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Everton Arent We

Everton Arent We has 181 articles published.

The Burden of The Ideal

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Well, that escalated quickly, eh?

All I want to do is to go back and wrap myself up tightly with that warm, sweetly satisfactory feeling from this summer when we confirmed deals for Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen in the space of about 36 hours. We were finally going to be the bullies. It was like lingerie suddenly popping up where the big underwear had always resided and you were suddenly filled with both newfound lust AND hope all at once.

Just as there’s a pretty limited celling to living in the past, it’s also true that living in an idealized/imagined reality can be fun, but is also ultimately fleeting. And in the case of Everton, living in an idealized world is about as toxic an approach to our present adversity as there could be.

Let’s get this out of the way now. The window was good, but painfully incomplete. Whether you’ve subscribed to the comforting oversimplification that Everton didn’t try hard enough or only started looking for a striker during the final few days of the window, the bottom line is that while the club added quality foundational pieces, they didn’t get the target-man they needed. And if they’d gotten the target-man they needed but hadn’t signed a new long term keeper or center back, I’d be equally as frustrated. The degree to which this thing needed both a roster and philosophical overhaul from seasons past is becoming more painfully obvious by the day—especially when considering a club famously inept in transfer windows past managed to find a way to literally secure five of their six top targets and STILL find a way to fall significantly short of what was needed. It’s hard to wrap your brain around it, but it feels true, doesn’t it?

What’s also objectively true is that this team doesn’t win on the road (a long-term issue) and doesn’t score (a shorter-term, but no less alarming issue). Making it through the Europa qualifying stages and being previously hard to beat at home helped to mitigate the concerns about these a bit, but no more. And that’s fine. Let’s all acknowledge just how bad things are so we can begin to focus on what solutions look like.

In order to do that, let’s be bold and dare to live in both the present AND the real. I live in a country where reality and facts have been largely tossed into a highly disappointing stew of gray area, so I’m doing my best to confront the issues of the day through as comprehensive a lens as I can. And while I could pontificate endlessly on the folly of what happened to America last November, it’s almost a year later and I’m forced to wake up each day in the world as it is and not how I’d like it to be. So it is with football.

So what’s to blame for where we find ourselves at this moment? The manager? The schedule? The roster transition? The window? The players? YES.

And if you think it’s all on Koeman or all on the Board or all on the players or all on Olivier Giroud’s wife, you’re being intellectually dishonest. Most big problems are big largely because they’re also complicated. So it is with ye olde Everton. A bad, BAD run of form that feels longer than it actually is because of how god awful BAD its been has shined a light on every little crack that has threatened to result in a hemorrhage.

But of all the reasons listed above, there are few under anyone’s direct control at this point. The schedule is what it is. The players currently at our disposal can’t be augmented until January and/or when the healing powers of time do their thing. Ultimately, the greatest hope for changing the course of things must come from the single most influential person currently at Everton – the manager.

Ronald Koeman. A man who has never shied away from the legacy of his greatness as a player and who fashions himself a man’s man with a no-nonsense approach and a simple bottom line expectation for his players: Results

So it would seem that based on such a standard that the old platitude about doing the same thing over and over and insanity would force Ronny to consider a fundamental reconsideration of his approach–especially from a tactical perspective. Highly skilled teams CAN (contrary to what you hear so often on Everton Twitter) win without width and pace. Everton, however, are NOT–despite some major talent additions in goal, in defense, and some nice attacking additions elsewhere–a highly skilled team. They are a team with some players that have some unique individual skills that must find creative ways to take advantage of every yard of the pitch to get the most out of said skills. Don’t have blistering pace in the middle of the field? The answer isn’t simply to throw more guys into the center of midfield. The answer comes in taking a chance with players who can add width to expand the field of play in order to create some key opportunities/mismatches–even if their age/lack of experience irks your pragmatic Dutch sensibilities. That may mean taking the uncomfortable calculated risk of playing the likes of Jonjoe Kenny, Vlasic and Lookman in heightened roles–especially if Mirallas is beyond salvation. (Do we actually have the luxury to make such a dramatic determination about Mirallas at a time when Niasse is suddenly back in contention for the first team?). That may mean playing one less holding midfielder. That may mean rotating Rooney around or even to the bench on occasion (a proposition that many of us were just fine with before he scored our only two league goals) to give guys like Sigurdsson and Klaassen the opportunity to thrive in their best positions for the cause of the greater good.

For sure, a healthy Yannick Bolasie would solve a lot of what’s wrong with the current balance. So would Coleman. Hell, having Giroud up top would make things better. But again, there’s no point in lamenting what is presently out of reach. A lot of managers can succeed when things are ideal. In theory, you pay the big money for an elite manager to be able to succeed when conditions are not ideal. The roster isn’t ideal. The schedule isn’t ideal. The sheer number of new players who’ve spent little time playing together compared to their completion across the pitch isn’t ideal. That the manager hasn’t figured out how to fit his new pieces together isn’t ideal. The current injuries aren’t ideal. We can and should accept that all of those things are true AND still expect a highly skilled manager to take a proactive, creative approach toward overcoming the resulting adversity. So if Koeman is the manager we believed he was when we brought him in, it’s time for him to earn that money. Those beer buzzy beach binges aren’t gonna pay for themselves, mind you.

And part of a reconsidered approach also may mean sitting players who simply aren’t delivering enough right now. (Insert joke about how all the players are pretty much shit at the moment here). And this includes–painfully for me personally to admit–sitting French lothario Morgan Schneiderlin for a while. If there’s anyone who needs a carrot dangled in front of him at the moment, it’s him. Outside of getting married over the summer, there’s simply no explanation in terms of circumstantial change for his regression. He’s at his peak age physically, we’ve all SEEN him play really well for us not that long ago, and he’s getting plenty of playing time. What ails him must be between the ears. I won’t speculate on what the issue could be, but the answer for Everton may have to come in the form of–my lord I can’t believe I’m about to utter these words–James McCarthy. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Yes, the bane of my existence is–according to Koeman–a distinct possibility for next weekend. And while he doesn’t have the skill of Morgan Schneiderlin, it doesn’t appear that Morgan Schneiderlin has it either at the moment. So maybe we ought to take advantage of McCarthy’s running and pressing and tackling abilities for that period of time before the next inevitable hamstring strain to see if he can inject some much needed guile to this thing.

But of course, the issues run deeper than that. Koeman, in general, needs to consider how he can remove some of the ambiguity from his day to day approach both tactically and from a personnel standpoint. Some key questions/issues for Koeman to consider:

Koeman must understand that his preferred system and the system that is best for the players he currently has may be two different things right now and accept that. He’s allegedly a pragmatist, right? So what is that system? Who fits in? Start by managing that.

Can Koeman take advantage of the (relatively) softer part of the upcoming schedule and blood the young talent in positions of weakness? The growing pains are a requisite part of development. So either endure the pain now or stick with what isn’t working and be forced to endure it long after the season is lost. (Cliché alert) There are no easy games in this league, but the upcoming stretch is objectively easier than both the current stretch and later stretches of the season. Might as well spend this time building an identity and providing players with defined roles that can help them all to focus and perform more effectively.

What is Tom Davies role in this team?

Jonjoe Kenny may in reality not be ready for the first team. But if that’s the case, why didn’t he go out on loan? He’s not getting better playing for the U-23’s. So logic dictates that he’s been kept around for some reason. Surely an England U-21 coming off playing a key role in an U-20 World Cup title had options. And what exactly is the upside of playing Martina over him? They both have decent pace and can put a cross in, but we know Martina can’t defend and essentially is what he is. Could the play of the team really get worse having Kenny in the lineup?

Domino effect: What is the upside of continuing to play Holgate out of position? Could Holgate not at least play some games in the center of defense in Europe?

What formation best suits the abilities of Sandro and Klaassen? They seem to have been at their best when they’ve had width. Guys like this who aren’t slick and sophisticated passers yet ARE smart players who move well, link up well, and have proven in previous years that they can finish well seem to benefit when the attack is a bit more expansive. You paid a cost in terms of money and effort to get these guys in, so why not put them in more ideal positions to succeed?

What is Koeman’s philosophy on squad rotation? When you’re playing in Europe—especially in the punishing Thursday/Sunday format of the Europa league, squad rotation is a necessary balancing act to be sure. But if the goal is to keep players fresh, what is the logic behind resting young players and playing older players for heavy minutes—namely Rooney—both during the week and at the weekend? When I’ve broached this issue, the typical response is that Rooney has been one of our best players. This starts to feel like when you question the logic of a war and someone responds asking why you don’t support the troops? It’s conflating two very different issues. Wayne Rooney HAS performed well and he is STILL about to turn 32. Is starting and playing 90 minutes on a weekly basis not “regular” enough football for him? Doesn’t logic suggest that to get the best out of him for a longer season that his minutes must be managed strategically when possible? And if Koeman thinks Rooney’s minutes don’t need to be managed, why does he think players who are 10 years his junior need to have theirs managed? Surely, a more logically consistent approach couldn’t hurt.

Other random thoughts:

If you’re tired of Koeman have no fear. Only one more season before he leaves for that Barcelona gig, right?

Handsome Stek may be a painfully average keeper, but admit it—he looks like he smells fantastic. I’d keep him away from my wife.

I like Vlasic. He’s young, but he appears to possess some pace, as well as both strength on and for the ball considering his age.

One of the best parts about getting to know so many of you has been getting acquainted with your specific and creative uses of the English language. So to borrow a bit of that for a moment, any of you using sentences lately with “at least under Martinez/Moyes” can get to fuck. Like get right to fuck.

Everton have too many players who’ve held leadership roles for club and country for there to be any excuses for a lack of leadership. Rooney. Williams. Klaassen. Keane. Sigurdsson. Real leaders shouldn’t need an armband to step up. Yell and scream. Throw shit. Take the boys out for a bonding excursion to the strip club. Do karaoke together. Just do SOMETHING. As we’ve learned over the years, if you’re waiting for strong, vocal leadership from Phil Jagielka, you’re gonna be waiting for a while. Jagielka has been a fine player for a long, long time. But he’s been more a captain by default than anything. The club can’t continue to scream for a new mentality and expect it to come from the same leaders who are part of the old mentality. I’m not sure who that should be. But picking from the old guard seems counterintuitive. More importantly, a leader needs to emerge as opposed to being coronated.

Chin up, Blues. When you’re in the middle of the storm, it all feels pretty hopeless. And Sunday doesn’t offer much hope for a respite. But it can’t get much worse than what we’ve seen the last few weeks, right? The real question is: Can Everton begin the process of making things right? Sure. But it starts with a long, hard, honest look in the mirror. The only destination Everton will ultimately reach at the end of this present tempest is the one they earn. Not the one they think ought to be.

Atalanta v Everton Preview

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So the Thursday night thing begins for real.

Everton are well accustomed to this competition over the last decade and while there’s been some good results it’s largely been used as a blag for flexi days off with your mates drinking your own bodyweight in glorious continental beer. Or being CS gassed by the French police, whatever floats your boat really.

Tell you what would float my boat, Everton finding their bollocks and playing like a cohesive team who put their foot in, that would ensure high fucking tide on my boat. Nothing more to say on that Spurs game except it was poor and clueless as I’ve seen any Everton team for the past quarter century, and the competition for that mantel is high. Hoping for it being an odious blip here.

The Europa ball pickers put us in a twat of a group but the reality is that the others in that group will be sizing up Everton and thinking the same. Little do they know we’re shite at the moment so we just have to pretend we’re a well oiled outfit and dead savvy on Thursday nights and hope they shit themselves as we used to v teams like Metalist and Dynamo Bucharest. It’s a flawed strategy but what else we gonna do? Play it wide? Hit them with our pace? Out muscle them on set pieces? Exactly man.

An acute danger in Europa League is when you draw a team you haven’t heard of and have to write a preview about, which is exactly what has happened here. So what can I tell you about Atalanta? Fuck all really. There’s plenty of previews about with lads who have Euro togger satellite packages and a great appreciation of foreign players. Go read them for insight. I’ll try to sabotage the next few paragraphs with Brexit standard lazy stereotypes instead.

What I can tell you though is what utter shithouses this Atalanta team are and how the hideous fucking snakes are chocka full of latin cheats who are gonna “gamesmanship” the fuck out of us if we meekly plod round the pitch as we did against Spurs and Chelsea. Put a half arsed tackle in? Some fucking winger with a boss surname is rolling round in what looks like ultimate agony and his mates with hairbands are surrounding the ref holding imaginary cards in the air. Challenging for a 50/50 ball on the blindside of the ref? They’re going right through your achilles, mate. Defending the edge of our own box without anything less than crushing and resolute aggression? Their South American playmaker has just megged your centre half and their sweaty fucking striker is already celebrating with their ultras holding your boxies in the air, sneering at the stupid English pigdogs.

They’re eyeing up any bird you ever loved. Every fucking single one of them, your daughters too. They’re the hotel entertainers in that shite 3 star all inclusive in the Dominican offering to teach your bird how to salsa dance so they can rub their impressive cock against the crotch of your bird. When you turn your back they’re trying to get her to go the disco with them later. He’s there pissing himself laughing at you to his mates as your sunburnt shoulders are all red and he’s olive as fuck in a pair of tight swimming shorts, the bad Atalanta shithead. That lad driving too close to your rear bumper? He’s Atalanta mate. The cholesterol in your food that’s gonna heart attack you before you get to marry your children off? It’s fucking Atalanta cholesterol.

Atalanta got better Christmas clothes as you as a kid, it’s a fact that every kid in Atalanta gets full clobber from Gansgear for Lent too. Clothes for Lent? Fuck off. While me mar was saving Embassy Focus Points to get me a fucking haircut they’re all bouncing round in Adidas Kick and Gallini pull over your head tops. Tremendous hair too. While you go to work and graft an honest week’s 40 hours all these Atalanta sponges are sat around in cafes smoking your EU money and drinking sensational coffee. Atalanta only talking sound about us in the build up because they are after shithousing six easy points from us without us feeling bad about how they cheat us out of it. Like the bin men knocking on your door and wishing Happy Christmas, don’t fall for it this shit Everton. It’s a fucking outrage all things told.

I’m not having tany of his and I hope that Everton are the same. It’s a fucking disgrace. They’re even making us play two hours away from our ground to disrespect us on how much they that much can’t be arsed being our host.

So fuck all this feeling sorry for ourselves getting bummed in the past two games. I want to see nothing more than nuclear on their chino and no socks arses. Right from the off. Tell them what they are in the tunnel Everton, they’re laughing their fucking heads off at us. Like fuck I’m doing a list of their players, the utter nomarks can do one.

So onto Everton then.

Remember when we used to be a goal threat up front? I’m not one for flippant reactions to two defeats against first and second in the league last season but we do look nothing less than dogshit up front. We look like a team of newly signed players being thrown in to justify spending on them. Sack this right off and choose a team in their right positions that can deliver something, anything. In that equation it’s probably going to need Calvert-Lewin up front if you’re playing a 3 up there and someone out of Rooney, Sigurdsson, Ramirez is gonna have to be titty lipped on the bench. If they aren’t producing goals or at least running round like a mad twat bumping into opposition defenders then they can get to fuck at the moment.

Midfield is similar, and not helped by Schneiderlin being hideously out of form. No bigger lover of the tall sleek Gallic sexpasser than me but he needs dropping until he can remember how to play the ace soccers again. Same goes for any of them and I fully expect Koeman will be trying out a few different personnel and shape changes there until he finds one that works. Because it’s needed.

Yeah and that defence. Too easy to single out scapegoats but Martina looks to have a bigger blind spot on his right hand side than the Popemobile trailering a caravan through North Wales coastal roads. Ashley “Ash” Williams getting repeatedly assaulted by Harry Kane’s back didn’t inspire me too much either. He got the Euro 2016 semis though lar. I don’t give a fuck, get me 4 or 5 of them at the back that doesn’t resemble Everton defending in the 90s every time we play someone who has half a fucking clue up top. Presume Pickford will be in goal, unless Ronko does something mad like play Stekelenburg there because he thinks Everton are good enough to have two team to rotate, when we don’t even have one at present.

The thick end of £150m to be worse than last season? Fuck right off.

Putting it all down on screen has been somewhat therapeutic to me however, as I’ve been holding onto that since Saturday. I just pressed backwards on my browser and thought I’d lost it all too. It’s been that type of week.

Only Everton can make you feel this way. On we march. Oh the glory, the European glory.

The Midweek Ramble No.3: Double Dutch

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It’s not been the best of weeks for former Ajax players who then managed the club having both also played for Barcelona. While Frank de Boer was shown de door at Palace, who is seemingly on a mission to get the number of weeks in a job before getting the sack into single figures, some Evertonians were having similar thoughts about their own Dutch manager. Some even suggesting it was the worst display they’ve ever seen, even worse than the Walter Smith days. The connoisseurs of total football have been serving up total shite this season – no doubt about it, but it would be woefully naive to call for Koeman’s head. This run of games was bound to be a tough one, but the fashion in which the blues have struggled is alarming. Make no mistake, we were completely embarrassed by Tottenham. Poch’s Spurs played with the vigour and swagger of a team totally on song with what the manager wanted. I’ve spent many hours since the humbling trying my best to figure out what formation Koeman was trying to play. Kane hadn’t scored in August? Lucky for him Everton where there on hand as soon as September came to break his duck. Why does it only seem to happen to us? Don’t get me wrong I still have faith it can be turned around, it’s just that the ground we have lost early may very well be tough to claw back.

Up next for the toffees is the first group game in the Europa League away to Serie A’s surprise package last season Atalanta. Only bested last season by Juve, Roma and Napoli, the boys from Bergamo have a reputation for creating a lively atmosphere. Luckily for the toffees the game is being played 2 hours away from the usual home ground, with the stadium being deemed by UEFA unfit for purpose. They’ve had a ropey start this season like us, but having picked up their first win of the season on the weekend they’ll be in good spirits for the upcoming tie. Everton did reasonably well away from home in the Europa League under Martinez (let’s not think about Kiev….) and Koeman will be looking to continue that. I think the most important thing will be not to lose, as cliche as it sounds. But a defeat on Thursday would mean 3 on the bounce, and with a date with our old friend Romelu Lukaku on the horizon very soon, Koeman can ill afford to suffer another dismal loss. By the sounds de Boer’s reign came to an end after losing the dressing room, Ronny may have his own problems if he starts to lose the confidence of even more of the Everton faithful.

The Midweek Ramble No.2

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It’s incredible to believe that in a summer in which Everton spent more money than they ever have, on players who have long term futures with the club and the potential to flourish as top draw talent, that Evertonians would see the end of the transfer window feeling somewhat let down. In the run up to deadline day we had been told on numerous occasions that Koeman was still actively seeking a centre forward and a left sided centre back (something I didn’t know existed before twitter), so fans can be forgiven for being caught up in the hysteria when it became apparent that we weren’t going to land those targets. But I think we need to step back and see the window for what it was, extremely positive. The big deals were done early, and from what I can tell no panic buys. Niasse is a perfect example of why we should be cautious of panicking into buying a player for the sake of it, seen as though he’s seemingly impossible to get rid of. It’s months of decent wages being spent on a player the manager wants nothing to do with.

Speaking of which, we turn our attention to Ross Barkley. Now it wasn’t so long ago that Barkley was the future of not only Everton but the national side. Fast forward to present day and he’s completely fell out of favour at both. For a lot of that spell, Barkley was afforded the time from many Evertonians that couldn’t understand some of the criticism that he was getting because of his inconsistency. For some, simply being a local homegrown talent meant that he deserved more breathing space in order to reach his maximum potential. And maybe they were right, but time waits for no one. Unfortunately for us time is exactly what Barkley is waiting for once again, as he turned down the opportunity to leave Everton, after the club agreed a £35 million pound deal for the midfielder. There’s nothing that would make me happier than to see Barkley become the main man for Everton, but it’s become apparent since Koeman came to the club that it’s not going to happen. Is that the managers fault? I find it hard to lay the blame to a man who’s played at the highest level under some of footballs most legendary figures. If public criticism is what’s lead to Barkley wanting to go, then I just can’t see how he can reach the world class levels we all thought he could. But to be honest, it’s all academic from this point on, because the painfully slow divorce looks like it’s going to roll on until at least January. For a player that in reality owes his professional career to Everton; stuck with him through the hard times even when he suffered a potentially career ending leg break. It’s sad to see him running down his contract for his own personal gain. Goodbye Ross, feels like we hardly knew you and still don’t.

The Steven Pienaar-sized hole & other problems down Everton’s left

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There remains a Steven Pienaar-sized hole in Everton’s midfield. Roberto Martinez’s makeshifts only served to isolate Leighton Baines and Ronald Koeman is repeating the error. So far this season, Everton’s vulnerability on the left of midfield has been a factor in all four goals conceded. Koeman is actively seeking reinforcements but there are underlying tactical concerns he must also address.

Last Monday as Everton hung on to a 1-0 lead against Manchester City’s 10 men, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen attempted to block a cross from advanced right-back Danilo. No luck. One defensive error later and 440 consecutive minutes without conceding were cancelled out. Two number 10 tens going through the motions out wide seemed like a hopeful approach to blocking crosses.

Three days later in Split, the problem manifested itself differently. After Hajduk had made ground down the right, a switch to the centre freed Josip Radosevic. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin standed upfield, Baines was caught in between charging out and dropping to cover Ante Erceg’s run. A rush to block Radosevic was probably his best bet but he delayed, arrived late and eventually deflected the strike past Jordan Pickford. Two goals that could have been avoided with a diligent left midfielder.

Antonio Conte tweaked Chelsea’s approach to exploit Everton’s left. With Cesar Azpilicueta wide enough he was essentially a full-back, Victor Moses was able to pen Baines back and push Willian closer to Alvaro Morata, almost in a 4-4-2 at times. From a quick free-kick, Willian drew Phil Jagielka, Baines and Sigurdsson to the right before playing in Cesc Fabregas to ghost into the vacated space. Minutes later, Azpilicueta crossed from the right for Morata to score. Left midfield issues weren’t the only factors here, but they were surely significant enough to trouble Koeman.

Modern trends have dictated that just about any attack-minded player can start as a ‘winger’. If Emile Heskey can, anyone can – and so it has almost literally proved since. Post-Pienaar, Everton have explored that vague parameter with very little success: Steven Naismith, Arouna Kone, Tom Cleverley, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Aaron Lennon. Game-by-game solutions that never materialised into substance. Square pegs with that showed no signs of becoming round.

It was unfortunate that Yannick Bolasie missed half the season after presenting himself as a good option on the left. However, Koeman could have afforded Ademola Lookman more than 12 appearances. The former Charlton man has been the only recognised left midfielder in the squad for eight months, but at last it appears he has company. Uncomfortably in the form of Sigurdsson who has lined up there twice now, and more conventionally in Hajduk Split’s Nikola Vlasic who is set to join.

Suitably impressed with his performances over two legs against Everton, and more extensive scouting you would imagine, Everton will beef up their already beefy number 10 contingent with the 19-year-old. Crucially, the Croatian can play on either wing. I can’t speculate about how to make the best of him but it would suit Everton if Vlasic could reliably assist Baines’ defensive work. It’s probably an unrealistic demand for a 19-year-old attacking midfielder new to the league, but it would make sense for Koeman to develop him this way for now.

Ideally, Vlasic would be part of a comprehensive restocking on the left, for a reserve full-back and a first-choice centre-back are still required. 33 in December, Baines cannot be expected to play every game of a campaign that’s seven matches in before September. He has started the season in impressive fashion but bringing in experienced cover or a youngster to intermittently develop would help avoid fatigue and offer protection in the event of injury.

Left centre-back is also a concern. At this stage, Koeman is likely to bring in a player to cover both roles but before long, specialists will be required. Of Everton’s five centre-backs, the only one suited to a role on the left of a back three is scheduled to return from injury in April. Jagielka has looked uncomfortable there except when forced inside by Man City. Like Ashley Williams, he is suited to the centre, while Michael Keane and Mason Holgate are comfortable on the right.

No fit left-sided centre-backs, one left-back compared to four right-backs, one 19-year-old winger on the left with two established options on the right – an unhealthy imbalance has been allowed to develop in the wide areas. Koeman must address this in the remainder of the transfer window but also tactically from now on.

The Reign of Terror

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I have a confession to make. I’m soft. Soft as shite. A complete pushover. Especially when it comes to Everton. Those who know me from Twitter will testify that I’ll make excuses for even the worst Everton players. McGeady has a cross on him. Jo just needs a strike partner. Kroldrup is probably a really nice fella.

Part of this is almost certainly a defence mechanism from coming of age in the Moyes/Kenwright era, the lean years. You pretty much had to accept the flaws of an underperforming player and emphasise the positives because come hell or high water you were stuck with them for the foreseeable. We’ll go with what we’ve got. But those days are over.

As I write this on the coach down to Chelsea, news is filtering through that Kevin Mirallas is in Manchester airport mulling over a “complicated situation”. Alright Kev, don’t get all Morrissey on us. We know you’re on airport time about to sink your third Peroni. The Belgian Press line is he’s flying out to sort a return to his former club Olympiakos. It’s some turnaround from signing a new contract just three months ago.

This situation serves to emphasise a fact that many Evertonians have come to accept and even celebrate in the past few weeks and months. Ronald Koeman is ruthless. If you’re not in his plans, or performing at the level he expects or requires, you’re out. The culling started last season with the jettisoning of Bryan Oviedo, a popular and useful squad player, and Darron Gibson, who also played for Everton. The trend has continued this summer. Gareth Barry has been a tremendous servant to this club, and personally I think he still could do a job for us. But that’s a phrase I don’t think will pass the lips of many Evertonians in the inevitably all too brief Koeman era at L4. “Do a job”. Three short words that speak a thousand in terms of low expectation, resignation and, on the part of the players, complacency. Comfortable in the knowledge their position was secure through necessity, they must surely now be wondering if skipping voluntary double training sessions is even an option any more.

The sight of Kevin Mirallas sat in that departure lounge will send chills down the spine of every Everton player, especially those who have had their feet under the table for years. Here you have a player who had only committed himself to the club until 2020 displaced by two young hungry players with a combined top flight experience of 18 months. Ashley Williams, a Koeman signing no less, is no longer assured of his starting position. Ross Barkley, once considered the indispensable bedrock around which Everton would build their future, now faces leaving the club next year for free with nothing more than a shrug. Welcome to the new age. Get with the programme. The message has been sent loud and clear: you’re all on notice. Shape up or you’ll be shipped out. The reign of terror is here.

Deception Perception

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With the calendar set to be turned and unveil September, it’s up to you to decide whether it signals the dying embers of summer, or the beginning of autumn, and the point of change. Depends how much of a miserable get you are. Similarly, you can look at the start of our league season in a couple of different ways: we’ve a few new players come in, and we’ve 4 points from a tricky opening three games- or, you might be a bit concerned at the football we’ve seen so far. An acutely shite opening half against Stoke was momentarily lit up in such style that it may well have been from a pen brandished by Agent’s K and J from Men in Black. It erased all memory of the previous 45. It was abject misery watching a team devoid of any real idea, any discernible formation for that matter. In the interests of fairness, we were far better in the second half and were good value for the win.

Last Monday night was a pretty good away performance against a good side. Our resolute defence gave way late on courtesy of the kind of inexperienced mistake that is fair to expect every so often from a young player. Mason Holgate was excellent otherwise. But we have to be fair: we did ride our luck. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, City are good team- so it must come in that context, but City finished the match having over twice as many shots as us (17 to our 8), and three times as many shots on target (6 to our 2, having played the entire second half with 10 men. A second half that you wouldn’t have believed City had a numerical disadvantage, such was their dominance).

Lastly to Sunday, and again we see a side with the shape and rigidity of a day old Come Dine With Me blancmange. There’s two ways to look at this again- Chelsea are going to be a good team again this season, but we didn’t even attempt to lay a glove on them. It was our third game in six days, tiredness was to be expected- a positive result was probably only marginally more likely than the suckers backing McGregor “only needs to catch him with a good left”. But the style of play was again, underwhelming. And that’s before we mention the Martinez-esque defending that allowed Chelsea’s lone striker to rise between three centre halves and nod home an unchallenged header that effectively ended the game as a contest.

I’m OK with the results so far, we’ve played good teams. As fans, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘ah we need time’, or ‘we’ll gel’- and to a certain extent that is right, we will definitely play better football than we have so far this season. But there are fifteen other sides having the exact same thoughts. It’s about what you do with it from here.

Too often there has been no plan other than to clip balls forward to Calvert-Lewin to contest out wide. Nobody close enough to support him. Players have, at times, looked confused and frustrated. Given the first of the really big buys under the Koeman/Walsh era was Yannick Bolasie, there has been a frustrating lack of width in his extended absence. With no guarantee of how Bolasie will look when he returns, to not invest in another wide player is a bit of a head-scratcher. Signing Gylfi Sigurðsson to play wide left adds to the confusion: a player who likes to drift inside toward goal leaves us with almost no width, given Leighton Baines can’t be expected to run the line as he did in years gone by- and we need to keep everything crossed that he doesn’t get injured, because there’s nothing behind him. This lack of width has been exasperated by Kevin Mirallas falling victim to his own hype and- from the sounds of things- falling out over a lack of game time.

The worry is, none of these problems are new, and while we’ve improved in some areas- massively so in a couple- we’ve stagnated in others.

Footy isn’t more complicated than this: get more of your players around the ball more often than the opposition can in a match, and you’ll probably do alright. At the moment, we’ve full backs who are struggling to get forward and offer meaningful support, central midfielders playing sideways, and isolation in front of them. After a full season thinking there’s no width or balance… We’re still thinking the same. We failed to register a single shot on target at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Same story the previous year at the Bridge. Again, not saying we should beat them. But given your mates had your ear in the pub before the Stoke game telling you how many characters/captains/winners we’d signed this season, it would be nice to see them puff their chests out and hold one another accountable on the pitch.

Koeman could play his compact style last year and rely on the fact he had Lukaku up top slotting more goals than you would reasonably expect with the chances he got. That’s the new xG thing you see on MOTD- as much of a high maintenance pain in the arse he was, he slotted goals. Koeman needs to breathe life and an identity into his team. They all need to be sure of their role, their purpose, and how it all knits together, because it’s all well and good being a tight arse down one end, you need the same kind of cohesion down the other end, too. People want a new striker, and while a top striker would obviously help us, it’s the play before it gets to the striker that we should be watching closest. I’ve said this before, but it needs saying again: for most teams, about a third of shots hit are on target. About a third of those shots you hit on target result in goals. If you’re blessed to have a Lukaku, you can get a better return than that- and that’s the difference between a pretty good season, and getting what your play deserves. We don’t have a Lukaku now. After 3 games this season, we’re averaging 7.67 shots per game. Only Swansea average less. We are averaging 2 shots on target. Only Swansea are averaging less. It’s really that bad.

Yes, we’ve been dealt a gobshite of an opening run of fixtures. Yes, like any side, we hope to improve beyond what other sides will want to improve themselves, and no, we shouldn’t write anything off three league games into the season. But there’s no bliss in ignorance. This team has to play better. The manager has to get more from them.

As always, for more nonsense, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

27.8.17 Chelsea (a)

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“Don’t wish it away
Don’t look at it like it’s forever
Between you and me I could honestly say
That things can only get better”

After spending £150m odd this summer, you’d like to think there would be some depth in the squad and an ability to cope with the rigorous demands of twice a week football, or in this case, three games in six days. Unfortunately, the ridiculous suspension to Morgan Schneiderlin and a couple of injuries elsewhere, coupled with Mirallas being dropped for having a sulk, has left us looking thinner than Mick Quinn’s racehorse. Only the Champions to play then.

Being absolutely brutal, there was never any point in the match where Everton looked worthy of even a point. Chelsea dominated from start to finish, with the home side looking menacing and us looking stretched ragged. Sandro returned to the team but spent most of the first half at least 40 yards from his nearest teammate. Davies and Gueye were ineffectual in midfield. The wing backs were pressed in and unable to create anything going forward. Sigurdsson looked like a man playing his 2nd game in three days with no preseason. The less said about Ashley Williams the better.

They opened the scoring on the half hour, Williams failing abjectly to clear the ball at his feet, allowing Morata to feed Fabregas, the latter’s delightful first time effort leaving Pickford in goal with no chance. With the home side rampant, the hope at this point was to get through til half time. Could we? Could we fuck. Morata added to his earlier assist with a powerful header and the game was dead.

The second half was slightly less abject in that it saw our first touch in Chelsea’s box, a wildly sliced shot from Sandro that somehow took a deflection and went for a corner. Sigurdsson, struck by the Everton set piece curse, proceeded to hit the first man. A late Williams glancing header was the closest Everton came and in truth, Chelsea looked more like extending their lead than anything else, both Pedro and Willian with efforts that Pickford dealt with relatively comfortably.

A day to forget then, and a fortnight to mull it over with the international break next week, and the closing of the transfer window. A vital few days in which we really need to be bringing in at least three faces. A top class centre half, an established striker and hopefully some width to replace the (probably) departing Mirallas.

Mercifully brief this time out as I can’t work up any enthusiasm to write about them when they’re that shite and you don’t want to read about them either. Here’s hoping for a better showing next time out.

Pax Evertonia

24.8.17 Hadjuk Split (a)

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“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame,
You give love a bad name.
I play my part and you play your game,
You give love a bad name”

Coming thick and fast these little snippets of Everton, aren’t they? And when the L4 Azzurri are doing alright, you don’t mind, not one little bit. There’s no overhanging sense of dread and doom of another week ruined by a Martinez Matinee of Meh. It’s all aboard Ronnie’s Rocket (all right, settle down at the back) and full steam ahead. A sound point away against one of the two best teams in the league was a decent platform to build on and hopefully propel into the group stages of the arguably more glamorous* European competitions.

*removes tongue from cheek

Early doors yet but already injuries and strains are starting to show that the squad still needs a bit more depth come the end of the transfer window. With Sandro still out, Dom Calvert-Lewin led the line again with Rooney in the hole. Lookman and Martina were given the opportunity to continue their solid right sided partnership from the first leg, with Gylfi Sigurdsson making his first start, wide left.

Everton dominated early possession, content to pass the ball around confidently and probe for openings which proved few and far between. The hosts were eager in the tackle without showing any real attacking intent, although there was an early scare as Jordan Pickford fouled their striker in the box, only to be given a reprieve by the linesman’s offside flag. It looked largely like a game devoid of chances so when the opener came, it took everybody by surprise. Some fella with an unpronounceable name picked up the ball 30 yards out and lashed a thunderbastard that bent more than a Tory MP presented with a vote on private landlords. Pickford didn’t know if it was New Year or New York and the net rippled. Oh fuck.

We’ve all been here before with Everton in Europe. Frantically checking Skyscanner for flights to Bratislava to sticking the passports back in the drawer for another year inside the space of ten minutes. Fortunately that wasn’t to be this time. The end of the first half came a minute later and a chance to compose and regroup before an onslaught could take hold. Whatever RonKo said at the interval must have been taken seriously because the tie was put to bed within 7 seconds of the restart. A clearance dropped in the vicinity of Sigurdsson who hit a first time sliding volley BLAMMO on the run from 45 yards that left the keeper absolutely helpless and left me unable to form actual words for a good 15 seconds afterwards beyond a string of incoherent noises. He’s been here about a week and won goal of the season already. Can we take a minute to discuss how fucking magnificent his hair is as well? Utterly immaculate.

There might have been another wobble when big fucking pie head Ashley Williams lumbered into a ridiculous challenge on the edge of the area and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Fortunately Jordan Pickford said no, and read the poorly struck kick well, diving to his right to maintain parity. After that, the heart seems to disappear from the Croats and St Domingos passed the ball around in confident style akin to a training session and should have wrapped things up late on when Mick Keane strode from defence, beat two midfielders and played an impudent little chipped through ball to Rooney who unfortunately took too many touches and his eventual shot was easily saved.

All in all, a good night’s work, and progression to the group stages, meaning midweek football until Christmas at least and a chance for Evertonians to sup the finest ale the continent has to offer in moody little town squares, while trying not to get stabbed by some Ultra in a ski mask and Umbro trainers. Up the Toffees.

Close, But No Cigar

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Today’s dispatch of fine, hand-crafted Evertonian angst from across the sea comes to you from the wild, wild west of Phoenix, Arizona where I’m up before 5 AM because my body is 2 hours ahead, stiff from a prolonged flight due to the circus that arrived ahead of me on Air Force One. The ominous orange cloud of our ominous orange leader hangs over the desert like the impenetrable dome of heat has hung over this godforsaken wasteland for a thousand years. Though to be fair, Phoenix does have In ‘N’ Out Burger which is its own special brand of redemption. To give you a sense of the feel of this place, you need only know that it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 PM last night (I could look that up in Celsius to insert here, but I won’t because I’m an American and your FAKE NEWS communist temperature scale offends my sensibilities).

Go ahead and re-read that bit from above. That’s a lede that isn’t getting blown, you Blues! ZING! Ah, but seriously, we really need to figure out how to salt away games like Monday to take the next step. But I’m not gonna trudge down that same old predicatable path. Yeah, it was a result we would’ve taken before the match, but once you’ve got that lead you really want the three points and we’re all a bit deflated, blah, blah, blah. It’s not that that line of thinking isn’t relatively sound, it’s just been said a thousand times and there’s no reason to re-hash it here.

Monday night was slightly awesome, slightly weird. It was an odd collision of ideas about football, bad officiating, and wildly different rosters in terms of attacking prowess. You get the strange sense that if the match had remained 11 v 11, we hang on for the three points and keep a clean sheet which has become a more common occurrence under this manager and in this system.

Yet while everyone was scratching their heads into a trip to the emergency room trying to figure out what went wrong for a team with a man advantage that has been so difficult to score against, the answer is probably most easily explained by looking at the id (a word I learned from TV, I’m sure) of these two squads considering Everton’s roster is a bit in flux while City’s is a bit closer to its ultimate realization. The id is all about our deeply-rooted instinctual nature. And the id of an Everton XI with two defensive midfielders (which made total sense before kickoff), no wings, and something to lose (a lead) suddenly met a relentlessly attacking City id whose edge was actually sharpened after Kyle Walker’s second yellow, because they suddenly had NOTHING to lose. And even with Koeman pulling all the right strings with a lineup built to compete on the road, substitutions that on paper made all the sense in the world, etc., the combination of mentalities, tactical setup and fluke circumstance made for an ending that may be disappointing, but in your heart of dark cynical hearts can’t be all that surprising.

Monday night was a classic example of a game that truly needed to be seen to fully grasp the context of where our team finds itself and where it appears to be going. For all the sting of disappointment you felt when Holgate’s (who was fantastic otherwise) fluky bad clearance found a terrible finisher who of course found a way to finish perfectly, there was so much to take from an Everton team who stood toe to toe with a City team chock full of title aspirations (and Silvas and neck tattoos) in terms of our physicality, decision-making, and attitude. And you can bet your a** that the image of Rooney taunting the City crowd is now my background for everything. When my wife calls my phone now, there’s that sweet, sweet image of Rooney going full WWE at The Etihad. And frankly, if our marriage counselor doesn’t understand “winning mentality”, then she clearly needs to go back to school.

In short, if you watched that performance Monday night within the context of what we’ve seen up to this point, what we’ve added, and all that appears to be on the horizon for this thing—and you still think this is all more of the same? Well, I’m not sure I’ve got anything for you. Don’t get me wrong, this team is far from any kind of finished product both in terms of integrating all these new pieces and the need to add more. But you’re beginning to see an Everton formula develop built on a strong, stout defensive shape that’s ultimately more balanced, intelligent, and opportunistic moving forward. And while two goals in two league games isn’t exactly making my point emphatically, you get the sense that the combination of time and increasing quality added to a manager whose clarity of vision and curmudgeon-esque commitment to his footballing principles is leading somewhere quite nice.

Regarding all the other particulars from our journey to Manchester on Monday: While I’m not one who is conventionally skilled or disciplined enough to write a proper match summary, luckily for you I am skilled at scattershooting whatever comes to mind in a loose, semi-coherent/occasionally abrasive format like so (#MAGA!):

I mentioned last week that considering how in flux the squad currently is for a variety of justifiable reasons, what matters most right now is results, not performances. In short, this was a good result, even if it wasn’t a great one. I’ll keep my fume powder dry until after a lethargic home draw to Burnley or Real Brighton Hove Albion Town City FC or whatever the hell they’re trying to squeeze onto cheaply-made commemorative scarves while they fight relegation all season.

The team that gets named for tonight could go so many ways. On the one hand, you saw a more attack-minded, horizontally-inclined lineup largely run over Split in the first half last Thursday. Once again, Klaassen looked a more dangerous player when the midfield additions of Lookman and Mirallas came in to provide width. Combine that with the need to get Sigurdsson some much-needed match fitness and it’ll be interesting to see what Koeman decides to do with his starting XI.

On the other hand, you’ve got a 2-0 lead and you’re headed to a hive of combustible ultras ready to gin up their home side. We score and the tie is effectively put to bed. But we also have something to protect. And while Split certainly aren’t City, like City they certainly are a team placed in a situation with nothing to lose who face a deficit that is certainly not insurmountable due to our lackluster second half effort last week. On the bright side, we’ve got a team with enough versatility in the roster now to provide some true options to a smart manager who, outside of doing a weird bit with his starting XI against Stoke seems to generally get things right. Thursday will be tricky, but the odds ought to certainly be with us. What could go wrong??

Glad to see Rooney has retired from England international duty. Further proof he’s only interested in playing for teams with a chance to win a trophy. #WinningMentality

The move to get Sigurdsson and Klaassen on with 20 minutes to go was the right one from Koeman. But Sigurdsson isn’t match fit and MAYBE had two training sessions with his new teammates ahead of the trip to City. He wasn’t ready yet to make a real impact—though go back and look at the few free kicks he did take. I’ll be damned if they weren’t all pretty good for a guy who hasn’t played a competitive match in quite some time. Sigurdsson’s balls (giggle) seemed aimed with precision at a void where a competent target-man ought to soon (hopefully, maybe, please please please please) reside. And if Le Hunk is going to continue to resist our advances and my endlessly inappropriate objectification of him and stay at Arsenal, we’ve got to consider that whatever answer Walsh and Koeman come up with may not inspire, but maybe also shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand considering all they’ve gotten right up to this point in the window. I don’t know who that is, but you get the sense that there are enough nice parts in this setup that even a decent striker could thrive.

Speaking of Steve Walsh, I’ve heard some odd moans springing forth from our inevitable summer transfer angst that all Everton have done is sign “obvious” targets in the form of guys like Pickford, Keane, Sigurdsson, etc.—a sentiment which may make some sense on a surface level, but also seems to fundamentally misunderstand the broader role of a Director of Football who helps to coordinate the entire operation of roster management (recruitment, acquisition, loan decisions, etc.). If you’ve been a fan of this thing for more than a year, you’ll understand that the ability of Everton to complete the acquisition of “obvious signings” isn’t exactly something we’ve excelled at and shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. Additionally, while Walsh built a title team at Leicester, we’ve almost reduced that feat to something akin to a professional gambler who has found creative ways of beating the house as opposed to systematically developing a plan of recruitment that combines completing business with known, elite targets AND unearthing less heralded gems. It’s like there’s a lot of you out there contending Walsh isn’t doing enough by signing Michael Keane when he ought to have found a center half playing in the Egyptian League that no one had ever heard of that we could buy for a handful of SportsPesa-branded fidget spinners who could magically produce the same result. Steve Walsh isn’t a party trick, he’s a DoF. Which means that putting a winning squad together means an all of the above approach to team building.

But if you love the Steve Walsh party trick, I’ve got a £1.5m striker from Sheffield United and a love of your life midfield destroyer from Villa we got on the cheap that ought to still be entertaining you.

Speaking of DCL—a player whose girlfriend I hope continues to haunt my dreams—I love him more with each passing moment. And he will start a lot. But how great would it have been to throw him on with 20 minutes to go against a tired City back line playing with 10 men? The domino effect of acquiring a target man you can pencil in weekly could reduce DCL’s minutes, but could increase his ability to influence games even more. But if Koeman finds a way to keep him in the XI and wants to line him up in a back four alongside Keane, who am I to argue? He’s simply taken his opportunity—regardless of where he’s been deployed—and found a way to affect matches. I fully expect Matt Law to have him sold to Chelsea by the new year.

So I thought Rooney fell into that most ominous of sporting categories known as “hope as a plan”. I was wrong. He’s been awesome. But he’s still the age he is and still has a lot of miles. He’s already played a ton of minutes and here’s hoping he’s on the bench Thursday night so he’s fresh for Chelsea. There’s clearly still a player there, but the magic can disappear rapidly if the realities of where he is physically at this point of his career aren’t recognized. How Koeman manages his minutes with Europa in the equation will be crucial. And considering he’s our only scorer up to this point, it’ll be tempting to ride him more than we ought to. Worth watching.

Speaking of advanced age and a pleasantly surprising level of performance to start the season, Leighton Baines has been great. And also can’t possibly play as many minutes as will likely be on offer this season. And also needs a player brought in that can afford him with the chance to rest occasionally.

Much like I’m not worried about Klaassen, I’m not worried about Tom Davies. But whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, we need more from him.

Once again, Klaassen didn’t get on the scoresheet. And yet once again, Klaassen used his smarts to make a crucial play to secure a result. Even if you aren’t convinced by him yet, it’s hard not to root for a guy who’s smart enough and willing enough to do the little things that help teams win.

Schneiderlin is somehow even handsomer when he’s angry. The way his cheek bones radiated when he was dressing down Aguero… Frankly, that’s what this game is all about, guys.

On to tonight. Let’s secure our place moving forward in Europe, finish up the window strongly, and continue down the road to a place that exists in all our hearts that I like to call #MEGA.

21.8.17 Man City (a)

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“You gotta know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run”

One of the offshoots of playing in the Europa League is that Saturday 3pm football is at a premium for as long as you remain in the competition, and as such, Sunday and Monday matches will become the norm. So it was, that the first instalment of a run of four tough games, including three on the road, found us at the City of Manchester Stadium, or the Emptyhad to yer da.

There was no Sandro again, and no starting place for club record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ronald Koeman reverting to the 3-5-2/5-3-2 hybrid that was woefully ineffectual against Stoke in the first half. The home side started strongly and pressed hard, drawing a series of fouls that saw early bookings for Schneiderlin and Davies. City almost took the lead when an Aguero lob was cleared smartly off the line by Jagielka. Shortly after Silva struck the upright with Pickford well beaten.

After all that early domination, it was almost inevitable that Everton would then spawn a lead against the run of play and so it transpired. A smart, flowing counter attack found the flourishing Dominic Calvert-Lewin and as support flooded into the box, his low cross picked out Rooney who fired first time through the legs of the despairing City keeper with his 4 haircuts rolled into one and f****** abysmal neck tattoos. The big ming. Anyway, one nil the Toffees and Rooney’s second in as many league games this season.

The ten minutes before half time saw yet another example of the ineptitude of refereeing in English football and the sending off of Kyle Walker for two bookable offences inside three minutes. The first was soft although forgivable but the second, an accidental collision when jumping for a header between Walker’s shoulder, not elbow, and the chin of Calvert-Lewin. Bobby Madley flashed the cards and Walker, well, walked. Advantage Everton.

As it turned out, it wasn’t much of an advantage. The home side continued to control most of the ball, without ever really creating anything too dangerous. On the hour, Koeman decided to go all in, bringing off Davies and Williams for Klaassen and new boy Sigurdsson in an attempt to get as many “number tens” on the park at the same time as possible. After a couple of smart Pickford saves, City finally made their possession count. A mistake by Mason Holgate who up until then had been flawless, saw his clearing header drop right to substitute Sterling whose first time volley flew into the bottom corner. Little t***.

The final ten minutes of the second half mirrored those of the first. An impeccable sliding challenge from from Schneiderlin saw Aguero write on the floor like a white supremacist with a face full of pepper spray and Madley was quick on the scene, waving a second yellow that rules the Frenchman out of Chelsea away next week, which all in all is a bit of a s******. Neither side really looked like nicking a winner and in truth, a point was a better result for us than them, despite playing against ten men for the second half. The biggest positive of the night was the performance of Calvert-Lewin, the youngster looking increasingly comfortable leading the line.

Chelsea away next then. Easy stuff.

“If you’re gonna play the game boy, you gotta learn to play it right”

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