of our own should not be understated in an era when most top clubs have an identity crisis. It’s a fine balance between reminding him that he should be doing better and completely undermining his confidence, but if anyone can do it, I’d back Ronald Koeman over yer da.

Before I continue, a few words from a guest Everton Aren’t We writer – Warren Doyle:

“The Middlesborough game will be very interesting and a good indication on whether we have significantly improved from last season.  Whilst we have made a very good start and should be beating a newly promoted side, the pressure will be on to see if we can continue to make progress.

“The Sunderland game was impressive for many reasons.  Firstly, after a disappointing first half, Ronald Koeman showed no fear in changing what didn’t work.  Replacing Ross Barkley with Deulofeu was another masterstroke.  I expect Ross to comeback stronger after his poor showing, but he can do no worse than look at Geri and how he has handled being in and out of the team.  Having not featured in the win against Stoke, great credit must be given to the Spaniard who remained positive and took his chance when presented with it.  He changed the game and from then on, Lukaku dominated to ensure a big 3 away points.

“It is so nice to see our back four throwing themselves into danger, making vital blocks and denying teams time and space.”

“Ashley Williams, who has been part of a defence that hasn’t conceded when he has started, is already looking like a gem of a signing.  Jagielka and Baines look rejuvenated by his presence and leadership – long may it continue!

“There should be nothing to fear from an Everton side full of confidence and on the up.  I predict a solid 2-0 home win. Isn’t it nice to look forward to weekends again?  Up the Toffees!”

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Onto Middlesbrough then. You have to feel a bit sorry for the Teesiders. The foppish, Tory-voting sorts who rhyme scone with cone, and are often something that rhymes with runts, continuously bash ‘Boro as the worst place to live in Britain, which it certainly isn’t. It’s as much a capital of culture as McDonald’s is a source of haute cuisine, but in that neck of the woods you can find decent, honest working class people, though not decent enough as they’re easy to convince that they’re thick and have a beer gut that would make a professional darts player look like a model because of the Polish family down the road. They’re vastly preferable to their obnoxious Geordie brethren, so that counts for something. Middlesbrough as a club are hard to dislike too – the Riverside is a decent stadium, Steve Gibson is probably the most likeable chairman in the game and the history of taking such exotic talent as Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli to the quasi-Arctic tundra that is Middlesbrough has been continued with Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo claiming it was their lifelong dream to play for…who have I just signed for? Middlesbrough? Yeah, them. Massive club. It’d be good to see them stay in the top flight, especially if perennial bores West Brom or Stoke go down in their stead. Smash them to bits though please Everton.

The Boro side looking to end a run of seven games without a win against Everton should look like this: Valdes in goal, Barragan, Gibson, Ayala and Friend at the back. Adam Clayton was brilliant in the Championship last season, and he forms a solid midfield alongside former Everton man Adam Forshaw, former Liverpool man Stewart Downing….

…I’ll give you a sec to stop laughing remembering that…

…and token flair option Gaston Ramirez or Adama Traore. Fischer and Negredo as the attacking options. A fair mix of Championship graduates and Premier League standard mercenaries, a combination that has worked well for many sides in the past – namely the aforementioned dullards, West Brom and Stoke.

We go into this match second in the Premier League – you could almost be moved to be arsed, but then you remember it’s September and we’ve played one of last season’s top eight. However, a good start cannot be sniffed at. 13 points from five games is good no matter who we’ve played, and it sets a solid foundation upon which we can launch a bid to finish in the top six. From there, it’s the top four. And we continue aiming higher, whether we fall short or reach the Promised Land. Keep things going in the right direction, and don’t look back.

Onwards, Everton. To victory.

 

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