Monday, 19 December 2011

Pre-Christmas Away days No 2.

Everton v Swansea City. 21/12/11. Brief Preview

As hinted in my previous NUFC preview piece, the quick turnaround of fixtures lets me concentrate less on Everton's predicament, admirably analysed in depth here , by the teriffic Swiss Ramble, and focus directly on the squad.

This fixture is another difficult AwayDay, another learning step on the Prem's "get smart or die" premise. Here goes.

When you first cast your eyes on their first choice (Sq No 24) keeper, Tim Howard, don't automatically be ducking any stray bullets. The American GK's kit this season looks like it might be worn at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in camouflage from some sniping Guerrilla Taliban sharpshooters, the better to blend with the desert background. Who chose that? Surely, not him.

One of the few players who's gone on to have a BETTER career post SAF's and MUFC's rejection, (it WAS the period where they were looking for a long-term Peter Schmeichel replacement), he is athletic, vocal, controlling and an excellent shot stopper. Similar in build and style to our own MV, he's also a fine example of success in sport through adversity, making light of Tourette's Syndrome, and capping a fine domestic and International career with regular and current displays.

He is covered by Jan Mucha (Sq No 1), who's Carling Cup error will cruelly be on Xmas Blooper DVD's.

Also on the books is ex-Wolves (sq no 12) Marcus Hahnemann, petrolhead, popular fellow Yank, experienced from his days at Reading and the Midlands.

At RB, they generally field (2) Tony Hibbert, the long serving PL stalwart or (23) Seamus Coleman, the exciting Irish marauding wing-back, once loaned to Blackpool and key in their promotion season, who often plays as a RMF. Energy personified.

At LB, (3) Leighton Baines, England's understudy to (C)Ashley Cole, is possessed of that wonderful staple of Tabloidese, a "great(sweet,wonderful, etc....) Left Foot". What about the rest of him? one feels like asking. That's pretty good, too, as it happens. He regularly exploits the modern FB's license to go forward, taking free kicks, corners, penalties all, and crosses wickedly. At a level that our own Neil Taylor may progress to, I like to think.

At CB, they have (6) Phil Jagielka/ (15) Sylvain Distin/ (5) John Heitinga as the first choices (perm one from the latter two - PJ always plays if fit). Jags is one of Capello's first choice England squad members, and one of many examples of David Moyes' (the Manager's) ability to mine gems from the lower division - we'll come to that.

Partnered by either the experienced Frenchman, Distin, or Holland's WC runner-up Heitinga, the solidity of either pairing is devilishly difficult to "get at". Talent, experience, attitude, application - they've got it in spades. Sylvain Distin has thrived in the Prem. At Man City, Newcastle and now Merseyside, all the fans and teams have seen his value. Heitinga, from Holland via Atletico Madrid, can also work as a DMF, a la Claude Makelele, but has Moyes' trust at the back also.

In Midfield we find some of the more influential players. (7) Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, (10) Royston Drenthe, (14) James McFadden, (17) Tim Cahill, (18) Philip Neville, (20) Ross Barkley, (21) Leon Osman, (25) Marouane Fellaini, (26) Jack Rodwell,- they are the players likely to be chosen from. Given their recognisable and continuing puzzling weakness up front, these players are the heartbeat of Everton. On Saturday, v Norwich, they went with Neville, Osman, Cahill and Fellaini in a Diamond/1-3 variation.

Phil Neville, younger brother of Gary, was the holder. Since he can also play FB, it seems a natural role. Arguably, another "better after than before" ex-Man Utd player, he is also a popular Club Captain.

Osman, busy, skilfull and a grafter is a typical Moyes player to some, coupling technique with a work ethic, and has a knack of scoring key goals.

Both Fellaini, he of the Blaxploitation hairstyle and Cahill, bargain of the century, are excellent in the air. Tim Cahill has that uncanny knack of staying airborne longer than most, hover-like ( a la Denis Law) . He, and Fellaini, are also hard as nails. Leave a foot in, Guvnor? Pleasure, mate.The Aussie and the Belgian are always tough opponents .

Drenthe and Bilyaletdinov, left footed worker bees, flit in and out of the side dependent on opponents and match-ups. Drenthe reminds me of Edgar Davids, in looks and style, and in a cameo on Sat v Norwich, made the equaliser for(11) Denis Stracqualursi, the other sub introduced in that game (successfully). Billy also has a fearsome shot.

Rodwell and Barkley, academy graduates and English, draw covetous glances constantly from Top 4 sides, according to the tabloids. There is some truth in this, since Rodwell, particularly, is often classed a FEC, and Barkley inevitably performs outstandingly when selected, as MOTD likes to highlight. McFadden, ex Brum, is back as a squad filler.

The eternal puzzle from the talented Moyes is the front players, or their lack thereof. Finance, as cited, is reputed to be the problem, but it always makes me think WTF?? From a Manager who has fielded a 4-6-0 line up (when both Saha and the Yak -since gone- were available), doesn't it puzzle you too?

(8) Louis Saha is still there- and if he were not made of plasticine would surely be in the Thierry Henry talent bracket were it not for his ALWAYS seeming slightly broken. Appalling injury record is what I'm saying. He remains though, when on the field, a real threat.

The other forwards who have featured recently are (11) Denis Stracqualursi, (27) Apostolos Vellios, (43) Conor McAleny, and (28) Victor Anichebe . The first 2 were acquired from Argentina and Greece, as bargains, and we're back to money problems again. Both are young, of promise, but Prem inexperienced, although every player was once.

Anichebe rivals Saha in the fitness stakes, and McAleny is another Academy graduate who has been scoring regularly for their Reserves. Although when compared to some "big" clubs this may seem a paucity of threat, and despite David Moyes using that 4-6-0 once, the highly experienced Scotsman is renowned for getting absolute commitment from every single player.

Am I being harsh?

Yes, of course, but only up to a point.Another young French player, (19) Magaye Gueye played last Saturday in that Home draw against Norwich, paired with Vellios, the inexperienced Greek youngster. Evertonians are wishing that January, and the returning Landon Donovan on loan, can perk up the front line, as he did last year.

David Moyes is the PL's second longest serving manager, behind only SAF. He has to general acclaim performed miracles at Everton. Throughout this piece I've hinted at the "money troubles" at the club. He has a reputation for buying bargains, (Cahill, Lescott, Jagielka), developing talent ( Rooney, Rodwell, Coleman, Barkley), and STILL keeping the team PL competitive without the financial backing available to Mancini et al.. He is also one scary dude. Would you argue with him? I guess not, and neither do his players. They work their butts off to make the TEAM succeed. Remember Joe Royle's "Dogs of War" midfield from Everton's past? This group are much, much better, I believe.

This will be a fixture where we do well to match the Newcastle result, a point, and the famous Gwladys St end will make sure that the fixture is as atmospheric as any in the PL, particularly at a night game. Top class, top quality, opposition. Let's hope we, the JackArmy, get to celebrate.

#Celebrity fans.
Two spring to mind.
Mike "Porky" Parry, late of the TalkSport stable, and nowadays engaged by the repellent Kelvin McKenzie's Internet Outlet, Sports Tonight TV.
Amanda Holden, ex Mrs Les Dennis, friend of Neil Morrissey, she being the possessor of the original trout-pout (allegedly).

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