Despite shaving on the morning of the game, putting my left sock on first, and not drinking my first brew of the day from my Everton mug, a potential banana skin game was, in the end, a very routine 3 points and a comfortable 2-0 win. Good job Lukaku hadn’t heard about my many changes of ‘good luck omens’ as he sealed the win with a trademark rampaging run from half way with a defender struggling to keep up, and little deflected dink over the ‘keeper. Perhaps Valencia had heard, it being the only plausible explanation of his miss moments later to make it 3.
This would suggest that ‘Change’ is a good thing. Perhaps things have not changed as much for some Evertonians, and we’re still only 7th so that’s understandable, but Morgan Schneiderlin’s exemplary performance yesterday underlined for me that quite a lot has changed at Everton Football Club.
Here he is, the sexy French beast, pointing, one assumes, to the Everton badge after his signing, and not a mis-placed point at his left nip. That would be about the only mis-placed thing he’s done since he started playing for us. He completely dominated the game yesterday (the stats don’t lie), and he showed a little bit of what we’d been missing until he packed his bags and schlepped down the East Lancs road from a Manchester United team that must be wondering why on earth they shipped him out when apparently Herrera is better in his position. Curious. How could we possibly change and not pick Barry? Well, life moves on, and instead of keen-but-limited-Cleverley being GB’s heir-apparent, or a dynamic and daring but possibly fault-ridden pairing of Gueye and Ginger Jim, we have a man made of the stuff that Everton’s dream of – strong in the tackle, good in the air, an eye for a pass (a forward one at that; blimey, what an idea….), and, glory be, a little bit of Gallic Snide thrown in for good measure. His fluency on the ball only matched by the fluency of his English, his influence on yesterday’s game was outstanding.
When you think we lined up against Oviedo, the unfortunate aforementioned defender hanging on to Lukaku’s back, Gibson, and a whole host of ‘formers’ at the Wearside Club, when you see Cleverley in the Watford ranks, Naismith for Norwich, Niasse for Hull, Deulofeu for AC Milan, and even McGeady at the mighty Preston, the players we’ve let go as they’re not quite good enough is a long list. You can add to that list a certain John Stones who was determined to plough his furrow somewhere else, and yet seems to have gone backwards since he arrived at Man City. So our squad has changed, plenty out, and a few selective players brought in, like Morgan, like the irrepressible Gueye, Stekelenburg who seems to have helped bring out the best in Joel (!), Bolassie, Lookman, Williams, and the extraordinary promotion of some of the Academy players like the Three Cheery Cheeky Chappies Davies, Holgate and Calvert-Lewin, with Dowell, Pennington and a few others lurking, teenager-style, round the back of the bike sheds, just waiting to show the world that they’re world beaters. This is a changed team, and make no mistake. And it’s on the up. Not yet brilliant, but striving for that, and lots of the player pieces are in that jigsaw.
One key aspect that’s also changed, is the mentality. Koeman has brought a sense of reality, honest and forthright assessments of his players, and his tactical nous is also starting to show up, albeit slowly. But this is the man who will look to improve the squad still further in the summer, maybe in goal despite Joel’s clean sheets and all round excellence since he game in to replace the injured Stekelenburg, maybe in the back 4, despite the emergence of Holgate and Pennington, Kenny and Connolly (and let’s not forget Browning – injured again ffs – and Galloway), to replace the erratic Mori and the ageing Williams, and maybe in the creative heart of the team (Rooney? Really? Where would he have played yesterday, I’m not yet convinced and change my mind as often as I change my pants – actually, more often, but that’s a different discussion…), and certainly up top to give us cover for the excellent Big Belgian, and out wide if Deulofeu doesn’t return re-born as a talented winger that can actually be arsed to put a shift in, and who knows, maybe even head a ball or tackle someone. Koeman’s mentality and approach has also changed performance in players like Barkley, maybe even Gueye this week, Coleman, Mori, Mirallas…he’s not afraid to drop players (fading legends even, like Barry or Jagielka) or call them out when he knows it’ll get a response (see Barkley, Mirallas).
So more change to come I think, and I welcome that as I’m sure we all would.
Changes for Spurs next week? I suspect Lookman, who looked a little fragile and out of sorts yesterday, will drop to the bench, and let Jags give him a nice big cuddle and tell him he’s great and not to miss his family in the Big Smoke. It’s a game where a bit more nous and experience might help, so I’d expect Mirallas or Valencia to take his place, and whilst we lose a wee bit of unpredictable trickery, we gain with a bit more discipline and shape, and a little more defensive solidity to confound Walker, Davies and Eriksen. But the change in mentality that I mentioned, may also be that Koeman doesn’t think as much about combatting Spurs strengths and our weaknesses, but does what we should all do, accentuate our own strengths. Make no mistake, Spurs will not look forward to playing against Lukaku, especially if they’re missing Alderweireld; they know that Barkley on current form is one of the best creative midfielders in the PL; and they know we possess our own attacking full back threats in Coleman and Baines, even if their crossing capability has deserted them in the main.
They’ll also be worried about how they will get time on the ball without being harassed, mugged, and dispossessed by the irrepressible Idrissa Gana Gueye. In the words of the marvellous Barry Davies, look at this photo of Gana doing what he never does – score – and say a loud “look at his face, just look at his face”, and remember this is the man that our manager rightly called out for being off-the-boil against Middlesborough (would RM have done that, let alone haul him off after an hour or so?).
What a game he had yesterday. His tackling and anticipation certainly back to his best, and he just seems to be everywhere. Brilliant.
I was inspired by the excellent @thechicoazul in his preview piece (OK, too much flattery and sycophancy, replace that with “I was mildly interested by the occasionally interesting Azul”) who reminded us all that Leighton Baines, as he hit an astonishing milestone of 300 Games for Everton, may well be one of the best Left Backs we can all say we’ve seen at the Club. Baines’ solidity has improved this season after a dodgy start and a woeful 15/16 campaign, and there is no doubt he misses his old mucker Pienaar down the left. But even yesterday we saw him much further forward in to the spaces left by the very narrow Sunderland defence, and it was more like the old days, and he was safe in the knowledge that if he lost the ball, Morgan and Idrissa would tidy up behind him. We need a few more of his beautiful crosses and then we will certainly have the best LB around (*bias alert…). When he retires or leaves, I’ll remember his performances when we thought he might leave to United, an object lesson to skanks like Lescott (forgotten and certainly never forgiven), and who will ever forget that free kick against The Bar Codes. “Oh God mate, not from there….why the hell don’t we try something more creative instead of trying to bang in a free kicks from 35 yards…..Oh….”.
Which explains why I write rubbish for your general amusement and hopefully a little pleasure, and why Baines is a professional footballer, earning *slightly* more in the process.
Anyway, where’s my Rabbit’s Foot for next week….?
PS a final word goes to Bradley Lowery, and the support given him by Everton, Rom, but mainly Sunderland in general and Defoe in particular. What a brave little chap (Bradley, not Defoe), what a brave family, and we all wish him well and hope for the fullest and most beautiful recovery. In the world we live in, full of narcissists, pompous idiots and clueless terrorists, Bradley Lowery and his family have shown us all what it is to live and to fight humbly and with humility. You’ve made a real positive difference to the world Sunshine, so hang on in there, and keep doing it. RC