Tag Archives: premier league

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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United vs City: Who has the best strike force?

The fallout from yet another classic Manchester derby is bound to run on through the next few weeks, with long-term ramifications such as the arrested ‘fans’ and discussions of how to curtail the uglier parts of the beautiful game. Keeping a firm eye on the football, and not these unfortunate distractions led me to exploring an interesting debate: which of the Manchester clubs has the better four-man strike force?

This debate was mentioned on this week’s Soccer Saturday, nestled within the three-hour pre-match fluff pieces which tend to have a more relaxed look at some of football’s interesting topics. The fact that each team has a selection of four strikers who are each in their own right considered as strong additions within this discussion already demonstrates the strength in depth that both United and City have. All football fans can recognise the attacking quality available to the Premier League’s top two clubs and even the most die hard of Manchester fans, whether they be sky-blue or pillar-box red, can see the striking prowess each team have.

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Looking at the stats of the United strikers, it is clear to see how clinical Van Persie has been in-front of goal. His return is almost double that of his closest teammate, a further irritant to rivals City, who had their summer offer for the Dutchman rejected. Coupled with Rooney, the two strikers have also shared eleven assists between them.

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In comparison, City’s stats show a much more even goal return for their top strikers, with Tevez (7), Dzeko (6) and Aguero (5) all chipping in with a similar amount of goals. What is more interesting, however, is the importance of Tevez in scoring and setting up goals for his teammates. He leads both the goals scored and assists chart for City, re-affirming his position as one of City’s more potent attacking threats when utilised by Mancini.

On the other side of the spectrum is Mario Balotelli. It may seem like I am pandering to the current majority opinion regarding Balotelli’s poor attitude having too much of a negative impact on his game, but in this case, the popular viewpoint is one that seems to be true. Balotelli’s single goal and zero assists in the EPL is far from the return wanted from a striker in a team targeting domestic glory.

So, the question is: Rooney/Van Persie/Hernandez/Welbeck or Tevez/Aguero/Balotelli/Dzeko. Who would you rather have as your four-man strike force?

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.