Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Barkley and Naismith – Everton 0 Swansea 0

My ball!

My ball!

The Barkley-Naismith Problem sounds like one of those mathematical conjectures that attracts a $1M prize that is unclaimed since 1974. Everton’s very own Barkley-Naismith Problem might prove as intractable unless Roberto can find a way of blending these two non-complementary talents. There is no future in having twice as much possession as our opponents and fashioning just three attempts on target as was the case vs an obdurate Swansea, aided by a tolerant referee.

Since Ross Barkley started his season late, he has caught the eye with his dribbling, his prompting and his general busyness in the final third, but it came as something of a surprise that his assist for Samuel Eto’o’s curler into the corner of the Burnley net last week was his first assist in his Premier League career. The long-standing Everton issue of converting pass completions into a killer ball remains, with Leighton Baines still the most likely source of unlocking a drilled defence. Though Barkley is still learning his game, it’s perhaps a tinge disappointing that after what must have been a period of rehabilitation during which he worked with coaches and video analysis, he still knocks the ball off sideways (as often as not) when probing for an opening. The game-changer needs to change games

That might not be so bad – and might be too harsh a criticism for a young player – were it not for Barkley’s impact on Steven Naismith, Everton’s best player in the first half dozen matches of the season. Pushed wide to give the England man a free role “in the hole”, the spaces Naismith nosed out between the lines and the late runs into the box that yielded goals, have become much less frequent (though the Scot’s work ethic has blocked opposition full-backs effectively). Opposition centre-halves must be very pleased to see Naismith so distant from domain.

Can the two men best suited to the attacking midfielder role be accommodated in the same XI? Three shots on target in 90 minutes and a reluctance to cross the ball due to an absence of numbers in the penalty box suggest that they can’t at the moment. And (whisper it) if you had to pick one or the other, wouldn’t it make more sense to pick Steven Naismith? Heresy I know, but Ross Barkley might not be an automatic first choice and rotation may well be the best option regardless of the fixture list’s demands.

IN SEARCH OF DUNCAN FERGUSON BY ALAN PATTULLO– REVIEW

And his signature song was originally done by The Village People and The Pet Shop Boys

And his signature song was originally done by The Village People and The Pet Shop Boys

Two very clear memories of Duncan Ferguson are etched on my mind. With Everton rock bottom of the Premiership, drifting under the dubious direction of Mike Walker, just 14,505 pitched up at Selhurst Park to see the Blues play Palace. Early on, just in front of me, the new long, lean, angular centre-forward, accepted
an awkward throw-in instantly, turned, beat a man and whipped a cross into that area between the six yard box and the penalty spot. A murmur went round the fans – this was an upgrade on the previous month’s Number 9, one Brett Angel. The“chewing gum feet” on the end of so intimidating a physical presence had me thinking of Marco Van Basten – and I wasn’t alone.

Fast forward six months and I’m in the frenzied back room of the General Smuts
pub, reputedly the largest in London, the atmosphere acrid with cigarette smoke and heaving with Evertonians. Players names are chanted and cheered, but when it comes to Duncan Ferguson, out comes the full “Go West” and off come the shirts – hundreds
of them – swung above heads in tribute to the already legendary celebration of
his goal at Goodison the previous month that was enough to secure the points against
Manchester United.

These two events capture the paradox at the heart of the man’s career. We lost
the game against Palace, but, without the big man – suspended or injured as was
so often the case – we won the game at Loftus Road (with a sensational last
minute free kick from Andy Hinchcliffe). As I once heard at Goodison late in his
career when he was hooked an hour into another lacklustre performance, “Some legend you are!” – acknowledging both Ferguson’s consistent inconsistency and his undisputed legend status.

So who was this most opaque of players? What compelled him to be such a compelling yet frustrating presence through some of Everton’s most difficult and
dangerous seasons? And where is he now, literally and metaphorically? Some
answers, but not all, can be found in Scottish journalist and long time Ferguson pursuer Alan Pattullo’s biography, which teases more than it delivers.

Or rather it delivers both too much and too little. The author has done his research and he’s damn well going to use it – so we get lots and lots of stuff about Jim McLean, Ferguson’s first manager at Dundee United and a long diversion into contemporary Finnish classical music, amongst other sidelines to the main narrative. That’s partly down to the subject’s non-cooperation with the author, a member of the long-snubbed press pack (a snub that bothered journos much more than it bothered fans) and partly down to the author’s unwillingness to rein in his verbosity.

If a certain long-windedness is forgivable (though there’s at least 100 pages could be edited from the text with no loss of clarity), the failure to deal with Ferguson’s many contradictions is a greater fault. He is both a rebel and a leader, sometimes described as quiet and sensitive, sometimes described as loud and insensitive. He is the obsessive trainer whom more than one colleague describes as not really liking the game. These strands needed pulling together and a stance taken.

The book ends with Ferguson’s bravado – for once considered rather than reactive – in his claim that he would take a break and then return to manage his beloved Everton. As unlikely as that sounded five or six years ago, Ferguson took that break, did his badges and has rapidly ascended to first team coach forming an unlikely alliance with the media-friendly, postgraduate degree holding Roberto Martinez. Precisely nobody would be surprised so see him move forward in the dugout when Roberto gets the call from a Champions League team and become Boss in title as well as reputation at Goodison.

Maybe, like so many footballers held in a state of arrested development, Duncan Disorderly has jumped from wild teenager to thoughtful middle-aged professional in one bound. And, like many of the managerial greats, his unfulfilled playing career may spur fulfilment off the pitch.

Watch this space.

Reviewing the situation – where are Everton just now?

krasnodar-mapIt’s where we are in May that counts. The table doesn’t lie. It’s over the full 38 games that we’ll show our true colours etc etc etc. Such statements may well be selections from the Big Book of Premier League Manager Cliches, but they’re no less true for that. But we’re not here to speak the bleedin’ obvious – that’s Alan Shearer’s job – we’re here to examine where we are after four games – more than 10% of the season.

We’re ninth, which isn’t bad, but below both recent custom and practice and expectations – at least that’s the orthodox view. But it’s not mine – I think. We played two Champions League teams (albeit at home) and came away with just the one point – disappointing, but hardly beyond the realms of probability and we were only a few minutes vs Arsenal from all three, which would have made for a good, if not outstanding return on the Goodison Londoners double-header. The draw at Leicester does not look quite so bad after their start and opening day fixtures against newly promoted teams can often be a bit of a banana skin. Five points after four games is, context-free, a middling return.

What of that context though? The usual suspects are ahead of us already, but our most direct rivals have not got away, for all the relative gloom around Evertonians until West Brom presented us with two goals. Plaudit-laden Tottenham are just a couple of points to the good and Arsenal and Liverpool occupy the two places above us, with six points, despite all that spending. If we, not unreasonably, write off oil-fuelled Chelsea and Manchester City and equally not unreasonably expect Aston Villa, Swansea and Southampton to drop back into the pack, some late summertime Keystone Kops defending has barely cost us any real ground.

Except that it probably has. Thursday sees the start of the Europa League with a tough home fixture against Wolfsburg. We’re back at Goodison for a winnable fixture vs Crystal Palace next Sunday, before an awkward midweek visit to Swansea for a League Cup match that is likely to see squad players given a run out by both managers.

Then come three games that will go far to telling how this season will go. The last Saturday of the month brings a trip across The Park for a game that we, more than ever, dare not lose. Then it’s the long and difficult journey towards the Caucasus for the visit to Russians Krasnodar, before rounding off the triple header with a midday match (less than three days later) at Old Trafford. How the squad deals, physically and mentally with that period of eight days, will reveal much. Oh yes, November brings six matches in 30 days and December as many as eight in 26 days.

So that’s the other aspect of context. Four PL games in four weeks, with an international break in the middle, constituted an easing into the season, with the opportunity for the medical staff to work on little knocks and for the coaching staff to drill the players at Finch Farm. If the four points squandered late on in the first two games of the season came from unexpectedly sloppy play, can that case be made if Manchester United’s huge squad without European distractions pop in a couple in the last ten minutes on Sunday October 5? You would be a hard man or woman to say that – which is why we may well live to regret not having nine points now, having made hay while the sun shone, in preparation for the grind that awaits us.

 

 

It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish – or is it?

Bring me the head of Richard Scudamore

Bring me the head of Richard Scudamore

Is the sequence of clubs and points differential defined in the current Premier League table the one which would satisfy most fans – something of which Jeremy Bentham would approve?

Barclays Premier League Table

 
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
Last updated 9 days ago
Arsenal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aston Villa 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Burnley 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chelsea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Crystal Palace 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Everton 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hull 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Leicester 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Liverpool 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Man City 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Man Utd 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Newcastle 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
QPR 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Southampton 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Stoke 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sunderland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Swansea 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tottenham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
West Brom 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
West Ham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

 

So Arsenal win the title, and Tottenham get relegated. There is no sequence which could possibly satisfy the fans of both clubs and Arsenal have the larger fan base. This would constitute their dream season.

Villa and Burnley fans will be ecstatic over their Champions League finish. Prince William and Alastair Campbell equally happy – which can’t have happened too often.

Chelsea at least get in to the Champions League, and miss out on the title on goal difference – the gob on Mourinho would be worth a look.

Palace fans would accept their second best ever season – Tony who?.

Everton always finish sixth.

Hull and Leicester will be perfectly happy with a top-half finish.

Fans of Liverpool, Man City and Man Utd will be distraught. However fans of all other clubs would be delighted and there are in total far more of them – something of which Stalin was aware. 

Newcastle fans enjoy being (well, certainly looking) disappointed, and can console themselves that one place behind Man Utd wasn’t so bad.

QPR, Soton, Stoke, Sunderland and Swansea will all be delighted to avoid the drop and in most instances surprised.

Tottenham we’ve already dealt with.

West Brom and West Ham fans both know it’s coming, and at least they had a chance at the last game of the season.

What’s not to like?

Thanks to Pete Smith for all the best bits of this post.

 

Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Martinez and Stats 16 March 2014

Indeed!

Indeed!

For all the plaudits that Roberto Martinez’s Everton have collected for our new post-Moyes positive football, the hardest part of the game is still really very hard indeed for the neat and tidy Blues. As I write, we have 40 Premier League goals – that’s more than Tottenham Hotspurs (just how are they 5th?) but six fewer than the benighted Manchester United, three fewer than Southampton and only two more than Laudrup-free, relegation threatened, Swansea City. “We don’t get enough goals from midfield”, said my brother and I agreed. But what do the (Premier League) stats tell us?

Firstly, Romelu Lukaku is not the problem. He has ten goals (most of them crucial) in 19 starts (plus two as a substitute). That’s pretty much the goal every other game that marks out a top striker. He also hits the target with about half his shots too (29 of 62), a better rate (if not, alas, output) than a certain Luis Suarez (61 of 131)!

Go ten yards further back, and the source of Everton’s inability to convert possession into goals becomes more clear. Kevin Mirallas’ five goals have come from 70 shots, of which only 21 were on target. He has an almost direct comparator in Daniel Sturridge, whose 18 goals have come from just one more shot, but the Liverpool man has hit the target 33 times from those 71 attempts. If it feels like Kev is shooting on sight and often wildly, well, to a large extent, he is. 

Ross Barkley likes a dig too and, with 62 shots, he has had a pop exactly as often as the Big Belgian, but Ross has just 3 goals, probably because he has been on target just 13 times (fewer than Jordan Henderson!). Barkley’s progress this season has been wonderful to behold, but he has to score more goals and to do so, he has to hit the target more often.

So – apart from practising (please practise!) – what’s the solution? One player may have it. Gerard Deulofeu sits third on Everton’s shots on target ladder with 16, but from just 23 attempts at goal (in 4 starts and 12 sub appearances). This confirms another “feeling” from watching him play. He can beat a man and sometimes tries to beat one too many, but when he gets a shot off, he’s usually manufactured a yard to play in, even close to goal. (The on-target : off-target ratio the Spaniard is producing is more characteristic of a defender who comes up for set plays, getting on the end of crosses). 

This is why Deulofeu is so exciting and why Roberto must move heaven and earth to exercise the second season option on the loan. Next year, the young man will have that extra touch of composure, that little more experience of big matches, that growing-up that all strikers need (see L. Suarez and D. Sturridge mentioned above). The goals will come then – and how! 

All stats from http://espnfc.com/team/squad/_/id/368/league/eng.1/everton?cc=5739.