Reality Bites the Champions League Dream

disappointing performance from Everton combined with wins for their top-four rivals gave the Blues something of a reality-check in their pursuit of Champions League football.

Lyndon Lloyd 10/02/2013 30comments  |  Jump to last

Manchester United 2 - 0 Everton

A disappointing performance from Everton combined with wins for their top-four rivals gave the Blues something of a reality-check in their pursuit of Champions League football.

Though this was nothing like the meek displays of Premier League years past where the Blues have been convincingly beaten in all aspects of the game, the performance from David Moyes's side was well short of their plucky recovery last year where they came back from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 in thrilling fashion.

In contrast to that day, the final ball and the killer instinct was glaringly absent from Everton's play and two first-half goals made this a more routine victory than even Sir Alex Ferguson would have been expecting.

Moyes's plans were disrupted right before kick off when Sylvain Distin was forced to pull out through illness and John Heitinga, who had lost his place in defense with the return of Phil Neville at right back, was reinstated after two successive poor displays.

And the Dutchman was arguably at fault for the opening goal where Ryan Giggs was left in acres of space and left to roll the ball in off both posts after 13 minutes.

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A dangerously high defensive line from Everton had been torn open early on when Robin van Persie ran clear, rounded Tim Howard but rattled his shot from the angle off the outside of the post.

That would serve in retrospect as a dress rehearsal for the goal that would render the game as effectively sealed just before the break. Van Persie again raced into space behind the defence and danced past Howard before slotting home.

The second half was largely a non-event, with Everton unable to find any rhythm or penetration. With Fellaini closely marked by Phil Jones and unable to dictate the game in the manner in which he did in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season, the Blues struggled for drive and leadership in the middle of the park.

Coming as it did on the stroke of half time, the second goal had visibly knocked the visitors and though United dropped off and invited the Blues onto them, it was an invitation that Everton didn't accept.

The slick, one-touch football that was a hallmark of their play earlier in the campaign appeared to have deserted them, with passes regularly falling short of their mark from the likes of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar, players so often at the heart of everything Moyes's side does going forward.

They were not without their moments, though. Twice Kevin Mirallas skipped his way to the byline and cross low but could not pick out a Blue jersey, while Leighton Baines carved out the opportunity to create something from a similarly dangerous position on the other flank but pulled his cut-back into no-man's land where it was easily mopped up the home defence.

A late flurry following the withdrawal of Victor Anichebe and Mirallas - the latter had looked the most likely Everton player to create something but just didn't see enough of the ball - and the introduction of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith briefly offered hope. Osman sliced a decent chance from 25 yards well wide, though, and after Jelavic was incorrectly flagged offside having sprung United's own trap, the Croatian forced the only real save from David de Gea of the afternoon with a low shot from just inside the area.

At the other end, Howard did well to acrobatically tip Tom Cleverly's smart drive over his crossbar and also stopped the ball on the line in a goalmouth melee that the Blues somehow survived when Jelavic stuck out a leg to eventually divert the ball behind for a corner.

Ultimately, while the shot- and corner-tally stats would show this to be a reasonably close game, the reality was that, while far from the woeful showing asserted by some fans, this was nothing like the barnstorming Everton performance of a year ago. Only Phil Jagielka, who at times was covering two-thirds of the width of the pitch in front of his own box to compensate for Heitinga's glaring lack of speed, was really the only player in Blue to impress while it was a mystifyingly subdued display by Moyes's men in the final third.

The manager has put it down to fatigue among players who are being asked to play week in, week out through a 38-game league season, which really only throws up the questions following transfer deadline day around why heaven and earth were not moved to bring in much-needed reinforcements, even if only on loan. There is no doubt they tried but how hard and how late appear to be the crucially unanswered parts of the equation.

In combination, the performance, the result, and the points gap that has opened up between the Blues in 6th and Tottenham in 4th have thrown into serious doubt Everton's hopes of cracking the top four this season. Some, with the luxury of hindsight, have derided those aspirations as "silly", and that may prove to have been the case when all is said and done but the fact remains that were it not for a couple of very late slips against the likes of Newcastle and Fulham, this team would be right up there with Tottenham even after this defeat at Old Trafford.

Of course those games remain big "ifs", just as much as the flip-side wins over Sunderland and Spurs were, but had they fallen our way, it's likely the belief among the players would be fueling any fatigued minds or bodies more than they currently are.

Despite a tough run-in, much could yet change, of course, and you would write Moyes's men off at your peril. But there is no question that this game and the ease with which the Champions-elect won it has sucked a lot of the wind out of Evertonian sails. How the players and manager respond will be key.

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Reader Comments (30)

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Danny Broderick
1 Posted 11/02/2013 at 23:07:14
That result tonight at Anfield has created a nice little gap between us and the other teams below, notably Liverpool. I make us favourites for 6th place now. We have really scored an own goal by not strengthening our squad in January - I would argue it is weaker if anything, as we have lost a sub in Magaye Gueye, & only brought in a rookie who has no chance of playing. We already have 3 right backs in the first team squad.
Sadly we have no chance of finishing 4th. Maybe it was just a pipe dream - but it would have been interesting if we had been able to get some fresh blood in and kick on. In any case, too many draws, largely against poor opposition, have put paid to that...
Brian Waring
2 Posted 11/02/2013 at 23:14:19
Imagine having a front 2 of Lukaku and Benteke.
Ian Smitham
3 Posted 11/02/2013 at 23:14:43
Danny, hear what you say, our neighbours will be saying the same as your last comments re results against poor opposition. The only issue I have is your assertion that we will finish 6th, as that will not get us into Europe, sadly.
Steve Guy
4 Posted 11/02/2013 at 23:24:20
BBC quote from their RS match report tonight. "Lukaku sealed the stunning victory with his stoppage time strike, dealing a further blow to Liverpool's slim hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League."

At least we are not as deluded as the RS and their media mates

James Martin
6 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:07:33
Liverpool strengthened in January but as everyone can now see its not some miracle cure for all ills; bad results still happen. It would have been great to have strengthened in January but it didn't happen.

Things look bleak at the moment but look how quickly things can change; one set of results can change everything around. Just because we didn't win at United doesn't mean that by luck or by crook we can't at WHL or the Emirates.

Let's just see what happens in the league, let's see where we can go in the cup, and if it all hits the fan then fine let's have an almighty moan, but at least let's stay behind the lads right up to the end. Drowning the club in negativity really will get us nowhere at the end of this season.

Andrew James
7 Posted 11/02/2013 at 23:56:01
Our board have let us and the team down badly. Many are saying this was the year where us or Spurs might profit from the Sky Four struggles. Spurs didn't mess about and did their business in August and January. We failed to increase the headcount in August and completely fucked up January.

Admittedly I still think we can reach fourth. Chelsea under the leadership of defensive-only, win-trophies-on-penalties Beneathus are in freefall. Spurs have to go back into the Europa which has kept them below us before December plus they do rely massively on one player. Arsenal nearly always have some weird meltdown in February or March. We, on the other hand, are famed for having a great second half of the season.

But there are some major caveats. Johnny must get injured/dropped. Hibbert or Coleman need to return. Preferably Hibbert as we keep clean sheets with him in the team, something which is rare these days. If Gibbo and Mirallas can stay fit, we will fly.

But the board make us do things the hard way. And for that I despise them and their motivations for being in charge of our great club.

Andrew James
8 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:14:16
@ James

True - I cannot see us losing both matches in North London in fact I fancy us to nick one of them.

I also expect a point off Chelsea and 3 off City.

Andy Crooks
9 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:10:54
Lyndon, your report shows that there advantages to be gained by allowing some time to elapse before giving a considered view. Good report and I admire your balance. I tend to respond to performances through red mist. It's odd how misfortune for Liverpool can make things look better. Frankly, if we'd lost at home to West Brom I'd have burst a thousand blood vessels. Rodgers out.
Lyndon Lloyd
10 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:33:15
Andy, I actually expressed my real-time frustrations on Twitter when Mirallas was hooked (with the caveat that I hoped it was a decision related to his fitness, which it probably was) as I'm a big believer in keeping your best players on the pitch.

I usually tend to refrain from expressing an opinion too close to the game if we've lost because, as you say, it gives you some time to consider things a little more! Although it was many hours after the Villa debacle before I took to Twitter and declared that Heitinga should never play CB again! Sometimes the performance is THAT bad! :)

Denis Richardson
11 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:24:43
4th was a nice dream but never really on the cards, lets be honest - our squad is just not good enough and we need all our top players firing on all cylinders for most of the season. Jelly and Peanut, to name a couple, are way off form at the moment and it shows. Any team seriously thinking they can make a champions league place whilst having Anichebe as their main striker, are frankly deluded. And that's no offence to big Vic!

Let's get real folks, no league game for a while so focus on the only chance of a trophy this season. A win against Oldham is an absolute must (at worst get a reply at GP). If we can manage that then we can hopefully look forward to a win away to Norwich and everyone and everything is back on track.

A week to get over manure and focus on Oldham. Come on Moyes, your last season, lets finally win a f'ing trophy for a good send off! First step Oldham - please play Jelavic, you've made your point with Anichebe, time to get serious again.

Michael Winstanley
12 Posted 12/02/2013 at 00:39:02
I like your optimism, Lyndon, and I hope in the coming weeks I will be cheering our victories... but I don't see it. We're not creating the chances we did in the first half of the season and too many of our players are playing below par.

We would have loved some new faces in January but he doesn't play the players we have, what does Oviedo have to do to get a start? I totally agree with the hooking of Mirallas, I want to see him and Jelavic start up front and see what they can do.

I would like to see Fellaini drop back to partner Gibson in midfield. We are short of players however I would like to see Oviedo and Pienaar start on the wings with Neville, Vic and Osman dropping to the bench.

On a lighter note... boing boing baggies.

Jackie Barry
13 Posted 12/02/2013 at 01:24:36
Shame it takes a loss from our neighbours to heighten expectations again. Fact is yesterday was poor and we looked our of sorts as we have done for some time. Failing to add to this squad has hurt us, simple as, and my fear is that it has also shown Moyes that he will never get what he needs to move Everton forward.

This was in my opinion our best chance in years to push onwards and upwards; sadly it's a case of same old story. Also what is it that Moyes has against Oviedo? Can anyone answer that because I am baffled, I would have loved to see him play instead of Osman (nothing against him like).

Steve Barr
14 Posted 12/02/2013 at 01:29:27
Don't know what game everyone was watching but not one of our players earned their pay as far as I'm concerned.

I read on the NSNO web site that Tim Howard puts it down to Man U pressing our players all across the pitch and not letting us play.

Now there's a tactic that only great and vastly experienced managers would have the where with all to employ! Exactly what we should have been doing to them, particularly given they have a superior team to us as far as skill, technical ability, squad rotation etc. etc.!

The whole of our team looked and performed with total disinterest from my vantage point.

When the odds are stacked against you as we are always led to believe then effort is a must to be competitive.

Of course they are tired poor lads.

4th, maybe 6th. Not on this performance.

Edward Simpson
15 Posted 12/02/2013 at 03:44:26
It's not over yet, still 12 games to go. We're not a million miles away from Spurs.

Admittedly they are 6 points ahead but a good run of results and us beating them at their place would make things interesting.

Again if we don't bottle it and beat Arsenal a few weeks away I think we've still got a good chance.

Shane Corcoran
16 Posted 12/02/2013 at 07:34:35
Andy Crooks, fair play for your reaction to this piece given your reactionary piece.

I think Lyndon's last paragraph says it all. It's about how the blues respond.

Given Moyes's tiredness remarks it'll be interesting to see who, if anyone, is rested on Saturday.

Personally I'd leave out Pienaar and Osman with Baines to come off as soon as the win is assured. The likes of Gibson, Mirallas, Fellaini and Jelavic have missed enough games for them not to be tired.

Adam Luszniak
17 Posted 12/02/2013 at 08:36:46
Although we didn't play badly, and in fact in spells we played quite well, we were comprehensively beaten with ease by Man Utd.

We have two ways of creating chances: first is our neat passing triangles, which were so nullified by United's constant pressing, we had to go long to our second option: Fellaini. Phil Jones put paid to this plan by marking him out of the game.

Mirallas seemed the only player on the pitch who was actually gunning for a game.

Edward Robinson
18 Posted 12/02/2013 at 10:29:38
The 4th spot was lost many games back with all the draws which should have been wins. The Man Utd game emphasised our lack of striking capability. Jelavic doesn't look as though he's ever going to score again and he's had his chances!

Lukaku's goal yesterday was really great a real striker's goal and I reckon Liverpool would have won yesterday if Sturridge was fit. However, if Seamus comes back, the team is far better balanced and the attack improves!

Christopher Timmins
19 Posted 12/02/2013 at 12:01:31
Folks, there is no need to go over the top on the back of Sunday's result. It's the 2 points dropped against Newcastle and Villa at home and the 2 against Fulham away, we scored 7 goals in the above games and ended up with 3 points and that is really hurting at this stage.

However, even with an extra 6 points, would we expect to stay ahead of Arsenal and garner more points over the final 12 games than Spurs with the depth of our squad? January was a lost opportunity to make a statement of intent.

Martin Mason
20 Posted 12/02/2013 at 12:30:46
Phil Jones was magnificent. What a buy he'd have been for us too. He can play any position at the back and in midfield or just M2M
Kevin Tully
21 Posted 12/02/2013 at 12:48:55
The Blues now 8/1 for a top 4 finish - with our lovable neighbours at a delightful 16/1.

Keep Brendan in! He even managed to fit an "outstanding" into his post mach comments last night.

If their fans are deluded, this fucker needs sectioning!!

Maybe Moyes is alright after all.

Kevin Tully
22 Posted 12/02/2013 at 12:55:17
Sorry, I forgot to mention a good one Moyes was asked last night, on Monday Night Football: "How would you set up your team to play against Real Madrid?"

Answers on a postcard please.......

Robbie Muldoon
23 Posted 12/02/2013 at 12:44:51
Here's just a couple of questions I'm left pondering, to which only David Moyes has the answers:

1. Why didn't you wheel and deal in January to generate some funds? Last season I thought you had cottoned onto the fact you could sell shit players (bye bye Russian Bily) to raise money for players who score goals and win matches (hello Jelavic, you ice-cool bastard). Surely Heitinga would have raised some dollar (obviously he won't do now he must think last year was some kind of wet dream that never happened) and Duffy would have acted as adequate cover.

The extra goals a new signing could have added to the second half of the season would have greatly increased our chances of 4th place.

2. I've never really understood the philosophy of dropping your best striker when he hits a run of bad form. I would have thought examining the team as a whole would better explain why your best striker suddenly started firing blanks. For example, the absence of Gibson our ball-passing midfielder.

But obviously Moyes doesn't really understand the philosophy either, because Jelavic should have been given his starting place back at OT... not just dropped forever! You're playing Anichebe for fuck's sake... he just cracks the pitch with his fist every 5 minutes.

Bobby Thomas
24 Posted 12/02/2013 at 13:07:02
Basically, we need to win all the home games or as near as we can.

There's 18 points to play for. Maximum points would take us to 60 as we stand.

Now that isn't highly unlikely to happen, especially given the fact teams appear to have us sussed a bit. But we really need to get all we can at home and then try to pick up some points away. We need to find some variation and basically just get the wins. Free flowing or not just get the wins.

Over a season, if your home form is nailed on, say 14 wins 3 defeats and a couple of draws, then your away form only needs to be steady. Man Utd won the league on unbelievable home form a couple of years ago and the consensus was the away from was ropey.

We need 4 wins, 5 really, from the home games and then need to get a couple of wins on our travels. There are two very winnable games at Norwich and Sunderland. A draw at Spurs would essentially cancel the fixture out. We would probably need to rustle up another away win from somewhere. But, if the home form isn't there, it's pointless anyway.

But it can be done and it's how we respond. We have nothing extra, so we are going to have to find some variation and maybe Moyes will go back to his default 'grinding out wins' style... who knows. But, to a large extent , we have been sussed and variation is needed.

The players look like they could do with a lift. Maybe just get them away for a few days warm weather, training in the sun just to give them a lift mentally as well as physically, change of scene.

For example, Ossie is catching flak lately and he has noticeably dipped. He is 32 and is actually approaching the stage where he needs a bit less football, not more. Neville is 36, Pienaar 31. Baines is carrying knocks etc etc. Like it or not, this is what we have to go with, so we need to get them to the end of the season.

We have a flat bunch of players going into this cup tie and I will be honest: it's got trouble written all over it. They will scrap like anything and that big striker will destroy Heitinga if Distin ain't fit. We need to go there and scrap, be professional, do a job and get out, unbeaten, replay if necessary.

James Martin
25 Posted 12/02/2013 at 13:22:07
Robbie, wheeling and dealing isn't just as simple as that. there was a great offer on the table for Bily who at the time was offering us absolutely nothing and wanted to go. Heitinga is different, he doesn't really want to go, we'd only have two senior centrebacks without him (one of which often has to play RB), and his market value wouldn't be that high. To replace him with someone of a similar quality and have any money left over for a striker would have bee very difficult. Even Stones cost 3 million and who knows if he's anywhere near Premier League level yet, how much for an international ready to slot into the first team?

For what its worth, I agree that Jelavic should never have been dropped; at his best he's a million miles ahead of Anichebe. Moyes has tinkered with the team though to play in a way that is getting the best out Baines and Fellaini but not Jelavic.

Anichebe actually seemed to suit this role better and in fairness when he came on he scored and played well, hard to then drop a player who thinks he's finally got his chance. Old Trafford showed however that Anichebe will never make it to the top until he learns that actually trying to get in on goal is always a better option than falling over, and that you can shoot at goal without falling over.

Gavin Ramejkis
26 Posted 12/02/2013 at 13:31:43
James, Stones cost about 500k and for the remainder he'll have to play and god knows what to get the payment up.

As each day passes, Heitinga is worth less, surely you can get shut with a replacement rotting on the bench and make a few quid? Or would you rather he is kept, stinks the place out every week, and is worth sweet fuck all soon?
Paul Kelly
27 Posted 12/02/2013 at 19:37:10
I didn't buy in to the 'we can get fourth' hysteria , though admittedly I did toy with the idea after our early season form.

We shouldn't worry about that shower across the park, we should be worried by our recent performances, its all gone a bit stale to say the least.

Moyer needs to step up and sort this out for this Saturday. Get back that early season form or our season will get worse. Will be lucky to get 8th on current form.

Jimmy Srheim
28 Posted 12/02/2013 at 21:31:05
I would love it if Moyes could say to his players: "If you are too tired then say so and I will leave you on the bench. Moyes does have that option, no matter how you look at it he has a squad of young talents that are waiting for a chance.

Why not start with bringing Duffy in for Heitinga? See where that leaves the team. It is not going be enough, because we also need McAleny and Vellios, we need to find out where they are form wise compared to Jelavic.

Osman could use a break, while Barkley should be brought back to take Osman's place. I am not saying it will all go much smoother, but at least we can fill some of the current holes.

Moyes has no other choice, if he wants to turn things around players such as Heitinga and Osman has to get a break. Push Fellaini back into midfield, with Barkley/McAleny just behind the striker.

Moyes is the most scared manager of using young players of the entire PL. Moyes has to face the facts, use his squad or just give up!!!

Anthony Lamb
30 Posted 13/02/2013 at 14:53:37
Is there anybody else out there who is heartily sick and tired of this "tiredness" mantra that is suddenly aired by all and sundry from manager to supporters?

I hate to use it as an example but I seem to remember "the other lot" in one of their many Championship years using somewhere in the region of fourteen players or so to win the league 42 league games plus cup games etc...

Tired? These guys are employed to play football and paid obscene amounts to do so. In the main they tend to play one game a week with a few exceptions were they are asked to play two matches a week over a couple of weeks or perhaps on very rare occasions three matches over a ten/twelve day period.

Can we keep in mind other than this they have to do NOTHING else. They are cosseted at every opportunity, have the best of treatments, facilities etc. There may be any number of reasons for underperformance but could we please put the "tiredness" mantra to bed?

Andy Crooks
31 Posted 13/02/2013 at 21:13:18
Shane# 632,

As I don't have Sky I watched Sunday's game in my local as the only Evertonian surrounded by Man Utd supporters most of whom have no idea what supporting a team means. At 2 - 0 down I told them as much and a short while later left the bar to shouts of cheerio, cheerio, cheerio.

I walked the mile and a half home, uphill, by the way, and battered the living daylights out of the keys of my laptop writing "woeful, utterly woeful". So, yes it was reactionary.

Bill Griffiths
32 Posted 14/02/2013 at 16:16:27
Well said James (599). I can't understand all the pessimism and abuse posted regarding Moyes and recent performances. I personally support DM but can't always defend his team selections, line-ups, tactics and substitutions etc and am as frustrated as anyone at how things have been going.

However, I love the Blues and as far as I am concerned that means getting behind the team and encouraging them on the whole, so let's see how things go and if it all falls apart, okay, have your moan and rant when this happens. There's still a while to go and there's still a chance we can still pull things out of the fire, so let's get behind the lads rather than rubbish them.

Do you really think Johnny tries to play crap and that hurling abuse at him and vilifying him is going to help? Personally I would prefer to have had Duffy play in his place the last couple of games but David Moyse thought otherwise. We may disagree but there's nothing to say that if Duffy had played that things would have been different.

Let's get right behind the lads from now until the end of the season and see how it goes.

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