Forgive me if I get slightly carried away, but I thought Everton were fantastic last night. In fact the whole experience was quite wonderful. We had football which was truly deserving of the school of science, we had tough tackling and determination, which wouldn’t have been out of place in Joe Royle’s Dogs of War and we had organisation and a defensive resoluteness that would have been befitting of any team put out by previous manager David Moyes… and let’s not forget the supporters, who created an atmosphere to inspire the players to victory, a victory which could have very easily slipped away after Jesus Navas equalised deep into the second half.
Four of the five talking points from the Manchester City match are going to focus on four individual performances, but that is not to belittle the performance of others who will not get a detailed mention. Joel Robles continued to enhance his reputation. His save from Kevin De Bruyne could yet prove the defining moment in this cup run. Romelu Lukaku made it 12 goals in 12 games and 19 for the season in total, but we almost expect Rom to score now, don’t we?!! Ross ran all night and was desperately unlucky not to score and the defence were all excellent, their performances all the more impressive when you consider the criticism they have faced in recent weeks.
1. Roberto’s Kevin Brock moment?
We often hear how Kevin Brock’s poor backpass proved the turning point for Howard Kendall. Adrian Heath taking advantage to equalise for Everton in a cup tie away at Oxford, a moment from which Everton never looked back as they went on to two cup finals and a trophy laden 4 year spell.
Well last night we may have witnessed Roberto Martinez’ turning point. In the opening 15 to 20 minutes, Everton struggled to get a foothold in the game. Manchester City, without creating too many chances were controlling possession and Everton were well on the back foot. The turning point arrived midway through the first half when Besic chased Yaya Toure from just inside the City half to midway inside Everton’s, making up the gap between the pair before executing a perfect sliding tackle to recover the ball, in an instant he was on his feet and surged forward to start an attack. The crowd were lifted and the momentum shifted, from that moment forwards, Everton were on top and duly deserved the 2-1 winning scoreline.
Besic was superb all night, showing the correct level of commitment and composure required to unsettle a team possessing the quality that Manchester City bring to the game. His infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on his teammates and Everton played with a verve that Manchester City found difficult to contain. His quality on the ball is underestimated and his place in a midfield three makes the Blues far more resilient at the back.
2. Gareth Barry nullified the threat of David Silva.
Roberto Martinez often speaks with hyperbole, exaggerating the positives in every situation. He was at it again after the full time whistle, highlighting the contribution of Gareth Barry, proclaiming the Everton midfielder as “one of the best English players ever”.
“I think Gareth is very underrated,” added Martinez. “He is one of the big reasons why we have so many successful young players here.
“He is a leader. I have never seen a player with professionalism and daily standards like him.
“For me, he is one of the best ever English players. He could end up reaching 600 Premier League appearances and that’s because you can build a team around him.”
While the Everton manager may be slightly over the top, Barry was outstanding yet again, producing another impressive performance in an excellent individual season. Barry was excellent throughout, marshalling the ever dangerous David Silva, keeping Manchester City’s playmaker on the periphery of the action. When Everton met City early in the season, it was the Spaniard who proved the difference between the teams, but there was no way Martinez and Barry were going to let the World Cup winner dictate play.
The two action shots below show how closely Barry marshalled Silva, closing down the Spaniard as soon as he received the ball. The only way Silva was able to get involved in the game was to drop deep and out of a dangerous position.
Barry will need to be equally effective in the second leg at the Etihad in three weeks’ time, although he will get another opportunity to frustrate the diminutive Spaniard in the Premier League clash next Wednesday.
What was particularly impressive about Barry performance was his willingness to get forward and support the Blues attacking play. He did this well remaining steadfast in his determination to stopping his former team, using all his experience to pick the right moments to get forward. He demonstrated this perfectly, assisting Romelu Lukaku’s goal with a pin point cross from the left.
3. Leighton Baines showing signs that he is almost back to his best.
Leighton Baines has slowly edged his way back from fitness and admitted after the weekend match with Tottenham that he was having to manage his return from injury. On Wednesday evening we started to see the very best of Leighton Baines, particularly in the second half where he made a number of lung busting runs to support the Everton attack on the left. His quality on the ball is never in question and his link up play with Leon Osman was excellent, causing the City defence problems with his clever running off the ball and then using his superb close control to pick his way through the tightest of corners.
If Everton are to push up the table and continue their run to Wembley they will need Leighton Baines to be at his very best, the signs are encouraging, but I expect Leighton will take a well earned rest at the weekend, allowing Brendan Galloway to return to the team for the home match against Dagenham and Redbridge.
4. Ossie returns with more than a hint of the David Moyes work ethic.
The loss of Tom Cleverley at half time certainly worried me and I am sure a number of other Evertonians were concerned when he failed to appear after the interval. However we needn’t have worried, because Leon Osman provided a masterclass, showing the brilliant work ethic and touch on the ball that has made him such an integral part of the Everton squad for over a decade.
Osman’s performance was a throwback to the David Moyes era, hardworking, reliable and determined not to be on the losing side. He crunched into a number of tackles and very rarely, if at all, did he fail to appear with the ball at his feet. He also provided support to Leighton Baines on the left and although age is certainly catching up with him (I didn’t think he could get any slower…but he has!!!) he used his football intelligence to pick up good areas on the pitch so he could continue to affect the game.
5. Injury crisis at right back!
The loss of Seamus Coleman in the closing stages of the game, which left Everton down to ten men for the remainder of the match, has left Roberto Martinez with a crisis at right back as we head into a vital run of fixtures against Manchester City (League and Cup), Chelsea and Swansea, not to mention the FA Cup. A calf injury is set to rule the Irish international out for 3 to 4 weeks, and with Ty Browning out for the season and Tony Hibbert struggling with injuries, Everton will be forced to juggle the squad, or turn to youth.
For Saturday’s match against Dagenham and Redbridge, Martinez will in all likelihood turn to the 21 squad, giving Matthew Pennington, Jonjoe Kenny or Mason Holgate a chance to impress. In the bigger games it is likely to mean a reshuffle across the back, with the timely return of Phil Jagielka allowing for John Stones to step in at full back.
The loss of Coleman may tempt Martinez into the transfer market, with rumours growing of a bid for long term target Sam Byram. Leeds though are keen on starting a bidding war for the 22 year old who is out of contract in the summer.