So Steven Naismith then? Not exactly a Metsut Ozil; not a Stephen Pienaar either; maybe not even a Leon Osman, but he was immense under pressure, as Everton weathered a second half Chelsea storm whipped up by Jose Mourinho – a man who knows a bit about winning football matches, but a man who couldn’t win this one.
Though he’ll never be a fan favourite – there will be a lot more number 20 shirts sold than 14s in the club shop – but his manager will have liked what he saw today and so should fans. In a match against a Champions League club, discipline counts for everything – it’s why you see managers screaming at players, imploring them to keep their shape and track their runners. In the long periods when Chelsea dominated possession, Naismith stayed wide when he needed to stay wide, covered inside when he needed to cover inside and was determined to get goalside whenever his team lost the ball – that’s impressive stuff from a man who made his name as a forward. The number of times he picked up scrappy ball from Chelsea’s unimaginative attacking forays and gave it to the nearest blue shirt had my mind’s eye wistfully recalling the mid 80s glory days of Paul Bracewell and of Joe Parkinson a decade later – scrappers who stopped them, and started us.
Balance in a side is not just about covering the physical dimensions of the pitch, it’s also about risk and reward. It was this element of the Scot’s play that caught my eye over the full 90 minutes. With a Gazzaesque Ross Barkley looking to beat a man and play the killer pass (and wasn’t it great to see a young Englishman with the confidence, ability and license to do that against a CL club), other players have to watch for the loss of possession, the swiftness of the counter-attack, the runs from deep. This element of the game demands experience and concentration and was exemplified in the performance of Gareth Barry, but Naismith wasn’t far behind the impressive debutant in that unsung aspect of the game.
But the Premier League demands that players be multi-dimensional, especially in the games against sides that are tilting for the Title, whose benches are stacked with players who would command eight figure transfer fees. Naismith was charged with getting forward too, and he did so, to score a goal with a simple finish, but a remarkable conception. In open play, as the ball crossed the line with time up on the clock, Everton had four players in the six yard box – more than their opponents, for whom David Luiz had once more gone walkabout. For all of Naismith’s dedication to defensive duties, when he needed to be one yard out in the middle of the goal, he was.
Goodison’s faithful saluted him on his late substitution – we know a good ‘un.
Everton 1 Chelsea 0 MotM – Steven Naismith.