Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Moments as a US Evertonian

With about an hour left until we ring in the new year, and hopefully a new run up the table, it is time to look back at my top moments as an US Evertonian for 2010.

4. Moyes Time
     Down 3-1 with stoppage time approaching this past September, Everton's chances of gaining anything from their clash against Manchester United appeared to be non existent. Then of course Manchester's defense revealed the fact that it is old and creaky, and just a wee bit leaky. as both Cahill and Arteta scored in stoppage time, and Everton were just denied a chance to win when the ref finally decided to end stoppage time a little bit early.

3. Spring Fling
    As the snow began to melt in 2010, Everton began the homestretch of their Premiership (SIB) campaign with an amazing run of form gathering 39 points from 57 points possible including wins over Manchester City both home and away, Manchester United, and Chelsea along with a 5-1 thrashing of Hull City

2. Donovan lands at Merseyside
    When Landon Donovan arrived on Merseyside just after the new year, few people if any could predict that 12 weeks later Donovan would leave Goodison with a lap of honor, and a standing ovation from a crowd that was chanting USA! USA! USA! Donovan's arrival coincided with Everton's march up the table, a march that eventually ended just outside of European qualification.

1. Goal Goal USA, certainly through, oh it's incredible!
     Was there really any doubt that this was going to top the list? All American soccer fans will remember where they were when after 90 minutes of battering the Algerian goal, America's Balding Eagle managed to slot home a rebound, and with it America's hopes lived to fight another day until Ghana stomped on them.

A December Recap and SFS Preivew

The turn of the new year will hopefully bring about a new run of form for an Everton side that while beginning their ascent of the table to currently sit in 11th, certainly left points on the pitch in December. Beginning with an excellent draw at Stamford Bridge, Everton ended December with an unbeaten run of form that saw them draw Chelsea, Wigan, and West Ham while beating Manchester City for 6 points out of a possible 12. The game against Birmingham on Boxing Day was canceled and looks set to be made up in late January. The Toffees certainly could have done better against West Ham and Wigan where they were unlucky to not claim 3 points against both sides.

It should be no surprise to Everton fans that the team continued to show the same weakness that has plagued the team all year, incompetent forwards. The problem at the forward position got so bad that David Moyes decided to start Tim Cahill up top against West Ham. Jermain Beckford continued in his role as super sub, and had a beautiful goal against to equalize against Chelsea, and as usual missed a number of chances. Both Yakubu and Saha continued their abysmal run of form in their appearances this month, but the big news was the return of Victor Anichebe from injury. Anichebe made his return against Wigan, and was actually jeered by Everton fans after reports that he had turned down a new contract that could pay him up to 20,000 pounds a week despite his lack of first team appearances in the past few years.

On the defensive side Everton continued an excellent run of form, with both Jagielka and Distin forming a solid partnership in the center, Phil Neville being himself on the right side, and Leighton Baines continued to build on his candidacy as the most valuable player for the season with countless assists, and continued pillaging the right side of opposing defenses at will.

In the midfield Moyes may have found an excellent pairing in Fellaini and Rodwell forming a defensive core in the center, while Pienaar continues his play on the left, with either Coleman or Arteta on the right side, with Cahill playing right behind the chosen striker of the day.

Overall the past month as reinforced the fact that Everton needs more punch up top to have any hope of qualifying for Europe next season.

As for tomorrow, Everton once again play the newly named Stupid Fucking Stoke, not to be confused with Stupid Fucking Bolton. The previous meeting between the two teams ended in a 1-0 win for the Toffees, with Yakubu's physicilaity making the difference against an extremely defensive formation from SFS that included 5 center backs. A similar formation could be in the offering once again, but the Stoke team sheet will not include Richard Huth who is suspended for the game which is a big benefit to Everton, who will also be playing their last game with target man Tim Cahill before he departs for the Asian Cup, and could be gone for all of January. Look for Everton to try and maintain most of the possession and use a patient attack to try and break down the Stoke defense to get a goal, at which point the game will most likely open up as Stoke attempt to get back a goal. I see a repeat of the October match-up with Everton winning 1-0 off a Tim Cahill header.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Everton v. Wigan: A Recap

Now that I have had a chance to step back from the precipice of despair, I can provide a little bit of a review about the typical Everton game, this time against everyone's favorite punching bag, Wigan. As I indicated earlier this month, this was game that Everton needed to get three points from, which of course meant that they did everything but win, including a Tim Howard save from a loss. Everton fans always like to joke that the season doesn't start till December, but there comes a point where waiting for Everton to charge up the table to compete for a Europa League spot becomes a relegation battle and that is what this season is starting to become for Everton.

Now on to the actual game, Everton once again dominated the game, but failed to score despite numerous chances. In all fairness several chances were denied by Wigan keeper Al Habsi, who had a spectacular game, but a few chances were also muffed by Everton. Chief among these were the shots by Tim Cahill which glanced off the crossbar, and Louis Saha's shot that went straight at Al Habsi despite being through on goal. As a former keeper there is nothing better than when a forward shoots straight at you on a breakaway, really makes things easy.

On the defensive front, Everton really did not have much to do and were able to easily keep Wigan at bay until the dying moments when Phil Jagielka was forced to provide an amazing tackle to stop one offensive attack, and then Tim Howard was called into service with a beautiful one handed save from about 12 yards out to deny the visitors all three points

Man of the Match: This once again goes to the combination of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar who combined extremely well to generate most of the offense for Everton, and when Pienaar had to come off due to injury the dip in the Everton attack was noticeable.

Goat of the Match: David Moyes. It is not often that Moyes makes this spot, but his substitutions for this game were not exactly the greatest. While bringing on Beckford resulted in more of the same, the entrance of Anichebe for Pienaar instead of bringing on Billy was interesting, and Yakubu must have fallen far out of favor if he is not getting any chances to score some goals. Regardless these substitutions caused an even lower level of offensive prowess from Everton, and ultimately sealed the tie against Wigan

Next up Everton travel to Manchester City for the first game for  Citeh since the Carlos Tevez saga. Hopefully for Everton, Tevez is still out of sorts over his row with the upper management, and it shows in his play. Look for a preview on Saturday or Sunday, and until then COYB!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Everton v. Chelsea: A Recap

Another weekend of Everton in action, another game of excitement, agony, and most importantly heart palpitations. Although Everton certainly did well to get a point at Stamford Bridge, Everton have to feel as though they could have taken all three points given their amazing second half display.

As a side note, I feel the penalty against TIMMAY was unjust, and will probably have something about that later this week.

Moving on to the rest of the game though, Everton were fortunate to no concede another goal or two after some fantastic shots by the Chelsea attack, specifically John Terry had a shot rattle off the woodwork during a corner and Howard was called into action a few times to bail out a very shaky defensive effort. The defense did manage to settle down in the second half thankfully, and part of this has to do with David Moyes decision to move Seamus Coleman from the right to left flank. For some reason Everton had a real inability to play the ball up unless it went through Coleman, and asking Seamus Coleman to consistently beat Ashley Cole is a lot like asking Manuel Almunia to play consistent goalkeeping. After the move Coleman did an excellent job getting up the pitch, and I feel Moyes needs to look at keeping Coleman on the left for a bit to see what will happen. This switch also allowed Leighton Baines to get forward more easily, and shows just how effective Baines is when he has a true winger in front of him rather than a creative player like Piennar who moves all around the pitch.

In the center Rodwell and Fellaini did a fairly good job of putting a stop to most of the Chelsea attacks, but their unfamiliarity with each other showed in the first half.  Rodwell really did a nice job asserting himself in the second half and was extremely unlucky not to score as one of his shots hit the post and stayed out. As always Tim Cahill was his usual self, and had a beautiful header for an assist to Beckford, and he probably feels like he could have bagged at least one goal on the day.

Of course despite a good result, the troubling points of Everton's season still showed up in this game. For one thing although the goal was a beauty, it did come in pretty much the same way that a majority of goals have this season. A beautiful Baines cross found the head of Cahill who nodded it to Beckford who put it past Cech for the equalizer. With Cahill set to leave for the Asian Cup as early as next week, but rumors suggest he may wait till the new year, Everton will be deprieved of their top goalscorer and aerial threat for a several weeks which means someone like Beckford needs to step up.

Speaking of Beckford, and I know a lot of people including myself are not sold on his ability to be a true goalscoring threat, the man has now scored 2 goals that have garnered points for Everton. Granted he still needs to do a better job of converting his many chances, but no one can say that he doesn't have the ability for this level, he just needs to learn the consistency.

MVP: Beckford, the man who scores the only goal for the team gets the credit on a team that has trouble scoring

Goat: Phil Neville, the skipper was able to return for this match, and while he did have a solid outing overall, his one screwup was costly as it led to a PENNO and then a goal from Drogba. Neville knows he screwed up badly, so at this point it is just time to forget it and move on, and next week will provide plenty of opportunities for redemption.

Next up Everton play Wigan in a game that they simply must take 3 points from. This is the point where Everton need to start beating the teams they should be, not dropping silly points. Until next time COYB!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Everton v. Chelsea : A Preview

Tomorrow at 10 a.m. on ESPN2, Everton get a chance to take on the defending champions Chelsea for the first time this season. Last years meetings between the two clubs were thrillers as Everton and Chelsea tied 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in December, and followed that up with a 2-1 win against Chelsea in which America's Balding Eagle had an assist to Louis Saha for the first goal, and followed that up with getting taken down in the box for a penalty that led to the winning goal. Although Everton last one at Stamford Bridge in 1994, the team has to look favorably on its chances to at least snatch a point in this game as Chelsea has been faltering going winless in their last 5 matches including three defeats along the way. Of course Everton's form has been less than stellar since an October that saw them go undefeated, the first of November brought fewer sights of cheer as Everton went winless, hopefully the turn of the month will allow Everton to return back to their October form which will surely be needed this weekend at Stamford Bridge.

On the player front, Everton will be without Tony Hibbert who has a deep cut on his ankle from the West Brom game last weekend, while skipper Phil Neville is a doubt with fluid in his knee. Additionally Mikel Arteta is set to begin his 3 game suspension from a sending off against West Brom. Thankfully defensive midfielder Marouane Fellaini is set to return from his suspension to bring better stability on the defensive front.

As for Chelsea, It appears that both Michael Essien and John Terry are set to return to action while Frank Lampard appears set to miss the game as he is still recovering from injury.

As always Didier Droga is one who the Everton backline will need to keep an eye. Although Drogba has not hit the back of the net in 7 games for the champions, he is always a threat to score and any chance Everton have of securing points in this game will require them to watch the Ivory Coast international very closely. Going the other way the link up of Leighton Baines and Tim Cahill will be crucial in order for Everton to get on the scoresheet, unless any of Everton's out of form strikers can manage to find the back of the net.

In the end this game will probably be close regardless, but I feel this may very well be the moment that turns Everton's season around, so I look for them to claim 3 points from this match against the champions with a 2-1 score and goals coming from Essien for Chelsea, and Cahill and Fellaini getting their names on the score sheet. Until next time COYB

Thursday, December 2, 2010

15 Games In: A Defensive Look

Ok so now that I am done throwing things and burning my picture of Fat Sepp in effigy, I decided I may as well talk a little about the Everton defense so far this season, followed by a look at what is ahead for the Blues

Everton's defense has been fairly stout giving up 19 goals in 15 matches which is good for being tied for 8th fewest goals allowed in the league which is not particularly bad, and have had 4 clean sheets which for them is about average. Although the stats show an average defense, most observers of Everton in action will agree that the defense has looked fairly shaky this season. In goal TIMMAY! Howard has looked uncharacteristically shaky allowing an opening day goal to Blackburn where he just flat out dropped the ball after grabbing it, and an excellent Flappyhandski-esque wave at a cross against Spurs which led to an easy tap in. Although Howard hasn't lost it to the point where newly arrived backup Jan Mucha should be mentioned as a possible replacement, Howard is certainly not playing at the level most Evertonians are accustomed to seeing him at, which certainly does not help a shaky backline.

As for the backline, Leighton Baines has been in great form offensively and his defensive performances have been solid if unspectacular. On the opposite side Phil Neville has been his usual stalwart self with a particularly amazing performance against good ole Gareth Bale that caused even 'Arry to comment on Neville's excellent defensive abilities. In the center Phil Jagielka continues to do well although he and partner Sylvain Distin have had some communication issues. Distin as always continues to be an enigma. While he rivals Peter Crouch in foot skills, Distin has definitely had a small dip in form from last year, but at this point still remains a better option than John Heitinga who still appears to be suffering some type of lapse after his long World Cup campaign culminated in a sending off by none other than Howard Webb in the final.

The biggest problem for Everton on the defensive side really seems to be the midfield. In most games where Everton concede goals, for example against Manchester United or West Brom, the midfield fails to truly tack back and help out on defense. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that both Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, both of whom have done excellent jobs in a defensive midfielder role, are just returning from injury and suspension. Recently David Moyes has tried to deploy Heitinga in the defensive midfield role, but it is an experiment that has seemed ill suited for the team right now. One bright spot from the midfield on the defensive side is Steven Pienaar who continues to motor around on the field both offensively and defensively although lately he has been doing a much better job with the latter.

In the end, the Everton defense does need a small amount of work, but there is not a huge amount of concern for it, especially compared to the offense.

Now looking at the upcoming fixtures in December, Everton first visit Stamford Bridge this weekend before hosting Wigan, and then travelling to Manchester Arabia, followed by a Boxing Day visit from Birmingham, and finally a visit to Upton Park against relegation contenders West Hame. Looking at the impending visit to Chelsea, the champions are currently sitting in second, but a drop in form has rendered this a chance for Everton to snag a potential point, although it is likely that Chelsea secure the victory. Following this Everton should snag 3 points from both Wigan and West Ham, and have to be favored to win against Birmingham after their convincing victory against them at St. Andrews, the only loss Birmingham have suffered at home this season. The one game that could certainly change the fortunes of Everton for the better comes a week before Christmas in Manchester against the Citizens. If Everton can take 3 points from this game, it could certainly lead to another stellar run of form that Everton usually have come the end of the year. Last year at this time a 2-2 tie against Spurs after being down 2-0 at halftime led to an unprecedented run of form leading to them only 2 times after the beginning of the December.

Regardless of what happens this should be an exciting month for Evertonians. Until next time COYB

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

15 Games In: An offensive look

As we enter the cold blustery month of December, Everton ,as has been the case in many past seasons, is once again poised just above the relegation spots in 16th place with 16 points. While Everton are certainly not in any immediate danger of relegation considering they sit only 4 points out of 7th place. The problem is as always, the lack of proven goalscorers in this years squad. Of Everton's 17 goals during this campaign, 8 of them have been scored by Tim Cahill, and 3 by Mikel Arteta. Only 2 goals have been scored by actual forwards this season, 1 by Jermaine Beckford, and 1 by Yakubu. Last years leading goalscorer Louis Saha of 14 goals has yet to find the back of the net, while so far Beckford has wasted numerous opportunities and Yakubu has been an enigma for the past few years totaling only 9 goals in the past 2 seasons. Even the return of Victor Anichebe will not quell Evertonian fears as despite Anichebe's promise he has only scored 7 goals in his 76 first team appearances. As always Blues fans must place their trust in David Moyes ability to secure a youngster at a low price, or that the funds can be procured to buy a quality striker.

A lesser known, but equally disturbing trend for Everton is just how dependent Everton are on Leighton Baines to supply them with the ball when they do score. So far Baines has been responsible for 6 of the teams 10 assists in the EPL (SIB!). While Baines has certainly been a force on this team, it is extremely unsettling that creative men Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar have been more quiet than usual. Many people including David Moyes had been hopeful that because Piennar was in the final year of his contract that his play would be spectacular in hopes of securing a free transfer to a prestigious European club in either Germany or Italy with teams such as Inter Milan, Juventus, and Bayern Munich rumored to be interested in his services. As for Arteta, while his play has been exceptional at times, it has also been lacking in some games, none more so than the weekends fixture against West Brom where he received a red card and subsequent 3 match suspension for stomping on a player. Granted it wasn't a particularly nasty stomp, but Arteta should know better than to do that, especially in front of the benches. Needless to say that if Everton plans to make their traditional run up the table then they will need the creative qualities of Piennar and Arteta in order to do it.

One topic that always gets Everton fans excited is talk of the youngsters who can come in and help out the first team. As always this list is topped by Jack Rodwell, who although only 19 has made 48 appearances for Everton, and is now returning from an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined since September. Although mainly a defensive midfielder he was deployed in more of an attacking role last season to great effect and looks to make the jump to regular first team starter, and possibly a full English international soon. Followed up by Rodwell is defender Seamus Coleman who is being described by many as a slower version of Gareth Bale, but he is still very raw, with only 10 appearances in the EPL as of this season, although he did spend the second half of the last campaign playing for Blackpool on loan, and helped them achieve promotion. Many people are very keen on Coleman, but as he has shown in several recent appearances he is not quite ready to become a regular first team player and can use some seasoning, possibly on loan to a lower EPL team, or maybe back in the Championship. The final youngster that has Evertonians talking is Shane Duffy. Many people will remember Duffy as the kid who almost died playing football when he lacerated an artery near his liver in a collision with the keeper during a practice match with the Republic of Ireland. Duffy is a stout central defender at 6 foot 4 inches, and could become a natural partner to England international Phil Jagielka in a year or two. Currently Duffy has resumed playing in reserve team matches and looks set to go out on loan to a Championship side come January 1 with Barnsley, Leeds, and Southampton all said to be interested. Although it may be a while before we see Duffy playing regularly for the first team, he is one of those players that David Moyes rates highly, and in the end In Moyes We Trust.

For all of you that managed to read all of this congratulations, you earn nothing except an imaginary cookie, and some knowledge about the Everton attack. Hopefully before Saturday I will be able to round up the Everton defense 15 games in, and look at the upcoming fixture list for Everton and just who may be coming to join the Blues. In the meantime COYB!