Everton 1-0 Stoke City



Everton’s only change from the side which took a point from White Hart Lane last week was to bring Mikel Arteta back into central midfield with Steven Piennar shifting to the left side and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov dropping to the bench.

With neither of Stoke’s central midfield pairing of Wilson and Whitehead showing any ambition to cross the halfway line, Heitinga stepped forward to occupy an almost orthodox central midfield position today. The Dutchman’s displays this term have been characterised by a lack of commitment and positional immaturity to push higher up the pitch especially when the opposition is not committing direct opponents from central midfield into his sphere. This is shown below diagrams against Newcastle who played a similar 4-5-1 setup to Stoke. Here, Heitinga anchored midfield even though Nolan his direct opponent showed little ambition to get forward. In yesterday’s game Heitinga stepped up into the centre of the field enabling Everton to occupy a higher pressing line and dominate possession.

Early Exchanges

Piennar had started the game with a high tempo and his endeavour down the left flank released Yakubu who out muscled Huth and created the space for  a shot. However, as had been the case in recent this season, Yakubu’s finish didn’t match his all round game, and his shot was rolled slowly into Begovic’s hands. Everton were dominating possession (over 90 mins 65-35%) although a lot of the play broke down before getting to Stoke’s 18 yard line. Stoke’s gameplan is befitting of the anti football category. They play 2 anchor men which sit in front of their centre backs with no attacking brief. This invariably leads to opposition teams working the ball out wide to engineer crossing opportunities. Stoke are happy for this scenario to unfold as their fullbacks Huth & Collins, both 6ft+ centrebacks, tuck inside to form 4 centrebacks. It akin to a central defensive wall of 6 players, which make it incredibly hard to penetrate.

Pulis has the look of the guy you see coming out of the paper shop on a Sunday morning with a bad tracksuit, awful baseball cap and copy of the Sunday Sport nestled inside The Mail on Sunday under his arm. His negative and aggressive tactics have come under scrutiny from Danny Murphy in recent weeks, and whilst I’m not a fan of Murphy I can see his point as this mob are the antithesis of football, despite the obvious ability of players like Sanli and Etherington who were vastly under utilised today.

Breakthrough at last

Stoke had a goal rightly chalked off for a push on Baines as Stoke began to ask more questions of the Everton backline. Coleman was having a quiet afternoon and his partnership going forward with Neville was nowhere near as fluid as their defensive cohesion last week. On the hour mark the Irish flanker was benched with  Saha replacing him. Everton were now playing a narrow 4-4-2 with Cahill playing an almost inside left role. Yakubu, whose performances in recent weeks have given Evertonians renewed optimism that the burly striker could recapture his form of 2 years ago, was again Everton’s most potent attacking weapon. Following great work, this time down the right, from Piennar, Tim Cahill’s shot struck Begovic’s left hand post the Nigerian showed great composure to control and slam the ball into the roof of the net. As a sign of Everton’s struggles for goals this season, it was the first strike registered by an Everton striker since April last season.


This was a poor game of few clear cut chances were Everton’s greater ambition to score was rewarded with another 3 points, stretching the unbeaten run to 5 games, with only one goal conceded. Everton delivered almost 3 times more passes than Stoke (361 v 131) and this ambition meant that Everton shaded the game and march onto Bloomfield Road for an interesting matchup nextweek.


Spurs 1-1 Everton



Everton made 2 enforced changes from last weeks derby success, with Arteta and Osman’s injury problems enabling Bilyaletdinov and Piennar to come back into the side. Everton started with a familiar 4-5-1 system, with Heitinga playing more withdrawn in an almost man marking assignment on his former Ajax teammate Rafael Van Der Vaart. Spurs opened up with a similar 4-5-1 system, something of a surprise considering Redknapp’s usual preference for two out and out strikers.

Early Exchanges

Spurs settled better and had Everton on the back foot early on, with their attacking emphasis focused down their strong left side and in particular Gareth Bale. Seamus Coleman was rightly applauded for his marauding offensive runs last week but his brief today was clearly to assist his skipper Neville when Bale took possession of the ball. The Everton duo did a sterling job shutting down this avenue, with Bale registering no successful crosses in the 90 minutes.  Tottenham’s most influential player of the first period was undeniably Modric, who took advantage of Heitinga’s constant tracking off Van Der Vaart. At times Modric had acres of space to run into inf front of the Everton defence, although his influence waned in the second period as a combination of tiredness and Piennar’s more prudent positioning. On the left hand side, with Billy cutting in to little effect other than to suck Hutton out of position and enable Baines to romp up the touchline.

Goals at both ends

Somewhat against the run of play, Everton took the lead on 17 minutes. Spurs are a quality outfit going forward but without King at the back they carry a fragility which always threatens to undermine their enterprise in the opponents half. In Kaboul and Gallas they have a soft centre, and it was Kaboul’s clumsy challenge which gave Everton the free kick which Baines brilliantly wrapped into the top corner of Spurs net. It was the 5th of Everton’s 9 goals this term which Baines has been involved in, showing his importance to the Blues cause and the prominence of Everton’s leftside is shown in the below attacking map, with Everton predominantly attacking down the left side in this match.

As noted in previous posts, this left sided attacking avenue is also Everton’s achilles heel. Three minutes after taking the lead, Hutton strode into acres of space down the Blues left to whip in a cross which Howard inexplicably parried to Crouch who gave Van Der Vaart an open net to slot home for the hosts. It was cruel on the Blues having just taken the lead but over the first period spurs enjoyed 60-40% of possession so it would have been hard to begrudge them a share of the spoils at the interval.

4-5-1 becomes 4-4-2 for both sides.

The second half was something of a letdown after the fast paced action of the first. Spurs looked more jaded as the game went on and posed less of an attacking force. In response to this, both managers made changes with Spurs perhaps more to do with replenishing flagging energy levels and Everton’s to take advantage of their greater energy from a free week. Pavlyuchenko was introduced first to partner Crouch, with Van Der Vaart moving to the left wing and Bale, who was well marshalled by Neville crossing over to the right side. Heitinga again appeared to be feeling cramp which has forced him off in recent games and was replaced by Hibbert with Neville moving inside to anchor midfield. Moyes then threw on Beckford for the final stages alongside Saha, but neither managed to force a save from Gomes.


Everton continued their steady improvement with a fourth game unbeaten. This is impressive given that 3 of these games have been away against decent opposition and the other was a derby matchup. The return of Neville to organise the defence has had a massive impact, with only one goal conceded in this sequence…and that being a gift from Howard. In Jagielka, Everton have arguably England’s most in form defender  and he was on top form today.The only area which Everton will feel they could have done more from was threatening the Kaboul/Gallas axis, as Yakubu clearly had the beating of Gallas and Cahill with Kaboul. Everton probably didn’t create enough clear cut chances to deserve to win the game, but their industry when Spurs had the ball more than earned them a point.


Management team holds key to Rooney Future

Sir Alex Ferguson’s almost tearful admission that his prodigal son Wayne Rooney has turned his back on him and Manchester United may have been greeted with shock by the world press but in reality it was a marriage of convenience which was always liable to culminate in a parting of the ways.

The Croxteth crank has previous form for walking out on clubs shortly after making outlandish statements to the contrary. Everton fans will always remember  ‘Once a Blue always a Blue’ and United fans will now be suffering from  the same feelings of anguish and dismay at now knowing that the man they loved has eyes for another suitor.

Much conjecture has centered on the deterioration of Rooney’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson as a factor in the pending parting of the ways, but in truth it could be argued that it is United’s growing financial constraints, coupled with a squad visibly creaking over the past 12 months which has been more influential to his decision. Whereas before Rooney had the likes of van Nistilrooy, Ronaldo and Tevez to accompany him up front, he now has the spent force of Michael Owen, the inconsistent Berbatov and in Macheda and Hernandez, two potentially top players but at this minute not ready to take centre stage.

Many of Rooney’s financial pies have recently gone cold in light of the lurid allegations about his personal life, and it wouldn’t be surprising if his cunning Management Agency has used these factor’s to turn the malleable Rooney’s head. The idea of a potentially huge signing on fee, especially if he can buy out his final year of his contract for £5m , has surely been discussed. Rooney has as recently as April 2010 rubbished talk of a move to close rivals City with disdain, however this is the one club his Management company will be pushing the striker to join, akin to 2004.

The romantic inside me would like to believe that he has changed from the boy who, aided and abetted by his guvnor Paul Stretford, forced a move from the club he professed to love back in 2004. I want to believe that now, as a millionaire, he would return and put something back into the club who gave him his shot, even if he would have to slum it on £90k per week or however much Everton could offload Jonny Heitinga for. His media love-in conducted via the Liverpool Echo earlier this year painted a picture of a man who regretted the sins of his youth, that he was still a Blue fan and attended the cup final defeat to Chelsea and still follows the club avidly. Stranger things have obviously happened in football, just look at Shearer’s defection from Fergie’s reaches to his hometown club at the peak of his powers back in 2005. Maybe it is the Everton fan in me, the sinicism which engulfs any follower of the Blues after repeated false dawns through the years, but I just cannot see it happening.

Whoever Rooney’s next charmer is will need money to burn, and from his previous affairs the only thing is certain; when the money and ambition are no longer suitable to his needs, you will be traded in for a new model.