Close, But No Cigar

Today’s dispatch of fine, hand-crafted Evertonian angst from across the sea comes to you from the wild, wild west of Phoenix, Arizona where I’m up before 5 AM because my body is 2 hours ahead, stiff from a prolonged flight due to the circus that arrived ahead of me on Air Force One. The ominous orange cloud of our ominous orange leader hangs over the desert like the impenetrable dome of heat has hung over this godforsaken wasteland for a thousand years. Though to be fair, Phoenix does have In ‘N’ Out Burger which is its own special brand of redemption. To give you a sense of the feel of this place, you need only know that it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 PM last night (I could look that up in Celsius to insert here, but I won’t because I’m an American and your FAKE NEWS communist temperature scale offends my sensibilities).

Go ahead and re-read that bit from above. That’s a lede that isn’t getting blown, you Blues! ZING! Ah, but seriously, we really need to figure out how to salt away games like Monday to take the next step. But I’m not gonna trudge down that same old predicatable path. Yeah, it was a result we would’ve taken before the match, but once you’ve got that lead you really want the three points and we’re all a bit deflated, blah, blah, blah. It’s not that that line of thinking isn’t relatively sound, it’s just been said a thousand times and there’s no reason to re-hash it here.

Monday night was slightly awesome, slightly weird. It was an odd collision of ideas about football, bad officiating, and wildly different rosters in terms of attacking prowess. You get the strange sense that if the match had remained 11 v 11, we hang on for the three points and keep a clean sheet which has become a more common occurrence under this manager and in this system.

Yet while everyone was scratching their heads into a trip to the emergency room trying to figure out what went wrong for a team with a man advantage that has been so difficult to score against, the answer is probably most easily explained by looking at the id (a word I learned from TV, I’m sure) of these two squads considering Everton’s roster is a bit in flux while City’s is a bit closer to its ultimate realization. The id is all about our deeply-rooted instinctual nature. And the id of an Everton XI with two defensive midfielders (which made total sense before kickoff), no wings, and something to lose (a lead) suddenly met a relentlessly attacking City id whose edge was actually sharpened after Kyle Walker’s second yellow, because they suddenly had NOTHING to lose. And even with Koeman pulling all the right strings with a lineup built to compete on the road, substitutions that on paper made all the sense in the world, etc., the combination of mentalities, tactical setup and fluke circumstance made for an ending that may be disappointing, but in your heart of dark cynical hearts can’t be all that surprising.

 

 

Monday night was a classic example of a game that truly needed to be seen to fully grasp the context of where our team finds itself and where it appears to be going. For all the sting of disappointment you felt when Holgate’s (who was fantastic otherwise) fluky bad clearance found a terrible finisher who of course found a way to finish perfectly, there was so much to take from an Everton team who stood toe to toe with a City team chock full of title aspirations (and Silvas and neck tattoos) in terms of our physicality, decision-making, and attitude. And you can bet your ass that the image of Rooney taunting the City crowd is now my background for everything. When my wife calls my phone now, there’s that sweet, sweet image of Rooney going full WWE at The Etihad. And frankly, if our marriage counselor doesn’t understand “winning mentality”, then she clearly needs to go back to school.

In short, if you watched that performance Monday night within the context of what we’ve seen up to this point, what we’ve added, and all that appears to be on the horizon for this thing—and you still think this is all more of the same? Well, I’m not sure I’ve got anything for you. Don’t get me wrong, this team is far from any kind of finished product both in terms of integrating all these new pieces and the need to add more. But you’re beginning to see an Everton formula develop built on a strong, stout defensive shape that’s ultimately more balanced, intelligent, and opportunistic moving forward. And while two goals in two league games isn’t exactly making my point emphatically, you get the sense that the combination of time and increasing quality added to a manager whose clarity of vision and curmudgeon-esque commitment to his footballing principles is leading somewhere quite nice.

Regarding all the other particulars from our journey to Manchester on Monday: While I’m not one who is conventionally skilled or disciplined enough to write a proper match summary, luckily for you I am skilled at scattershooting whatever comes to mind in a loose, semi-coherent/occasionally abrasive format like so (#MAGA!):

 

 

I mentioned last week that considering how in flux the squad currently is for a variety of justifiable reasons, what matters most right now is results, not performances. In short, this was a good result, even if it wasn’t a great one. I’ll keep my fume powder dry until after a lethargic home draw to Burnley or Real Brighton Hove Albion Town City FC or whatever the hell they’re trying to squeeze onto cheaply-made commemorative scarves while they fight relegation all season.

The team that gets named for tonight could go so many ways. On the one hand, you saw a more attack-minded, horizontally-inclined lineup largely run over Split in the first half last Thursday. Once again, Klaassen looked a more dangerous player when the midfield additions of Lookman and Mirallas came in to provide width. Combine that with the need to get Sigurdsson some much-needed match fitness and it’ll be interesting to see what Koeman decides to do with his starting XI.

On the other hand, you’ve got a 2-0 lead and you’re headed to a hive of combustible ultras ready to gin up their home side. We score and the tie is effectively put to bed. But we also have something to protect. And while Split certainly aren’t City, like City they certainly are a team placed in a situation with nothing to lose who face a deficit that is certainly not insurmountable due to our lackluster second half effort last week. On the bright side, we’ve got a team with enough versatility in the roster now to provide some true options to a smart manager who, outside of doing a weird bit with his starting XI against Stoke seems to generally get things right. Thursday will be tricky, but the odds ought to certainly be with us. What could go wrong??

Glad to see Rooney has retired from England international duty. Further proof he’s only interested in playing for teams with a chance to win a trophy. #WinningMentality

 

 

The move to get Sigurdsson and Klaassen on with 20 minutes to go was the right one from Koeman. But Sigurdsson isn’t match fit and MAYBE had two training sessions with his new teammates ahead of the trip to City. He wasn’t ready yet to make a real impact—though go back and look at the few free kicks he did take. I’ll be damned if they weren’t all pretty good for a guy who hasn’t played a competitive match in quite some time. Sigurdsson’s balls (giggle) seemed aimed with precision at a void where a competent target-man ought to soon (hopefully, maybe, please please please please) reside. And if Le Hunk is going to continue to resist our advances and my endlessly inappropriate objectification of him and stay at Arsenal, we’ve got to consider that whatever answer Walsh and Koeman come up with may not inspire, but maybe also shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand considering all they’ve gotten right up to this point in the window. I don’t know who that is, but you get the sense that there are enough nice parts in this setup that even a decent striker could thrive.

Speaking of Steve Walsh, I’ve heard some odd moans springing forth from our inevitable summer transfer angst that all Everton have done is sign “obvious” targets in the form of guys like Pickford, Keane, Sigurdsson, etc.—a sentiment which may make some sense on a surface level, but also seems to fundamentally misunderstand the broader role of a Director of Football who helps to coordinate the entire operation of roster management (recruitment, acquisition, loan decisions, etc.). If you’ve been a fan of this thing for more than a year, you’ll understand that the ability of Everton to complete the acquisition of “obvious signings” isn’t exactly something we’ve excelled at and shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. Additionally, while Walsh built a title team at Leicester, we’ve almost reduced that feat to something akin to a professional gambler who has found creative ways of beating the house as opposed to systematically developing a plan of recruitment that combines completing business with known, elite targets AND unearthing less heralded gems. It’s like there’s a lot of you out there contending Walsh isn’t doing enough by signing Michael Keane when he ought to have found a center half playing in the Egyptian League that no one had ever heard of that we could buy for a handful of SportsPesa-branded fidget spinners who could magically produce the same result. Steve Walsh isn’t a party trick, he’s a DoF. Which means that putting a winning squad together means an all of the above approach to team building.

But if you love the Steve Walsh party trick, I’ve got a £1.5m striker from Sheffield United and a love of your life midfield destroyer from Villa we got on the cheap that ought to still be entertaining you.

Speaking of DCL—a player whose girlfriend I hope continues to haunt my dreams—I love him more with each passing moment. And he will start a lot. But how great would it have been to throw him on with 20 minutes to go against a tired City back line playing with 10 men? The domino effect of acquiring a target man you can pencil in weekly could reduce DCL’s minutes, but could increase his ability to influence games even more. But if Koeman finds a way to keep him in the XI and wants to line him up in a back four alongside Keane, who am I to argue? He’s simply taken his opportunity—regardless of where he’s been deployed—and found a way to affect matches. I fully expect Matt Law to have him sold to Chelsea by the new year.

 

 

So I thought Rooney fell into that most ominous of sporting categories known as “hope as a plan”. I was wrong. He’s been awesome. But he’s still the age he is and still has a lot of miles. He’s already played a ton of minutes and here’s hoping he’s on the bench Thursday night so he’s fresh for Chelsea. There’s clearly still a player there, but the magic can disappear rapidly if the realities of where he is physically at this point of his career aren’t recognized. How Koeman manages his minutes with Europa in the equation will be crucial. And considering he’s our only scorer up to this point, it’ll be tempting to ride him more than we ought to. Worth watching.

Speaking of advanced age and a pleasantly surprising level of performance to start the season, Leighton Baines has been great. And also can’t possibly play as many minutes as will likely be on offer this season. And also needs a player brought in that can afford him with the chance to rest occasionally.

Much like I’m not worried about Klaassen, I’m not worried about Tom Davies. But whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, we need more from him.

Once again, Klaassen didn’t get on the scoresheet. And yet once again, Klaassen used his smarts to make a crucial play to secure a result. Even if you aren’t convinced by him yet, it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s smart enough and willing enough to do the little things that help teams win.

Schneiderlin is somehow even handsomer when he’s angry. The way his cheek bones radiated when he was dressing down Aguero… Frankly, that’s what this game is all about, guys.

On to tonight. Let’s secure our place moving forward in Europe, finish up the window strongly, and continue down the road to a place that exists in all our hearts that I like to call #MEGA.

Rob Vera
Rob Vera

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