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Juggling Walter's Balls
A look at the options Smith's new signings present for the season run-in

9 February 2002

Walter Smith may have assembled an abundance of midfielders during his time as Everton manager but apart from a spell in the last two months of 2001 when he could barely field a fit striker, the midfield has been his major headache this season. And much of that is down to the failure of some big-money foreign purchases that has seen the likes of Dacourt, Nyarko and Gravesen looking for the Goodison exit door instead of providing the creative spark to turn the Blues into a team capable of winning matches on a regular basis.

The revolving door in midfield had left Walter with a selection of competent but unspectular players in the form of Mark Pembridge, Scott Gemmill, and Niclas Alexandersson — all of whom seem to suffer when the team as a whole is short on confidence — supplemented by the unreliable and unpredictable talents of Paul Gascoigne and the relatively untried skills of Idan Tal.

However, his four most recent signings could transform the Blues' mid-section into a more productive unit, even if it's only because of increased competition for places! With the acquisition of wide men, Jesper Blomqvist and David Ginola, and central midfield anchors, Tobias Linderoth and Lee Carsley, Smith may have found the equation to a settled formation and the key to Everton's survival — that is assuming he has the courage to play two wingers at the same time!

Two seasons ago, Smith recognised the lack of wide in his side and reduced the width of the Goodison Park pitch accordingly. As far as I am aware, the pitch was never widened again, evidence to many that Walter was too conservative for his own good.

However, the signing of Blomqvist on a free transfer — which could turn out to be the steal of the season of he can stay fit — showed that the manager was perhaps finally realising that the best form of defence can be attack. Yesterday's shock arrival of David Ginola only serves to reinforce that assessment, and it has ignited a few sparks of anticipation in the supporters.

David Ginola: much-needed versatility
Much depends on how much Ginola's fitness will allow him to contribute between now and the end of the season, but he offers some much-needed versatility to the Everton line-up, capable as he is of playing wide left, wide right, in the hole or up front. That presents Smith with the opportunity of playing Blomqvist on the left, Ginola on the right with Linderoth and Carsley and/or Pembridge playing ball-winning anchors in the centre — and he also has the wild card of Paul Gascoigne to play, either from the start at the expense of Carsley or as a substitute.

With the defence reasonably settled, that leaves Walter with just the attack to worry about, and were it not for the succession of injuries to Kevin Campbell and Tomasz Radzinski, that ought to be an easy one to solve. There should be little doubt that if Smith is hoping to employ an attacking strategy more focused on creativity, Duncan Ferguson should not be part of the equation. Campbell and Radzinski ought to form the first-choice attacking partnership, but the Canadian remains sidelined through injury and Campbell has looked only half-sharp since returing from injury in January.

It is likely, therefore, that Ferguson, who continues to look largely disinterested and familiarly immobile will continue in attack with Campbell until Radzinski is passed fit. And Smith could try to use Ginola's ability to deliver telling crosses to supply the Big Yin in the area, something that Everton simply haven't done since Ferguson returned from Newcastle 18 months ago.

The hope surely must be that the influx of fresh blood can lift a demoralised and generally directionless team into a more cohesive, energetic and productive unit. This is, after all, the side that started the season so well and destroyed West Ham so emphatically in September. There is an enormous amount of collective ability in the Everton ranks and now, with 13 games to go, is the time to prove it.

Lyndon Lloyd

©2001 ToffeeWeb, 9 February 2002


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