There’s been a lot of debate about it, inevitably views are polarised, but I can definitively reveal that ‘Yes’, Shelvey is an unpleasant, snide and over-rated player. And before I get a load of abuse from Swansea readers of an Everton blog, this is the view of some Swansea fans I know. So there it is, no further debate needed.
Anyway, this idle abuse of an opposition player won’t get this (already late) blog written. A game between two sides with seemingly little to play for, assuming we don’t lose every remaining game in this not-to-be-remembered-for-the-right-reason season, was going to be decided by which side Couldn’t Be Ar*ed less than the other one. The fact that it was a relatively tame 1-1 draw would suggest that Swansea and Everton CBA equally.
But this meander in the sun was actually notable for Everton on a number of levels.
Firstly, our defence seems to have clicked and is playing rather well as a unit again. And not just at The Liberty Stadium, but games against the might of QPR, Newcastle and an off colour Southampton, would seem to suggest that we’re doing a few things right again, which frankly makes the bitterest of pills from Kiev even harder to swallow, but then Alcaraz hasn’t played since, and none of our opposition have contained anyone with the qualities of Yarmelenko, or anyone anywhere close for that matter. Key to the improved solidity is down to the partnership of Stones and Jags, the latter’s game clearly improved by not getting out of position by feeling that he needs to cover a cock-up by his Paraguayan neighbour. Both have been strong in the tackle, strong in their blocks, strong in the air, even both strong taking the ball forward, even if Jags still hasn’t quite got out of the habit of spraying a 50yd cross field pass straight in to touch. It’s a joy to see. What the back four will do against a very mobile front three from Burnley we’ll soon find out, but suggestions that we need a completely new defence don’t seem to be warranted at this stage, although no one would doubt the need for a stronger back up if the likes of Galloway, Browning and the currently on loan Pennington are not felt to be up to the task next season. There are positive noises about these kids, but maybe an older and wiser head or two may be needed as well. But we can leave that speculation for a few more weeks.
Both Coleman and Baines seem to be enjoying a bit of late season resurgence, partly because they’re getting more cover from the nippy Lennon, the crafty Osman, and now a returning Pienaar, but also because they seem to be encouraged to get forward like they did last season, pressing the opposition back further, meaning the gaps behind them are less easy to exploit, rather than the tentative half way house of barely going over the half way line. Yesterday saw Seamus going outside and running his man on many an occasion, and when he needs a breather, Lennon is there to have another go. Neil Taylor will be having nightmares at diminutive and rapid wingers/full backs running at him at full pelt, although in fairness to the lad, he coped pretty well with it most of the game on their left flank.
Another meaningful performance yesterday was from a calm and crafty Barry, who frankly bossed the midfield, and I don’t think blotted his copybook once with a misplaced pass. This was probably due to the weak pressing from Swansea, or maybe it was RM’s tactical shift which threw McCarthy further forward, and left Barry on his own as DM with no one to share the responsibility with – perhaps that keeps him focussed 100% of the time, and ensures he acts not just as the defensive shield, but as the nexus between defence and midfield/attack, because he hasn’t got anyone else to do it for him. All down to you Gareth. Well, he has had his detractors this season, although in fairness mainly since his return from his pre Christmas injury, but yesterday was much more like the Barry we knew and apparently loved last season. How fickle we can be sometimes.
The alteration to the tactical plan, the much-demanded Plan B if you will, was very much in evidence against Swansea. As I’ve said, Barry was the only sitting DM, with Barkley as well as McCarthy dropping back in there when a second body might be needed. This didn’t then compromise the genuine width offered by Lennon and to a lesser extent Osman. Ossie’s enforced departure opened the door for another returning geriatric, Steven Pienaar. Remember him? Frankly, Pienaar hasn’t been the same this season since he was clattered early on in the Arsenal game and came off with a quad injury, and of course the latest long lay off with a knee injury. At the ‘incredibly old age of 32′ he will find it harder and harder to recover from knocks and strains, especially if he finds someone like Angel Rangel not just trying to clip his heels, but just downright kicking his legs from under him. The new tactics yesterday were a breath of fresh air, and in Pienaar we have a man able to exploit the change in emphasis, and hopefully we can look forward to him re-establishing his partnership with Baines on the left flank for the rest of this inglorious season (don’t worry, only 6 games left….).
Are we to excuse Kone’s lack of finesse by his 13 month lay off? Or is he just not good enough? There is little doubt that he can hold a ball up sometimes better than Lukaku, but that’s about it from what we’ve seen of late. He just doesn’t offer the same threat as Rom, not in the air, or with the ball at his feet. If we’re being generous, we say he’s not fully match fit, and if we’re being harsh, we say he’s – well, you know. It is no time of the year for the jury to be out, so the likelihood is that he’ll stay on the roster for next season, and we’ll see what he can do after a proper pre season, assuming he then gets any game time, and assuming of course we still have Lukaku or an appropriate replacement. I’d like to know the views of someone who’s seen David Henen in the flesh. He’s been scoring at U18 level, in the U19 Dallas Cup, and also at U21 level. He offers lightning speed and an ability to finish, but he’s no big target man, so I’d welcome more informed views than I can muster, but I’d like to see him on the pitch at some stage for the first team this season. My understanding of the complicated deal we have is that we have the option to buy him from Olympiakos for £500k (giving them all the risk, plus £200k profit), so a few run outs would help decide whether that was worth the gamble. If he can justify his place in the U21s and score regularly, he may be a better bet than McAleny (yet to light up the stadium in Cardiff) or Long (ditto, Brentford). We’ll see, he’s definitely on the radar anyway. Maybe Martinez’s ambiguous comments about being creative in the transfer market were aimed at players like him, and also a sign of confidence in the other young lads coming through (Ledson at DM next season anyone?)
Our play at times yesterday was good, the 20 mins or so after half time particularly so, but we knew didn’t we, that a second goal was a necessity in that period. It didn’t come of course, and Seamus’ strange handball (irrespective of whether he was nudged to the floor, he didn’t need to handle it, just a rush of blood to the head methinks) meant we shared the spoils. I had hoped for a run of wins to end the season, but I guess a positive result is better than a defeat (which I’d confidently predicted), and at least it ensures we dampen down any ridiculous over-enthusiasm for next season before it can get a foothold! We certainly deserved the win, but was not to be, and we move on, back to Goodison for two back-to-back home games against two teams desperate for points for different reasons.
Which Everton will we see? The CBA end of season flip flop type, or the hungry desperate to prove ourselves one? I’ve spent £80 on two tickets and two 200+ mile round trips await me, so I think I know which one I want to see, but then don’t we always?