International breaks generally serve a purpose or two. They reaffirm in most Premier League fans’ minds that they don’t give a proverbial about the National team, rightly or wrongly, given the standard usually on view is well below what they would normally witness at a PL fixture (unless they’re supporting…..[insert your own view of the worst team to watch at the moment]). They also usually send a mixed message or two about the current form of certain players, and that’s today’s theme. The three such players for Everton were Lukaku, Stekelenburg and Williams, each of whom had a case for Man of the Match against City, after mixed reviews on International duty.
Let’s start with Lukaku. One minute he pings a belter in for Belgium, next minute he’s booed by his own fans for missing a sitter against Bosnia. Which Lukaku will we get against City? Cow’s Derriere/Banjo Romelu, or Chelsea FA Cup Wonder Goal Rom. Fortunately, when it mattered, we got close to the latter. It may not quite have been on a par with that wonder goal from out wide against Chelsea, but to say he had “a lot to do” when he picked the ball up in his own half from Bolassie’s exquisite flick (does he get an assist for that??) and Stones’ ambitious lunge, would be an understatement. But we saw, once again, as Chelsea, Wolfsburg and many others have seen, in Lukaku we have one of the best all round strikers in the league. OK, maybe he isn’t always as consistent as we’d like, sure, but a striker who can run at pace and turn Clichy, no slouch himself, inside out and then beat the keeper with a fine shot, deserves immense praise. He almost reminds me of Jermaine Beckford.
OK, maybe not…
He can hammer a header or two, right foot, left foot, in the box, out of the box, the only thing missing from his goal scoring capabilities is the scruffy bounce off his considerable backside, but that’ll be coached in to him I’m sure. Given that he, and Everton, hardly saw the ball all game, to produce that moment of magic when he had the chance, is a sign we have a gem of a player. Who many continue to chide because he doesn’t run around enough. Hey ho.
And then we turn to Stek.
Definitely culpable of conceding a ‘meh’ goal against France, which hopefully hasn’t subsequently instilled confidence (or ability) in Pogba, our No1 goalkeeper who has already attracted his doubters in the Royal Blue and not just the Royal Orange. But you don’t get over 50 caps for the Clockwork Orange (that’s the clockwork that is like your Dad’s old watch – looks nice, but rarely tells you the right time) without being a decent keeper, and his one man talent show against the City Slickers was a “Yes from me”. OK, two pretty awful pens were comfortably saved, but you’d have got impressive odds at the start if you’d asked Paddy (other rip off Betting sites are available) what you’d get for both De Bruyne and Aguerro to miss a penalty each in the same game, so let’s give him credit for delaying his dive and for stretching his immense 6ft 5in frame to indeed make them look comfortable. But never mind them, what about the others? Astonishing couple of saves thrown in there, especially for me the pile-driver from De Bruyne. So let’s not pretend he can’t be bettered by another top rated goalkeeper, but let’s give immense credit to our villain-turned-hero in the course of a week in his career. Funny old game Football, said no-one, ever…..much.
Which brings me nicely to Ashley Williams.
What a buy. What an organiser. What a pity he isn’t captain. What an improvement he’s made to our defence. It would be fair to say that he got a fair bit of practice yesterday, but wave upon wave of City attacks (there were quite a few, weren’t there…) foundered on the rocks of the Everton defence in which Williams was majestic. You have to credit Jagielka too, but his haphazard boot distribution spoilt his otherwise great display by conceding just the two penalties. Not sure about his or anyone’s positioning for that pest Nolito to score, but overall, you’ve got to say our defence looked pretty solid. This was not a League 2 side throwing body after body at blocking the PL Aristocrats and their fancy-Dan tiki taki nonsense, this was a well organised and robust defensive unit that would probably have conceded 108 goals in that game if it had been played under the Bobby Brown Shoes Optional Defending Show. Williams is not just a superb defender in his own right, he’s also keen to offer, shall we say, “feedback” to the players around him, to organise, to command, to be that player that Everton usually come up against, the player everyone else wishes was in their team. He’s been excellent ever since he got established in the side, and you can’t see a return for our Argentinian Wanderer any time soon if this defensive coupling continues in its rich vein of form. Yes, and of course Barry and Gueye are offering better protection, Coleman and Oviedo did well to restrict the steady flow of crosses we might have expected, and Koeman’s organisation of the whole XI at set pieces and open play has to be admired.
But Ashley lad, after a Welsh display that wouldn’t have looked out of place in League 2 let alone a World Cup Qualy, where your own lethargy was no better (or worse) than the other so-called Dragons around you. More like Drag Queens on a night out, than fire-breathing mythical monsters. Thankfully, we got the Ash we now know and love.
As the game unfolded, many Keyboard Warriors were quick to predict a mauling running close to double figures. Oh ye of little faith. Ours was not to be the Tottenham destruction of the apparently Champions-elect in some people’s minds, we neither have the players or the fitness to do that – yet. Ours was not to be an up-and-at-em-we-can-do-this-they’re-sh**e attempt to blast them off the pitch and only succeeding in recreating Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. And losing. It turns out that this Koeman bloke seems to know how best to use the talents at his disposal. and more to the point, once he realises that his first plan isn’t working, he’s brave enough to change it, hence a better second half than the first, and hence we nearly nicked it. Well, almost nearly. Nearly nearly in fact.
And you don’t learn about that watching England on an International Break.