Whether with a wry smile or serious intent, it’s been a very long-time since Everton fans have sung ‘we’re gonna win the league’. That the chorus, however tongue-in-cheek, was belted out at all by the travelling faithful against Swansea City today is indicative of just how well the club has started the season.
As I write this, Everton, the Premier League’s perennial slow starters, are occupying second place in the table, nestled just behind the billionaire-backed Chelsea. Ten points from five games; that’s double what we had achieved at the same point last season.
But as pleasing as the points tally is, what is equally satisfying is the way in which the team has gone about things. In the past, Everton’s style of play has been labelled as overly defensive, negative and aggressive. Although this was always a simplistic perspective, there was still an element of truth to it.
The absence of proven goalscorer (or the presence of Louis Saha) and the loss of key creative players, such as Mikel Arteta and temporally Steven Pienaar, has meant that at times, the team has been compelled to effectively shut down the opposition, and by extension the game. 10 men behind the ball might not look pretty, but sometimes it has been Everton’s best available option.
Ten points from five games; that’s double what we had achieved at the same point last season
By contrast, from the beginning of the season we have played the kind of attacking football that at times is amongst the best I have seen Everton play for years. And that was the case today against Swansea.
Much has been written about Swansea’s passing play, initiated under Brendan Rodgers, who courtesy of ‘Being Liverpool’ is fast becoming a sort of footballing David Brent, and continued under Michael Laudrup. But today it was the visitors who provided the lesson in quality football.
Dominant from the off, Everton were quick, clinical and creative; making the ‘Barcelona-of-South Wales’ seem exceptionally mediocre in the process. It was an opening performance similar to the one Everton displayed against Newcastle earlier in the week, when in the first half, the north-east’s least unsuccessful club were made to look like a bunch of lost little boys who had somehow wandered onto Goodison’s hallowed turf.
With Everton so dominant early-on, the only surprise was that it took us 20 minutes to score. Following Monday night’s officiating catastrofuck, it was nice to see poor referring go our way for a change. Marouane Fellaini clearly used his right-arm to nudge the ball to Victor Anichebe, before the latter volleyed the resultant pass into the net for Everton’s first goal. But we are owed two goals from Monday night, so this in part redresses that debt.
Brendan Rodgers, who courtesy of ‘Being Liverpool’ is fast becoming a sort of footballing David Brent
As though woken from a fug of confusion and lethargy, the goal seemed to snap Swansea back to life. For the remainder of the first half they slowly began to regain composure and the hosts came close to leveling things as the game edged towards the break, with Michu heading a corner over the bar and Ki Sung-Yeung unlucky to see a curling 25-yard effort flash just wide of the post.
But even a more alert Swansea failed to fully curb Everton’s dominance and so, perhaps inevitably, it was the visitors who grabbed the next goal; courtesy of new-boy, Kevin Mirallas and the end result of a flowing move from the back; the kind of goal that lazy pundits would normally expect to come from the hosts and not ‘negative and defensive’ Everton.
Although Swansea continued to have chances after the break, the game was arguably put beyond them in the 57th minute when half-time substitute, Nathan Dyer was sent off following a second yellow card, picked up just three minutes after his first. From that point on the only question left was not would Everton win, but rather by how many would they win by?
And the team certainly had their chances to rout the opposition. Although at times we were unlucky, such as when Mirallas hit the crossbar, at other times Everton were guilty of profligacy. Both Anichebe and Fellaini had golden chances to increase our lead, the latter in particular inexplicably failing to turn in Anichebe’s cross when the goal lay gaping before him.
Although at times we were unlucky, such as when Mirallas hit the crossbar, at other times Everton were guilty of profligacy
In the end though, the ‘Divine Afro’ made up for his earlier wastefulness when he converted a Leighton Baines’ cross, heading the ball past a stranded Michel Vorm in the 82nd minute, albeit, with a little help from Swansea defender Ashley Williams.
The last time Everton started this well in a season we ultimately qualified for the Champions League. Although the campaign is still in its infancy and it’s difficult to judge how well a side will perform over the long-term on the basis of just five games, things at least look positive for a change.
A key factor in this is the personnel that Moyes has brought into the squad over the course of 2012. A lot of attention, justifiably, has been centred upon Nikica Jelavic. But aside from the Jellyman, Moyes has rejuvenated the squad with players such as Darron Gibson, Steven Naismith, Mirallas and the returning Pienaar. This has given Everton greater strength in depth and provided the team with pace and creativity, two aspects that were sadly lacking during much of the previous season.
Can we compete with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United over the course of a season? The answer is probably no. But I think that the team as it currently stands can certainly improve on the last campaign and continue to remain proof that you don’t have to spend big to get quality. Just look at the contrasting fortunes of our Merseyside neighbours if you want proof of that.
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