Yeh, alright, I know it’s late. Very late. And I wasn’t even there. Soz. Had the small matter of walking my daughter up the aisle, make a speech and perform some somewhat questionable moves on the dance floor, although I have to say I thought my rhythm was somewhat better than the Stoke game based on the highlights reels I’ve managed to watch since the alcohol levels subsided enough to be able to focus.
(Great header Shay)
In fairness (although why should we let fairness get in the way of a tenuous link) the rhythm and fluidity of Everton’s play was another step forward on the long road to the promised land (or Sunderland as it’s also known). Whilst not quite being at the required levels yet, you can see what Koeman is trying to do here. Mirallas is lively and cutting in and trying to play more 1-2s; Barry is switching play forward rather than sideways or, God forbid, backwards; full backs are moving inside more; Barkley (apparently not good enough for England – more later) is driving more at defences; Gana is up the pitch making interceptions near the oppo box let alone in front of ours. Lots of positives to keep us dreaming, whilst RK is still very clear about where we are, relative to where he wants us to be.
The biggest improvement has to be the solidity of defence. It’s easy to credit Ashley Williams for that, and he certainly does deserve a lot of credit. But also reflect that we seem to be cutting out more crosses in to the wibbly wobbly department that we’ve found really hard to defend for the last two seasons. Baines and Holgate seemed to close down quicker than our full backs last year, Gana closes down quicker, and actually gets a foot to the ball Carsley-esque rather than just buzz around McCarthy-esque. And then when the ball does evade this line of defence, Jags is looking solid and Williams on the evidence of his first PL start for us, is proving the organiser and the voice of authority that we needed. Stones will be brilliant, and I was sad to see him go, but no-one can surely argue that as it stands today, we have the better defender in our ranks, and a net £35m better off player for player.
Idrissa Gana Gueye is a bit of an eye opener for me. I was at both the Villa games last season, and whilst he was busy, he didn’t really catch the eye as a talent we should make sure we acquired. I guess it’s hard to stand out as a great player, when you’re playing amongst such dross as last year, but so far for me, he is our best player this season to date. Mirallas has had an upsurge in form, Barkley better, Stekelenburg is right up there, and Holgate too (I wish autocorrect would stop correcting Holgate to Colgate, otherwise I’m going to have to say something witty about his defending having a certain ‘ring of confidence’ – younger readers may wish to google that), but for consistency and effectiveness, Gueye is peerless. He’s unlikely to feature in many highlights reels, by the nature of the job he does, but if you get a chance to see his heat maps you’ll get to see his touches are all over the pitch, and now we also know that with 16, no one has made more tackles so far this season. It’s the breaking up of the opposition play that has worked well for us in the past, and Gueye looks like a real gem that can do this for us again.
I can’t write about football today without chucking in my tuppence ha’ppeny on the Barkley-Not-Selected-For-England debate. There’s something odd about a manager that takes a creative player to the Euros and yet when confronted by the massed ranks of Slovaks and Icelanders, persists with two defensive midfielders and a clearly out of form Sterling gets a chance to atone rather than giving a player with 8 goals and 8 assists a single minute of game time. Leap forward less than 3 months and the same scenario plays out. A different manager, but Barkley misses out altogether, let alone being left on the bench. He loses out alongside Rashford and even Wilshere (whose 40mins of game time this season is deemed insufficient thankfully), so Allardyce marches forward with precious little creativity and unpredictability that might just unlock what will inevitably be a defence as tight as a duck’s nether regions. This seems to signal one of the most boring eras of England football we can ever remember, and I really hope I’m wrong. How Ross isn’t starting, let alone being in the squad, completely baffles me.
Right, enough mindless ramblings, I’d better go and count what pennies I’ve got left. It’s amazing how much a few pineapple and cheese chunks on a stick can cost.