ROBERTO'S EUROPA LEAGUE EINFÜHLEN IM WOLFSBURG.
THEN A VISIT TO THE GNOMES OF GNOME COUNTIES
Mickey Blue Eyes
The Europa League campaign of Roberto Martinez has been faultless. Against all the odds and low expectations, mine included, he has steered Everton to the top of Group H, and his team has beaten the second club in the Bundesliga home and away with a goal tally of 6-1. In fact we had qualified for the knock out stages prior to the Thursday night away fixture last week at Wolfsburg: FC Krasnodar and LOSC Lille could only draw. Given our resources, I have to say I am astounded. I think we all are.
Our 2-0 away win in Deutschland was a master class in how to succeed in European football - absorb pressure, stay aware, break quickly and take your chances when they come. Nor can it be said Wolfsburg made no effort. In fact they could consider themselves unlucky if you took account only of their possession, number of attempts on goal and a perfectly good disallowed score at a crucial early moment. But they were mostly restricted to long range efforts which sailed wide or over or were blocked by determined defence. Even then there were warning signs for them. Sylvain Distin hit the bar and on a few other occasions promising attacks were snuffed at the last second; late on we had a Barkley goal disallowed and Aiden McGeady missed a sitter. Altogether it was a wildly open game that could have had a lot more goals in it. Which makes me relieved our opponents were bereft of effective strikers. Which means it would not do to get complacent......
Our two goals were classic breakaways, the sort that knock the stuffing out of teams convinced they are about to score after long periods of pressure. I almost felt sorry for Wolfsburg. Almost. After all, this is European football, a genre which has delivered us too much disappointment. Speaking of which, when the draw comes I want Villarreal or Fiorentina so bad I can almost taste it; come to think of it we owe Panathanaikos and Internazionale Milan a good malleting too. We can dream.
Both goals, one in each half, demonstrated just how effective Romelu Lukaku can be when he makes full use of his formidable body strength. Too often this season we have seen his first touch let him down, or slowness break up an attack, or an inexplicable failure to win headers, all of which Roberto Martinez puts down to his youth. Nobody could say that after this performance. He had a fine, mature game despite as usual being on his own for much of it. Maybe it was a moment of realisation for him because this time he had to do it without his great partner Steven Naismith. The first was his breakaway forty metres run at inside left from a Kevin Mirallas pass on the right. Closely pursued all the way, he almost lost it but shrugged off an untidy challenge to bury it with his deadly left foot. The second was a mirror image with roles reversed. He bludgeoned his way through a couple of tackles at centre right mid in our half before a scalpel of a ground pass through the middle sliced off three Wolfsburg defenders and left Mirallas one-on-one with a defender. Whom he promptly wrung out with the washing before 'megging him with a lethal ground shot inside the 'keeper's right hand post. Brilliant, both.
Given that both teams had already qualified (Lille V Wolfsburg maths quibble aside) the spectacle was a tribute to them all, no safeball, no holding back in tackles, not a tippy-tap in sight. For us it was an outstanding team performance from back to front and an undisputed tactical triumph for Roberto Martinez, easily the best so far this season. It was made even better when you consider the missing players. Luke Garbutt in particular looked like he had been in the first team for several seasons; he looked a natural football athlete, always composed and confident. But it was a squad achievement they can all take pride in. So can thousands of Evertonians who made the trip and behaved impeccably while making their support heard. A well earned well done to everyone.
And so to laughable Lahndan media bias for a Sunday Premier League match at Tottenham. A rational fan would be mystified by pro-Tottenham bullshit churned out by Lahndan hacks......except for the knowledge that most of the useless charlies are Arsenal or Spurs fans. If you need such a hack as a friend, get a dog. Not surprising, really, when you can hardly turn a corner there without running into the worst corruption in Europe. Scarcely a day passes without yet more "revelations" of sheer rottenness at all levels of every institution. The place stinks of it. Naturally it even creeps into something as trivial as football "reporting" from so-called objective mainstream media. Equally naturally it is even worse on much more serious issues. All of which, of course, in this internet era brings their redundancy a welcome step nearer, the dopes. Not that we on Merseyside need any instruction on how low those scum can sink, or the damage they do to good people and society. Football is the least of it.
In the run up to the match it was impossible to open footy media of any kind without a yet-again "mystification" as to how Tottenham have again turned into coagulated shite on and off the pitch. This despite full backing from the money-laundering crooks in the bent buildings around the Thames. Whereas your average fan could tell you it is because they not only continually make the wrong decisions, they repeat them time after time - the very definition of insanity. For example, their Flavour of the Month is one Harold Kane, a dead ringer for Exeter - same forehead, same footy ability - in This Island Earth, and probably destined for the same fate. But only after Lahndan hacks have given him the full Lennon/Townsend blowhard treatment. Which meant he was bound to score against us, as was their latest multimillion eunuch striker, Soldado. Or both.
Team: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Barry, Bešić, Eto'o, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku. On the hour, McGeady and Osman came on for Mirallas and Eto'o. On paper, a much stronger line-up than against the Germans. There was every reason to be optimistic.
But if Thursday was brilliant, this was the other side of the Everton-this-season coin. We might have known. Centre midfield was mostly shapeless, gave the ball away too often and lost most of the fifty-fifties. Thus there was no engine and seemingly no motivation. Jimmy McCarthy was sorely missed. Except for a fifteen minutes spell at the start of the game we were always on the back foot and looked likely to concede at any minute, all against a modestly capable opponent. Thus the reason we are unlikely to qualify for Europe via a Premier League position, or survive a full frontal physical assault in the Cup. Once again in a league game we looked at best like an ageing mid-table team afraid to risk anything. One step forward, one back, pretty much slap happy tippy-tappy. All very frustrating and very sobering, but that has been the story of the season to date. We can only hope there is a revival post-Christmas and all this turns out to be merely a bad phase......
It had all started with promise that we might repeat the Thursday performance. Early on Ross Barkley went on a storming run through the middle - the kind of thing we want to see more of from him - that left Spurs defenders trailing and eventually Romelu Lukaku with a clear shooting chance; sadly, he failed to score but was offside anyway. Then on the quarter hour Kevin Mirallas scored one of the goals of the season to go with his wonderful effort in Wolfsburg, a big lift for a "confidence" player. A Bainsey free kick wide left was headed out to the left edge of the penalty area, where Mirallas brought it down, turned inward, made a mug of Exeter and smashed a curving shot over their crowded defence into the top right of the goal. Again, quite, quite brilliant.
But like so often this season, our beloved Royal Blues hardly gave us time to relish it because we let in yet another sloppy, needless equaliser five minutes later. A not particularly threatening attack down our left got to the edge of the penalty area, where an unmarked Exeter hit a scuffed ground shot to Tim's right, just difficult enough to stretch and deflect further out where there was no covering defender. Their man raced in and chipped toward an open goal, where Barry had raced back, but made no move, and it sailed gently passed him. Awful.
Even that paled in comparison with their second and winning goal, a near-repeat of the farce at Burnley and yet again demonstrates why the way we play leaves us open to a possible score by Joe Soap of Anywhere Athletic. This season Gareth Barry has looked as though time has finally caught up with him, too many petty fouls, too many misplaced passes, injuries, a metre off pace; in this game Barkley and Bešić were simply unable to compensate. And that is why the goal came a minute before half time. Needlessly, Barry lost the ball wide centre left mid in our half, full backs and midfield were forward, the ball broke toward our goal where Jags and Sylvain were left facing four advancing forwards. All it needed was a prod to the right to an unmarked Soldado and even the multimillion Joe Soap dummy could hardly miss. Nor did he. Given the season, it had an air of glum inevitability about it.
There is no point describing the second half since we got more ragged with each passing minute. We never looked capable despite a concerted attempt to tighten up. So we got what we deserved. Nothing. It left us in tenth position, still only five points off fourth but a million miles from being there. Thursday brilliant, Sunday a bucket of rotting buffalo turds. Why do we do this to ourselves?
This game perfectly illustrated the problem facing Roberto Martinez, which is half the first team squad is at veteran stage and can go only one way. And if there is one iron law of professional football that never fails it is this: Those who ignore or fail to see the progress of player age will perish. It is as merciless as that. I think we are about to see just how ruthless Roberto is or is not.