Tag Archives: everton

The 12 Days of Toffees

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In keeping with the season, relax with a mince pie (or four) with this month’s special Christmas-themed article.

’12 – Shades of Blue’: The title of Everton’s calendar released in aid of the club’s official charity, ‘Everton in the Community’. The cheeky calendar features a number of Everton stars, including Tim Howard and Kevin Mirallas, who stripped off for the charity’s 25th anniversary.

11 – Despite Everton’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Tottenham, the Toffee’s extended their stretch of league games without a clean sheet to eleven. Although taking the plaudits for challenging the top four positions into the Christmas period, their consistent conceding of goals could prove a major hurdle if their goals begin to dry up.

10 – Years as Everton manager that David Moyes celebrated back in March. After an initial few years of inconsistency (which included a 17th place finish followed by 4th the year after), Moyes has steered the club to at least a top-eight finish for the past six seasons.

9 – This classic centre-forward’s shirt number, worn by former Everton legends such as Dixie Dean and Graeme Sharp, is currently vacant at Goodison. There is a case for Jelavic to be given the honour of wearing the famous number after his clinical finishing for the Blue’s last season, but it remains to be seen if he will be the choice to inherit the honour.

8 – The amount of games Everton have drawn this season, the most in the league. Although the Toffee’s are currently snapping at the heels of the Premier League’s elite, slip-ups at various points of the season have meant that draws have had to be accepted when maximum points were well within Everton’s grasp.

7 –  Years since Everton last made an appearance in the Champions League qualifying round, where they were eliminated by Villarreal. Their fourth placed finish the previous season had given them the opportunity to battle with other clubs for a place in the group stages of the prestigious European tournament. Although unsuccessful in their pursuit in 2005 (Everton fans need little reminding of Duncan Ferguson’s disallowed ‘goal’ by Pierluigi Collina), the Toffee’s are pushing for another chance in the tournament through a Premier League top four finish.

6 – Total number of senior appearances Ross Barkley has made for the Toffee’s. The Everton academy, a resource even more important for a squad with a limited transfer budget, has helped nurture a number of Premier League players, and Barkley has been tipped as being a definite future star from the youth set-up at Finch Farm. Barkley’s progress in Everton’s under-21 squad has helped to develop a buzz around the nineteen year old, putting him in pole position to inherit the ‘rising-star’ title adorned by successful youth-developed Everton players of recent years (Rodwell, Rooney and Osman amongst others). Along with Fellaini’s increased utilisation in a more advanced role, and with Mirallas, Gibson and Neville all picking up various injuries and niggles this season, there is a growing opportunity for Barkley to build upon his six senior appearances.

5 – Transfer fee of striker Nikica Jelavic in millions of pounds. Last season, the Croatian forward ended the campaign as Everton’s top scorer, despite only joining the club in the January transfer window. Fans will be hoping that Jelavic can re-capture this blistering form in the new year.

4 – Everton’s highest finishing position during David Moyes’ era, and one which the Toffee’s have a not-so unbelievable chance of achieving again this season. Phil Jagielka this month has summarised how the top four is becoming much more open, and considering Everton’s far from traditional opening start to the season, the potential is there for the Toffee’s to be well within the mix on the home straight.

3 – Number of LMA Manager of the Year awards David Moyes has received, matched only by Sir Alex Ferguson. Notably, these awards have spanned his entire tenure at Goodison, with his first award coming after his opening season with the Toffee’s, and his most recent being achieved in Everton’s 2008-09 season, where Moyes managed to guide the team to the FA Cup final.

2 – Fellaini’s position in the official Premier League player performance index after fifteen games, beaten only by Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie. The Belgian’s success has included eight goals, a haul which is already more than double his entire tally for last season.

1 – The number of games this season in which Everton have failed to score. This league record is only matched by Tottenham. It was no surprise then that both teams managed to find the net when the teams played each other at the beginning of December (albeit with Everton waiting to the final minute to do so).

Follow me on Twitter at @liamanewman

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Everton: The Month That Was (November)

Everton’s first game since last month’s edition of Lowdown was the always electric Merseyside derby. With Liverpool sitting in the bottom half of the league, and Everton coming into the fixture on the back of a five match unbeaten run, there was a justified sense of optimism regarding Everton’s chances. Inevitably, the game was a controversial affair, in no small part due to one Luis Suarez. Taking the spotlight once again, the Uruguayan played a key role in Liverpool’s opening goal, before scoring their second. Following his goal, Suarez celebrated with a theatrical dive in front of Everton’s dugout, a reference to Moyes’ pre-game suggestion that the striker goes to ground too often and easily. Despite the initial setback, the Toffee’s regrouped and pulled two goals back before half-time,  through Osman and the impressive addition Steven Naismith. After an explosively attacking first-half, the two Merseyside clubs failed to find the net at either end during the second period until stoppage time, when a Suarez goal was incorrectly judged as being offside.

A trip to Craven Cottage was next up on Everton’s calendar, and this result best represents why my positive evaluation of Everton’s season thus far is coupled with a hint of disappointment at potential points dropped. The Toffee’s dominated the fixture  in chances created and possession of the ball, yet found themselves behind after a Bryan Ruiz free-kick was turned into the net by Tim Howard. Everton responded in the second half with two goals from the yet again sublime Fellaini (more on him later) and the Blues had seemingly capitalised on their dominant display. However, Steve Sidwell rescued an unlikely point for the Cottagers with a last minute goal, forcing Everton into accepting a fourth draw in a row. On the basis of play in this game, Everton fans must be disappointed to have only walked away with a point from this fixture. This doesn’t come from an undermining of Fulham’s team, as I feel they have established a strong squad this season which could cause a lot of problems in the league. What this stems from is the fact that optimistic Toffee’s have suggested that this may be the season where Everton tread the elite Champion’s League boards again, and if that is to be the case, dominant displays such as the one at Fulham must be taken advantage of. Moyes himself summed this up following the draw, telling BBC Sport: “I’m really frustrated because if I really want to hang on to the boys at the top, I need to win these games when they come along.”

Following Everton’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, Moyes reached the ten game milestone he had suggested in August where a judgement could begin to be made on this season’s performance. As well as sitting in fourth position, the Toffee’s also had the positive record of scoring in all but one of their games, averaging just under two goals per game. Far from the lack of firepower which has eluded Everton in recent seasons, results suggested that the Blue’s had found a scoring formula for the opening ten fixtures. Goals scored however, regardless of how impressive, only tells one half of the story. In the run-up to Moyes’ milestone, Everton registered four draws out of four, despite scoring seven goals. So, as greedy as it may sound coming from an Everton fan enjoying the occupation of a Champion’s League spot, there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ had Everton picked up maximum points when they were within grasp.

Everton returned to Goodison for the first time since the Merseyside derby, and for the sixth straight Premier League game, found themselves conceding first, this time to an Adam Johnson strike for visitor’s Sunderland. Again, Everton dominated the fixture and managed to strike twice for the lead, but unlike their previous result, managed to hang on for the three points. Fellaini was yet again involved in both of Everton’s goals, scoring the first before majestically setting up Jelavic three minutes later.

Everton’s next fixture was away at the Madjeski Stadium, playing a struggling Reading who had yet to chalk up a win in this campaign. Naismith broke Everton’s unenviable six game run of falling behind in every Premier League match, by forcing the ball into the net after ten minutes. The first half played out as expected when looking at Everton’s recent form, with the Toffee’s dominating yet unable to capitalise further on a collection of chances. The squandering of a number of gilt-edged opportunities came back to haunt Everton, with two goals from Adam Le Fondre (one from the penalty spot after a sloppy challenge by Seamus Coleman) handing defeat to the Toffee’s against a side who had until then been unable to register a win this season.

Away from the Premier League, Leon Osman managed to achieve his first England call-up (and a starting position) in England’s international friendly against Sweden. At 31, the midfielder may not represent the long term future of the national side, yet if his club performances have warranted a place, then he has every right to be offered the honour of representing his country. So a huge congratulations to Leon, and the best of luck for his international career.

Also developing this past month at Goodison was the continued success of Marouane Fellaini in Everton’s midfield. Alongside the Belgian’s much deserved plaudits comes the growing rumours of his departure, stemming from his consistency in creating attack after attack for Everton from seemingly nothing. Fellaini himself has acknowledged that his performances have alerted a number of free-spending suitors. His most recent comment on the situation was his wish to play for the best clubs in the world ‘one day’, but that he was patient to stay with a club as ambitious as Everton. Moyes on the other hand, whilst not completely resigning himself to Fellaini’s departure, has indicated that the twenty-four year old’s choice may be out of his hands. This is in no doubt due to Everton’s track record in this area. Like the sales of Lescott, Rooney and Rodwell before, the loss of Fellaini would be the next chapter in a familiar story for Moyes. In each previous instance, however, the Everton manager has recovered from these sales, both by (on the whole) wisely re-investing the budget he has been given to spend and by restarting the development cycle with younger players already within the squad. However, if Moyes et al do lose Fellaini in the immediate future, finding a replacement who can fill the void which the Belgian midfielder’s departure would inevitably leave would take possibly the smartest piece of reinvestment to date if the team are to continue their flirtation with the Premier League’s European places. With the January transfer window just around the corner, this may be an issue that Moyes has to quietly consider.

Osman for England

I have to admit, I was originally rather negative when I heard the news that Leon Osman had been called-up to the England squad. Regardless of my Everton bias, I thought that his inclusion was a pretty pointless exercise. The fact that England’s game against Sweden is a friendly fixture means that the match should be treated as a way to experiment and develop a stronger squad for future competitive fixtures. Osman is uncapped and has never had the experience of playing on the international stage, and coupled with the fact that he will be approaching his mid-thirties when England compete at the 2014 World Cup, he cannot realistically be seen as being a long-term candidate for the England squad.

'True-blue' Osman is a product of Everton's youth academy

But then, I reconsidered. Regardless of any ‘four year plans’ or younger alternative candidates, why shouldn’t Osman be given the opportunity to play for his country if he has earned the right? Earning your first England call-up is something that players would cherish, whether it comes early in your career or, like Osman, at age thirty-one. If a player has performed well enough to warrant a place in the team, then surely he should be rewarded by getting the recognition his performances have deserved. For years Osman has been a solid component in Everton’s squad, and although rarely being involved in any headline-grabbing incidents, he has been a very competent and consistent performer.

On the subject of the ‘future’, come Brazil 2014, if a player approaching his mid-thirties is playing better than a young player billed as having massive potential (Walcott 2006, Chamberlain 2012), then I’d prefer him in my England team. The future is important, but surely not as important as the present, and taking an in-form older team to a major tournament would surely be a better option than an undeveloped but high-potential squad (regardless of whether their England future will be shorter than their younger counterparts).

'Just don't come back with a broken leg Leon'

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hailing Osman as England’s future. But what I am saying is that regardless of age, if Osman has deserved his place in the list of English players who have had the opportunity to represent their country, then I say give him the cap that his hard-work has deserved.

Everton: The Month That Was (October)

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In last month’s edition of Lowdown, I discussed the apparent ‘Toffee curse’ and whether Everton were finally showing signs of breaking the run of poor early season form which has plagued them in many recent seasons. Well, September was undoubtedly a fantastic month for the Blues, with David Moyes being rewarded for his work by winning the Premier League Manager of the Month. Following an impressive 3-0 victory over Swansea, Everton moved into the top four in the early season table. Signs were very much pointing towards an uncharacteristically strong start to Everton’s campaign.

However, as September drew to a close, Moyes took the decision to choose fitness over form in the club’s Capital One Cup tie with Leeds, to give some of the club’s mainstays a rest. After a muted display, the Blues succumbed to a 2-1 defeat, ending one of this year’s potential cup runs before it had even begun. Moyes received a fair amount of stick on some social media sites, with criticism towards his negative squad choice and apparent lack of ambition in the tournament. Yet the squad themselves should take a large portion of the responsibility for their shock exit. In my opinion, with all due respect to the Elland Road outfit, Everton’s starting eleven included enough talent, such as Coleman, Fellaini and Mirallas, to see off a Championship team.

Six minutes into Everton’s next Premier League fixture, it seemed that the ramifications of the cup defeat would spill over into their league form, after Gastón Ramírez fired newly promoted Southampton into the lead. These fears, however, were emphatically silenced when the Blues responded with  one of their best performances of the campaign so far, with Osman and a Jelavić brace ensuring a 3-1 victory. Following the win, Moyes was quoted as saying he would be happy to pay to watch Everton in their current form. However, quite rightly so, he was also quick to warn that the squad should not get dizzy from their positive results, especially when considering their Capital One Cup loss.

A trip to Wigan’s DW Stadium followed, where Everton had the opportunity to top the table going into the international break. However, the sense of fluidity between the players and their build-up play, which had been key to their previous impressive performances against Swansea and Southampton, seemed absent, as strikes from Arouna Koné and Franco Di Santo twice forced Everton onto the ropes. Fellaini seemed less of a key man, and more of a potential accident in the making, as various petulant outbursts seemed to threaten his chances of lasting the whole game. The most controversial of these was an aerial battle with Maynor Figueroa just before half-time, in which Wigan fans complained that the midfielder had led with an elbow. Personally, I believe the Belgian’s challenge did not warrant a red card, but it was obvious his frustrations were limiting his performance. The once again exceptional Leighton Baines rescued a point for the Blues with a late penalty, after Nikica Jelavić  had equalised in the first half. Incidentally, Baines’ successful conversion from the spot meant he has now scored all nine penalties he has taken in the Premier League.

After the international break, Everton’s next league fixture was away at QPR, a team who had yet to register a win so far in the league and were rooted to the foot of the table. A largely dismal affair started off terribly for the Toffee’s, when a mistake by Phil Neville allowed Junior Hoilett to burst forward and score. The goal was admittedly fortuitous, only beating Tim Howard thanks to a nasty deflection, yet considering the time Hoilett was gifted on the ball and the space he was allowed to run into, the chance was one which should have been snuffed out earlier. Pienaar’s dismissal was of course a major talking point of the game, with Everton’s Facebook page erupting with Toffee fans angry at the unjustified second yellow card. However, despite his second booking being very harsh, he had moments before been warned for a challenge on Hoilett, one which could have easily have been the second yellow which ruled him out of the game and out of the Merseyside derby.

The impressive form of Baines, culminating in his first-team call up to the England squad, was something for Blues fans to cheer about in the past month. Baines’ nod for the start at left-back, a position held with a vice-like grip by Ashley Cole, indicated his possible contention for the position in the near future. Yes it was against San Marino, a team ranked dead last in the FIFA rankings, and it was also in the aftermath of Cole’s bust up with the FA over his offensive tweet, but I personally believe that, regardless of opposition calibre and surrounding incidents, Baines’ inclusion as starting left-back in the England team was thoroughly deserved. Realistically, Baines’ selection does not indicate a full transition as new first-team full back for England, but more likely a chance for Roy Hodgson to experiment with alternatives. Yet Baines’ form this season has helped cement his status as heir to Cole’s seemingly ever-present role in the England team. His performances in the league have thus far been key for Everton’s positive run. According to the EA Sports Player Performance Index, the official rating system of the Premier League, Baines is judged as the third best performing player in the entire division.

Of course, Baines is not the only Toffee feeling confident about his possible international future. Since the retirement of England captain John Terry, an unexpected opportunity has arisen for a centre back to inherit his place. Phil Jagielka, currently with 16 caps, has himself admitted that there is strong competition for the available role, but he is very much putting his name in the hat. Hodgson’s decision to start him against Poland indicated that his chances look good for permanent selection.  At thirty, Jagielka must take his opportunity now to stamp his international legacy, considering younger alternative compatriots Gary Cahill and Ryan Shawcross are also ready to pounce, yet a strong season both domestically and on the international stage (when he is offered the chance) could allow him to make the transition from heir presumptive to permanent centre-back.

By and large, Everton’s performances through October, and in their entire season thus far, can be judged with cautious optimism. The EA Sports PPI rated Everton as the best performing team in the entire division prior to the international break, based on the combined performances of their players. Furthermore, two of Everton’s squad featured in the top five performing Premier League players, the previously mentioned Baines (3rd) and Steven Pienaar (5th).  The team’s form has ranged from impressive highs (the performance against Southampton) to disappointing lows (Pienaar’s dismissal and the team’s subsequent draw with QPR). However, Everton’s results, coupled with Moyes’ managerial award, means that the Toffee’s will go into November in a very strong league position and, hopefully for fellow Blues fans like myself, the ability to carry on their current success.

Is the Toffee curse finally broken?

 

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Read any of the stories on Everton’s positive start to the season and you are bound to come across the term ‘slow-starters’ and how the Toffees are maybe showing signs of deviating from this label they have acquired over David Moyes’ tenure. As an Everton supporter, I have had to get used to hearing this label in reference to my club, and this accusation has been somewhat justified in recent seasons. Whether the poor run of early form happens from game one (such as the 2010-2011 campaign in which Everton amassed just three points from their opening six games) or a few matches later, it has nevertheless become a common trend for the tag to resurface for the blue half of Merseyside.

So far, the Toffees have had their best start to a campaign for five years, improving upon the positive opening they made last season. However, what followed Everton’s solid start last year was a familiar dip in early season form which saw the accumulation of six losses in nine matches. So what is to say that the club will not follow their apparently pre-written script and have to play catch up later on in this season too?

An argument for Everton continuing their impressive start is the return of Steven Pienaar, following his signing of a permanent contract. Last season, on-loan Pienaar had arguably his most impressive campaign for the Toffees, amassing the highest amount of assists (6) from anyone in the squad. This was despite the January acquisition only playing for half of the season, and being cup-tied from the F.A. Cup due to his Tottenham appearances. Following the midfielder’s permanent re-signing this summer, I joined with many other Blues fans in a feeling of genuine excitement that Moyes had re-invested in a player who was and, for all intents and purposes would return to be, a key player in the Everton set-up. A player who had not figured in Tottenham’s first team plans during his short spell at White Hart Lane, due to a combination of injury and competition for places, immediately returned as a key player and an important creative piece in Everton’s squad. An example of a perfect club and player partnership it could be argued.

But of course Pienaar’s success at the tail-end of last season and into the current campaign has not been purely down to his individual talent. The South African has been able to reform the creative partnership he and Leighton Baines have previously thrived in. The duo have been responsible for Everton’s biggest creative threat so far during this campaign. Following Everton’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle, Baines topped the Premier League chart for chances created for teammates (19), a stat made all the more impressive when considering the left-back’s position. Newcastle’s defensive 4-5-1 formation in this game of course aided Baines’ freedom to advance forward, but take nothing away from his impressive build up play with Pienaar, which was directly responsible for the left-back scoring Everton’s first goal.

The emergence of Nikica Jelavic as Everton’s much needed clinical finisher as well as the quick-footed and promising new signing Kevin Miralles also adds to the optimism surrounding Goodison, with the squad showing enough genuine talent to provide a serious top-half push in this campaign, providing of course that their form stays consistent.

Optimism aside however, if I take my fans cap off for a moment, there are definitely potential hurdles in Everton’s continuing campaign. The talk of Marouane Fellaini’s itchy feet, regardless of its level of exaggeration, has led to a number of top clubs keeping a close eye on the Belgian international. Sir Alex Ferguson attended Everton’s draw with Newcastle, sparking rumours of a January interest. Considering United’s need for a long-term central midfield option, and after Fellaini’s star performance against the Red Devils in August, it is a rumour I’d easily, and begrudgingly, believe. Losing a player like Fellaini, who at age twenty-four represents a fantastic long-term prospect for the Toffees, would mean the loss of a strong central figure in the Everton midfield. With all of the excitement surrounding Everton’s attacking options, it is key to have a balance. A ball-winner. One who can snuff out attacks defensively and hold up play to release our own attacking threats. That is not to say that Fellaini is not lacking in the attacking department himself, considering he has already managed to equal his goal scoring tally from the entirety of last season. Keeping Fellaini is a key part of Everton’s potential for this campaign, and the growing uncertainty about external interest could work to unsettle the team and in turn their results.

Injuries could also play a major role in Everton’s ongoing run of form. Darron Gibson, who managed eleven league games for the Blues last season without a single defeat, was ruled out for over a month with a thigh injury following the West Brom game. Striking threat Jelavic was also sidelined for two weeks following a nasty collision with a goalpost against Newcastle in September. If long term injuries were to hit a number of key Everton players, would the remaining squad still manage to perform at the level they have been doing so far this season?

It seems a simple formula. Play well, avoid injuries and resist the interest in your key players. Even if all three of these occur, however, no-one can know for certain how the upcoming few games for Everton will finish. A contentious decision or a defensive mishap could decide a game, regardless of who has performed better on the day. Despite the uncertainty of the beautiful game, I believe that Everton fans can be optimistic about this year’s chances, and hope that they can finally defy the early season hoodoo which has damaged them in recent seasons.