There were 1200 miles separating me from my new, first time ever, season ticket in the Upper Gwladys on Saturday, so my View was even more Obstructed than normal. The beauty of my Italian surroundings did not, of course, distract me too much from Twitter which told me pretty much all I needed to know about what I’d watch when I returned to Blighty to watch the game on catch up. The Nissan Catch Up if you can believe it.
The summary has to be: bright start, some eye-catching performances, neither sustained, a fair result, some clear needs for improvement, and a manager that says it how it is/was. His candid comments were phenomenal in fact, and showed real character. But that’s enough oblique references to a manager past. Let’s look forward.
Where better placed to start than the 5th minute.
Ross Barkley’s piledriver from 35 yards (not really) got the party off to a cracking start, but just like when you’ve tried to drain cans towards the end of parties and found someone’s discarded fag end in it, things were not to be quite as they seemed.
The enforced injury-absence of Lukaku, the thank-God-absence of Niasse, and the oh-no-but-at-least-he’s-only-on-the-bench-absence of Kone A (Kone? Eh?), meant we started with our front line from MK and Barnsley warm-ups with the rapid Deulofeu and Mirallas set to terrify a rather flat-footed Spurs back line. And to be honest, Spurs coped with it only marginally better than their lower league predecessors. If only Geri could finish better, we’d probably have scored more than the one fortuitous Barkley cross that ended up nestled in Lloris’ left corner. When Geri first came to Everton on loan, I remember seeing no end of You Tube clips of him tearing away from defenders caught high up the pitch and finishing with aplomb when one-on-one with the keeper. Instead, we’ve seen more finishes with a plum than aplomb (I’ll get my coat….), but at least against one of the better Premier League defences last season, he was in many a position from which to disappoint, rather than failing to make any impression on the game. I love Deulofeu, he gets me out of my seat, he excites fans, he terrifies opposition fans, and more importantly he really shakes up opposition defenders. With better finishing, and more importantly better decision making, he could turn out to be one of the PL players of the season. Of course, it would also help this cause if he could last more than an hour, but Koeman is clearly working on that, not just for the tricky Spaniard, but for the whole squad (Jags looked knackered in his post match!).
Idrissa Gana Gueye deserves a special mention.
This lad could be what we’ve lacked since Lee Carsley went off to dream of having a top knot, or since James McCarthy went off the boil quicker than a Costa coffee in a non-recyclable-as-it-turns-out takeaway cup. I’m sure there is a web site out there that mere mortals like me can access that show miles run, tackles made, interceptions etc etc, but from what I saw in catch-up mode, Gueye was very impressive, and the ideal foil to gnarly old Barry alongside him. His energy levels for Villa last year were always high, as were his stats, but then in front of a rickety back 4 and behind an otherwise powder-puff midfield, it would be fair to say he had plenty of practice. It’s like when you review ‘keeper stats at the end of the season and find the ones that made most saves were the ones in the Bottom 6 sides; it doesn’t make them the best ‘keepers, and the stats for Villa don’t make Gueye in to a world beater either, but we saw enough on Saturday, and bar one “over enthusiastic” lunge, against Espanyol as well, to know we may well have a player of real quality on our hands. Just like Cars, he does the donkey work, the unglamorous bits, breaking up play, getting it and passing it simply and effectively, and it may not get the plaudits that a Barkley, Rom or Geri might get, but trust me, his work can be just as, if not more, effective. Definitely one to watch.
So too is our new Goalkeeper, based on two worldies in the closing stages on Saturday. I hope he isn’t our future Number 1 for no other reason than Maarten Stekelenburg is a bugger to spell without spellcheck wanting to change it to (bizarrely) Stele Length (what even is that?), or more predictably to Martin. But as a goalkeeper rather than a Spelling Bee challenge, his performance was outstanding on Saturday, so well done him. Perhaps my View is Obstructed by his more recent predecessors, but if we aren’t successful in recruiting a new world class GK, I’ve seen enough to know that Maarten Stekelenburg is at least an improvement on what we had. Sorry Joel, and doubly sorry Timbo for your long service and all, but sadly, he doesn’t have much to beat based on the last two seasons. Some of his distribution was good too. Sadly, no star jumps, so I’ll have to watch more MLS to get my diet of those.
You’d be forgiven to this point in the article to think we won 6-0, but at least let me be Optimistically Realistic for the first game of the season. We did more to close down out wide than on many occasions last year, but Lamela’s equaliser showed the naivety of a 19 year old defender waiting for the ball to arrive rather than going to it, although Holgate did not look out of place generally. Deulofeu and Mirallas had good spells, but not sustained over 90 minutes, and once again every CM creative spark we have is concentrated in one man, and if Barkley isn’t on fire, we ain’t going to win enough games. But in Koeman we have a manager who sees it, and says it, how it is, so we know he knows what he needs to sort out, and hopefully he’ll manage that over the next week or so.
That is it, one game written about, another 37 to go (unless I decide to write up Yeovil…). It’s a long way to May, and we will have many better games than Saturday, and probably a few worse, but we have a new man in charge, who wants to do things differently, we’ve lost one good defender for the future and gained a better one for the here and now, it looks like another pacy wide man is about to join, and who knows what more before 31st August.
One thing is for sure, the future is bright, and the future is Koeman’s Dutch Orange.