Optimism is both a great and terrible thing. If the thing one anticipates with confidence goes according to plan, you feel great, almost superior in your apparent foresight. However, when the event does not go as you had hoped and perhaps expected it might, you feel almost doubly crushed. After Everton’s defeat to Wigan yesterday, that is how I felt. We were unbeaten in five games and Wigan were in the drop zone. The stats suggested we should emerge victorious and I justified it to myself: we had to come good soon.
Unfortunately, the stats masked the fact that Everton, though picking up points, have not been playing well lately. A succession of late wins has but a bright sheen on some very unconvincing performances. the only difference yesterday was that our endeavour, what little of it there was, bore no fruit. And it is actually quite worrying. Because although we are 7th in the league, that doesn’t mean much because points wise we’re closer to the bottom than the top.
I think it is time then, that we saw some changes. One may suggest that suddenly getting on the manager and players backs after one defeat in six is a little harsh but I reiterate: we have not played well. And I also invite you to read the last few match reports where I have repeatedly suggested that changes need to be made in certain areas. While I would loved to have been proved wrong by the faith Moyes has shown with what can be seen as his first choice XI at the moment, I think my suggestions have actually been justified.
One area where I feel this is definitely the case is at left back, where Joleon Lescott continues to do his England chances a world of bad with stuttering performance after stuttering performance. Like Middlesbrough last week, Wigan will look fondly at Lescott’s positioning as it contributed in a large way to their goal. Coming after half time, he was caught up field and out of position by Antonio Valencia, and rushing to get back, got beaten far too easily by Wigan’s play maker, who then had all the time in the world to slip Kamara in for an easy finish.
Having pointed out exactly this problem last week I now believe that Moyes must surely be running out of patience with his star defender. There is no doubting Lescott’s quality, but he simply is not playing well at the moment, and so should not be playing at all. Especially when we have Leighton Baines, who in my opinion is probably the third best English left back (the other two play for Chelsea), on the bench. The time has surely come for him to be given a prolonged run of games. It is his turn to have a chance, as Lescott has had enough.
Another thing I mentioned in the article I linked above, was that a change of formation might be prudent, to switch back to the 4-5-1 formation that we have utilised effectively for the past two years, as I feel the 4-4-2 is restricting our attacking impetus. While two up front as opposed to one may sound more attacking, I believe that the partnership of the Yak and Saha isn’t working, and it restricts the sort of openings we can create. Both players like to operate centrally, and are powerful, target men type players, who demand service but are shadowed by the opposition’s central defenders.
When we adopt a 4-5-1 formation on the other hand, we have options. For one thing, it liberates Cahill, allowing him to make his trademark late runs, and float around behind the front man. He has been getting into the right positions of late, even from his withdrawn role, and it is only a matter of time until he starts putting them away as usual, but it couldn’t hurt to speed that process up by giving him more freedom. It also allows us to play with more width, which was something that was really lacking against Wigan.
Having the five men in midfield sort of packs it out a bit, and so Pienaar (if fit) and Arteta get automatically pushed out wide, while Cahill and Osman stay more central. This gives us far more options, far more angles and the ability to work our passing game in and around the opposition defence, dragging them out of position and creating gaps for the front man – gaps that haven’t been opening with Yakubu and Saha both in the middle. Playing 4-4-2, our midfielders who all perhaps have a tendency toward central play, all have the room to stay in more central positions, and so we fail to exploit the pitch as we need to.
Those then are a couple of changes I have been looking for for a while, and in light of the Wigan performance, I think my case for each has been enhanced (let me know if you agree or not). But I think that the performance against Wigan was so uninspiring that certain personnel changes are required. I think what we need is to shake the team up a bit. Bring in players who have a bit of bite and fight about them, and balance them with the more technical boys. Last season we had Carsley, who was always mixing it up in the midfield a bit, and I think we’ve missed his attitude as much as his sweeping up so far this season.
So what I’d do, in addition to swapping Baines for Lescott, is bring in Tony Hibbert at right back, pushing Phil Neville into Carsley’s holding midfield role. Yobo and Jags can stay, as they were the only outfield players who really performed on Monday night. In the midfield we must bring Pienaar back if he’s fit, in place of Fellaini. The young lad has masses of talent and at times looks brilliant, but he was poor against Wigan and needs a rest.
Arteta can stay too. He has had critics in recent weeks and it is true that his passing game has not been up to scratch, but watching the Wigan game, he was one of the few players still really fighting for a result come the end, and he worked incredibly hard tracking back and getting stuck in. That is a side of his game usually overshadowed by his fine skills, but he deserves to be allowed the chance to find his form as long as he is still committed, which he proved he is against Wigan. Tim Cahill will remain too, because as I said earlier, it’s only a matter of time until he gets a goal and then there will be no stopping him, and he’s always as committed as anyone.
The final midfield place goes to Osman I think. He was very poor against Wigan. It was the quietest I’ve seen him for a long time, and I would hope he will bounce back from it. Perhaps Fellaini or Castillo could take his place, but I think he Pienaar and Arteta are important to the 4-5-1 formation with their trickery and quick passing, so he gets the benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure he’s desperate to overwrite the memory of his Wigan performance too.
Up front for me, Louis Saha gets the nod. Some will be surprised at this because Yakubu is considered to be our best striker by some distance, but for me, that’s the problem. He knows that he is Moyes’ main man, and so there is little pressure on him to be performing regularly. Saha on the other hand has had a real shortage of football in recent years and must be desperate just to be playing. He will be hungry to get back to his best and will work his socks off for the team – something that can rarely be said for the Yak, no matter how many he scores.
In addition to this, I though Saha played reasonably well against Wigan. His touch is excellent and he has speed and power in equal amounts so can be a handful to any defence. His finishing needs a bit of work, it’s still a bit rusty but matches will be best for that and he is good in the air. All in all he is nearly a complete striker when fit, fast strong, good on the ground and in the air, and with just the one up front, it’s an advantage to have that one with many facets to his game. Plus it will send a message to Yakubu, show him that he has to do more than turn up each week.
So there you have my team for the match with Tottenham at the weekend. There’s no doubt that a revitalised Spurs team will be up for it, and so we need to have as much fight and passion to match them in all departments, and I think this team should be able to achieve that, while retaining quality all over the park. A quick word on Tim Howard too, who showed his true talent against Wigan. I’ve made it clear so far this season that he hasn’t been up to scratch but on Monday he was fantastic, and I hope he can maintain that standard.
I said last week that Moyes had some decisions to make, but he didn’t make them. He gave the team another go and they let him down. If I know him at all (which I can’t claim to) I don;t think he’ll be happy with that and I think he will make some changes for the weekend. Whether his match mine, only time will tell, but he is sure to be giving them a rocket in training this week, lets just hope it ignites the necessary fire and passion in them, because we need to get straight back to winning ways if we are to keep up with the leading pack and fight off the chasing pack, because they’re not far behind and once you get dragged in, it’s hard to get out again.
Apologies for yesterday’s missed update. I was miserable and couldn’t face writing about the game so I switched off from football altogether. It probably did me good! Thanks for reading.