Everton: Losing To Man Utd Would Be A Huge Backwards Step
Well, after looking very dodgy yet again Everton have come out of Thursday night with a result which had you offered it to Martinez before the match he probably would’ve taken. Although who knows with the endlessly optimistic Catalan, he might have been hoping for a walkover. Also, weirdly considering that the last four games have been two losses and two draws, a kind of momentum has been found through the two late equalisers in the last week. Well, at least the complete freefall from before has been slowed anyway.
Luckily the Man Utd team who they’re about to face are a pale imitation of what they once were. Once you look past the fact that Falcao, Di Maria, van Persie, Blind, Herrera, Rooney and De Gea are all in a team reminiscent of a 12 year old’s FIFA Ultimate Team and look at how they’ve actually been playing, Utd are a lot closer to Moyes than Fergie so far this season. I mean, even Burnley are getting points against them at the moment. Their love of a sideways pass doesn’t do them a huge favour, coupled with the fact that they simply refused to buy anything close to a natural centre back over the summer. Before anyone says Rojo, he played left back for the entire World Cup. Add that to how it would appear that no British centre back at the club has the mind to understand what to do when there are more than two of them on the pitch, and you end up with a team that is nothing to be feared. No offence to Leicester, they’re not a bad side, but if they’re able to come back from 3-1 down against you, then you probably have some defensive problems.
Whether Everton will be able to exploit these weaknesses is another question though. The signs from Krasnodar, and almost every other game this season don’t really show the Toffees to be capable of much currently. First there was terrible defending, but at least the team was amazing going forward. Now that Roberto has started chucking an extra defensive mid in to try and shore things up at the back, the defending has upgraded from non-existent to heart in mouth, but the final third has suffered for it. Phil Jagielka won’t always step up with 25 yard screamers to make up for toothless attackers.
To make things worse, Everton’s usual plan against teams around and above them, playing 4-3-3 with Naismith as a false nine and Lukaku and Mirallas either side using their pace on the counter, is left very dubious with smaller of the two Belgians injured. Aiden McGeady is not a like for like replacement, with his inability to defend invariably leaving Leighton Baines exposed, and Atsu is very raw, never mind taking in to account how small he is. Ross Barkley is sorely missed here, he may not have been a direct replacement, but along with Mirallas and Eto’o he is one of the few players in the squad who can create something out of nothing, the rest are much more functional. Even Lukaku is a finisher, not a creator.
Even if Martinez works out a way to sort out an attack that will be without Mirallas, Barkley, and probably Eto’o (he’s probably too old to be starting twice in four days), there’s still the dodgy defence. Just when it looked like Stones and Jagielka had worked out a partnership, Jagielka goes and plays a lovely ball in for one of the Krasnodar forwards. It’s these errors that have cost the Blues all season. If it wasn’t for Stones’ rapid growth in to one of the best young centre backs in Europe (yes, Europe) some of the scores could have been seriously embarrassing, the derby last weekend a prime example. Missing Coleman is also a huge blow for the back four. Tony Hibbert will forever be loved by the fans, but it’s not ridiculous to say he would struggle to get in to most Championship sides these days. The other option, Tyias Browning, looked good for twenty minutes last against Liverpool, but who really knows how he’d stand up to starting at Old Trafford? This all leaves a massive headache for Martinez in almost every area of the pitch. At least Howard’s doing alright though, eh? It’s probably his turn to drop a clanger now I’ve said that.
On the whole the United game is a huge test of where Everton can expect to be this season. Last year they beat them comfortably at home, and won a tight fought contest away. Now, Man Utd may have strengthened since then, but if the Toffees look out of their depth on Sunday then it is most likely a sign that the team have taken a backward step since last season, probably down to the ageing of Jagielka and Distin. If they manage to win though, or even draw in a convincing manner, it completely changes things, adding enough momentum that maybe, with the easier run of games coming up, just maybe, some of last season could be repeated.