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Three things to rely on?

By James Reade :  06/11/2009 :  Comments (13) :
As you scroll through the pages of ToffeeWeb, you become very familiar with all of the various opinions around the weaknesses, reasons for underperformance and things needed to improve our beloved club from the more dissatisfied fans. Also, although not to the same extent, you learn the views of the optimists and what keeps them positive.

The more negative observations can be listed something like: too small a squad, lack of creative players, we’ve progressed as far as we can without investment, negative tactics, defensively minded manager, tactically naive manager, too much hoofball, late and inadequate transfer activity, etc. The positives tend to be: punching above our weight, we’ll be great when the injured players return, battling mentality, we’re the “best of the rest” and have been for several seasons, value for money player buys, etc.

I don’t propose to go over all the well worn arguments from both sides of the looking glass but for a moment to consider something else. When reflecting on our current form and results, which no one can be truly happy with, I got to thinking that all of the above factors, to a greater or lesser degree, have been with us for a number of seasons.

I can’t think of a time under Moyes when we have consistently played attractive, creative, attacking football. We’ve always had a thin squad, bad luck with injuries, we’ve never had big money to spend and we’ve more often than not left transfer activity ‘til late in the day.

Our manager was always defensively minded and has mysteriously played people out of position whilst making strange substitutions on occasions. So what’s driving the current issues on the pitch?

I don’t have the answer but I do think that three things that have been consistent and reliable under Moyes, sometimes in spades, other times not quite as evident, but always there, have now deserted us:

1. We have a solid defence and are difficult to break down and score against.

A reflection on our manager, his playing career, natural orientation, where we have the most cover in the squad, our tactics and formation on the pitch have earned us this reputation and is something the fans have come to expect and rely on. But not any more in my view.

This season we seem to be uncertain, shaky and sometimes disinterested at the back. I can’t remember a time when our defence has looked so porous. Yes, the Jag is a big miss, but last night against Benfica we fielded Hibbert, Yobo, Distin and Baines — hardly an inexperienced back four? Why are we suddenly conceding goals through poor defending on a regular basis?

2. We have a great team spirit.

What we’ve lacked in ability on the pitch we’ve pretty consistently made up for in workrate, togetherness, battling spirit, etc. We chase every ball, everyone tracks back to defend, we’re solid, hold our shape and take up the right positions when the other team have the ball. But not at the moment? Where’s that fundamental gone to?

3. We are a huge threat from set pieces.

For a few years now and particularly last season (I’m thinking of the FA Cup derbies as a great example) we have built a reputation for being a real handful at corners and free kicks. Often a criticism from our own fans has been that this is the only way we can expect to score. Yes we’re missing Arteta’s deliveries, but that’s nothing new — we were still a threat without him last season. Even this “old faithful” seems to be evaporating.

In summary then, my immediate concern is not the long list of positives and negatives that have remained fairly constant for a while — depending on which view of the half empty/half full glass you take. No, what’s worrying me is the three things we could expect, rely on and almost take for granted from a Moyes team, regardless of the injury list, have gone into hiding.

Forget everything else, if Moyes and the players can’t rebuild the three things we used to rely on and some of us had even come to despise about the team (in the case of emphasis on defence and reliance on set pieces to score) then the current problems could well turn into a crisis.

Reader Comments

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Albert Dock
1   Posted 06/11/2009 at 17:23:25

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When it comes to corners we now have a player who can place a ball very accurately - Bily.

Much as I like Leighton Baines you have to accept that many of his corners are woeful.

Why then can Bily not take all corners regardless of where he is playing? Beckham used to do it to great effect.

And while we are on the subject of corners, why do they all have to be taken in the same way? Couldn’t we start varying it a bit instead of the predictable hoof into the goal area?
Mick Wrende
2   Posted 06/11/2009 at 17:46:46

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James - answering your 3 points. A back four with Distin and Hibbert in it, whilst experienced is only of championship standard at best. Combine that with a substandard midfield which gives no protection explains why Benfica always seemed to have 2 men over.
As far as I can tell we have never eally threatened from set pieces. Arteta and Bainesarely beat the first man.
But most worrying is our lack of fight - personally I think the players realise this club under Kenwright and Moyes have no real ambition. We play shite football - you only have to watch Yobo and Distin hoofing it at every opportunity last night. That must happen on the training ground - any sign of creativity must be knocked out of them pretty quick.
Several times we have had the opportunity to move on - champions league, UEFA cup, FA cup all gone by the wayside. Lets face it this club is going nowhere - the players know it and so do the fans. Moyes should go but who would have him. He has never won anything and never will.
Martin Mason
3   Posted 06/11/2009 at 19:04:11

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We have in the past played attractive football with Moyes at the helm even with such negative formation and tactics but I can’t help but think that it was despite the tactics not because of them. On a good day and with good players 4-5-1 can produce good football and at times our best eleven has gelled and produced good stuff. A good manager though has to have plan B and C in the bag for when the squad is depleted, when we buy different players or in reaction to changes in circumstances such as our rivals improving. I don’t believe that playing 4-5-1 every match is good management and whilst our current crisis is due to injuries it has also exposed the limitations of our manager and his staff. Throwing Moyes out now won’t help, we should judge only at the end of the season but I genuinely don’t believe we will improve much when we have our injured players back. When the rot sets in it is very difficult to recover. If we carry on as we are now it may not be to mid-table mediocrity but to the championship. For me the real rot started with the summer transfer pantomime, the Lescott affair and the humiliation by Arsenal. If there were any doubts about where Everton were heading then this series of events should have left no doubts and the games up to Xmas could see us in the relegation zone and a difficult fight to get out. I have no answers unfortunately just a hope that we can get the spirit back and pull out of what is a very serious crisis.
Fran Mitchell
4   Posted 06/11/2009 at 19:38:12

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Mick Wrende "A back four with Distin and Hibbert in it, whilst experienced is only of championship standard at best"

You cannot be serious!

This has become one of the most over-used and stupid statements that is used on here alot, the myth of the ’premiership standard’.

This has been used to deride Hibbo and Osman for 2-3 years now, dismissing them as ’not premier league players’, now your including Distin? Who else is not premiership standard.

I’m not saying that Osman and Hibbert dont have their faults....weve had this debate before....but they are premiership quality, Distin most definately is. If those players went up for sale numerous premiership clubs would be interested.

We still need to improve, of course, this season has been crap so far.

The main problem with our defence is that it has lost the central defence of last season so a whole new one needs to be built, in this time it has been broken up and unable to play together regualry and thus develop. Distin is a very good defender, but unfortanately has been played alongside Heitinger, Yobo, Hibbert and Neville in his short time here, thats 4 different partners.

In terms of our strengh at set-pieces, alot of this is down to Tim Cahill being marked by the biggest player of every opposition team, We have also lost Lescott and Yobo has been in and out of the team. Lets face it, a year ago people were moaning about Arteta and his poor corners.

As for team spirit, confidence is low, spirit is low. This has been the most worrying factor, but its understandable, with so many players out injured we have been unable to develop rhythm and thus form and it effects players confidence. Hopefully this can be changes with one confidence inspiring victory.

With the return of Pienaar and Neville in the near future, plus hopefullt Jags ans Arteta after new year, plus hopefully a fully-fit Yakubu we can have a great end of season and 2010.

This sason has so far been drab, but hey, at least liverpool are shit too.
Joey Brown
5   Posted 06/11/2009 at 16:39:10

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Right now I'll put £1000 up that Everton do not get relegated this season. Am I disappointed with our current form? Of course... but I try not to lose touch with reality. Has anyone seen Hull play? Portsmouth are going to go above us? Wolves? Get a grip people.

Maybe thinking a little more rationally with your own wallet will snap a couple of you back into reality. Because anyone that would take that bet needs to reconsider their logic and their loyalty to Everton.

Dennis Stevens
6   Posted 06/11/2009 at 22:13:12

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James, it’s your Point 2 that’s my greatest concern - without that we will be lost. Whatever lies behind it Moyes has to get it sorted, & soon!
John Andrews
7   Posted 06/11/2009 at 22:37:50

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"If those players went up for sale numerous premiership clubs would be interested"
Fran, Would you care to say which of the numerous clubs would really be interested. In my opinion both Osman and Hibbert are not good enough to be wearing the Everton shirt. Please note that I said "In my opinion".
Osman is too easily dispossessed or brushed off the ball. Hibbert was an absolute joke when attempting to play centre back ! It was as plain as the nose on your face that Rodwell should have been playing there with Hibbert at right back.
Dick Fearon
8   Posted 07/11/2009 at 02:34:57

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The West Ham game provides a good way to judge how far we have progressed or regressed. The number of players missing at both clubs is about the same. Zola has been in charge of the Hammers for less than a year so it will be interesting to see which team plays the best football.

Jamie Crowley
9   Posted 07/11/2009 at 03:10:58

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Dick-
moving to the hypothetical:
If we lose to West Ham and play awful, hoof it up no possession football then what?
I’m frankly scared to death to watch Sunday. I understand it’s a long season and injuries are just rampant. But if we go down to West Ham and lose - and as you point out they’ve got many of the same issues - it does not bode well.
Right now is a nightmare. Someone wake me when it’s over.
Martin Mason
10   Posted 07/11/2009 at 06:17:51

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Joey, you can’t prove right or wrong by offering silly bets. This is a board where people express opinions and any are as valid as yours as long as they have some rationality. Hull are doomed I’d say but there are no other teams in the Premiership as consistently poor as Everton or who are bleeding more points.
Martin Cutler
11   Posted 07/11/2009 at 05:33:14

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The answer is simple:
#1. we’re missing Jagz in defense ... he was (and will be) our rock, solid defender. Our best defender by far. We relied on him 100% ... maybe we didn’t realise it as such when he was playing but we certainly know it now. The sooner he’s back the better. His return will provide a more consistent defensive four, more competition, and I think the other defenders will pick up their game once he returns (this would probably be true too when Neville returns because his leadership role is also sorely missed).
#2. we are missing Arteta (and now Pienaar). There is nobody that can match Arteta/Pienaar for their creative input to the team (one might argue the lack of transfer activity in this area but that would be irrelevant if both were fully fit and 100% available.
#3 the injuries we’ve experienced are taking a much higher toll than merely missing a player or two here and there. It’s key players that are missing ... for months (not just days), it’s several key players that are missing, the leadership type players are missing, the inspiration and creativity has gone.

The younger players are no doubt learning fast and trying their hearts out but we just don’t have the talent on the bench to cope with the injuries we have. Yes, Rodwell is a phenomenal talent but we can’t possibly rely on his talent, or the lack thereof, week-in week-out, same with Gosling and others.

Clearly as much as we praise Hibbert and Osman ... I don’t think it’s unfair to say that we need better players. I can’t fault their effort and dedication but their presence is just another example that the squad we have -- along with the injuries we have -- is just not able to cope with the present circumstances.

If every player was fit and able to play we’d be fine (top four maybe ... seriously!) but the injuries we have have pushed the lads to the limit .... one can hardly blame them for letting it affect their morale etc. (Overpaid they might be but one still needs consistency and one’s "usual" mates around one self) .... the constant change in the line-up’s to cater for the lack of players is almost ludicrous.

Just look at Liverpool (if we must I know!) ... they miss just two players (Gerrard /Torres) and they almost have a meltdown and let’s be honest they suck right now!

Billy Boy looks the real deal but too much pressure has been put on him because of the circumstances, he needs time to settle into the team.

The one mystery I can’t comprehend is Fellaini .... this has nothing to do with injuries but where should Moyes play him, will he improve (he needs to).

Bottom line ... and I’m not trying to force myself to think the glass is half-full but the injuries are crippling. I think we’ll qualify in the group stages and once 2010 kicks in and our players return and we have more consistency etc., etc ... the 2nd-half of the season should be much better.
James Boden
12   Posted 07/11/2009 at 10:08:32

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I might be imagining things but I can’t recall this season seeing a solid defence or great team spirit. Under Moyes this has always been what it’s about. Now it’s gone what have we got left. And the news just gets better and better doesn’t it. Another 6 fucking weeks injured for Jagielka. I gurantee defeat at Upton Park tommorow and then watch as we slide down the league. By Christmas bottom 3 as painful as it sounds.
James Reade
13   Posted 14/12/2009 at 16:15:26

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And just over a month on from writing this I’m happy to report that I think 2 out of the 3 three things are re-emerging! The last 3 premiership games have demonstrated that from set pieces we are going to cause the opposition some problems and some of that "fire in the belly" is back again. We still look frail defensively but having Jags back could help to address that.

Having said all that we need less hoofball and much better passing to ensure we retain possession and threaten the opposition’s goal from open play which is still all too rare an occurrence. The return of Arteta should improve things and give us a shot at a top half finish but better tactics will be required to do any better than that.

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