David Moyes reads Tottenham On My Mind. Obvious. How else would he know that the best way to counter our attacking tactics is to give us a taste of our own medicine. I’ve been saying so for ages, and more fool the rest of the Premier League for not paying attention. Big Sam for one. Comes to the Lane with a revolutionary 5-5-0 formation, four down in a trice, sacked a few weeks later. Sam Allardyce – My Part In His Downfall. At least Tottenham On My Mind can take some crumbs of comfort from last night’s emphatic defeat by Everton.
From first whistle to last, we were never comfortable. Saha and Beckford’s movement, coupled with Coleman’s right side raiding pulled the back four all over the place and occupied the midfield to snuff out our attacking intentions at source. Said midfield were also strung wide apart to the point where Bale and Lennon were as far apart as Peter Andre and Katie Price. Later, as the match wore on, Lennon, Kranjcar and then Keane gradually faded from view like ghosts disappearing into the mists on the moor. Did they ever really exist? The apparitions on Most Haunted have a greater presence.
We witnessed a series of poor individual performances but this is one for collective responsibility. The midfield provided the back four with absolutely no protection, bar a few blocks and tackles from Jenas. Bale and Lennon should have tucked in more during the extended periods when we did not have possession, a fault that we’ve seen before this season, especially in Europe. If they don’t work back, the full-backs are unprotected and vulnerable. Hutton and BAE both had torrid times, Benny in particular as Everton repeatedly pushed down our right, and Hutton’s distribution was rotten, but defending is primarily a team affair. They should not have been left one on one with their opposite number. As a result we were treated to the slightly bizarre sight of Phil Neville as the flying full back, cutting the ball back from the byline. He and Coleman combined well, creating several two v one situations.
In short, we were a mess. Saha had so much time and space to shoot, although his was a well-struck shot. With nothing in front of him, Gallas had to come way out of his comfort zone and Saha found the room behind him. This pattern continued throughout the game and great credit to an Everton side whose passing and movement made us struggle in the first half, then in the second we went under, never to bubble back to the surface. Overwhelmed, we held out only because in front of goal, Beckford is rubbish and Saha and others little better.
It’s a while since we’ve been as badly mauled. Saying that it had to happen sometime is in this case a little more than mere philosophising to excuse a defeat. We have been stretched badly on other occasions but managed to get away with it. However, this Everton performance was the best I’ve seen against us for a while now. They were superior in every department. They applied themselves much better whereas we looked jaded, and passed the ball extremely well. In contrast, in the second half we reverted to the bad old habits of conceding possession.
Yet if we had taken the chances that came our way the outcome could have been different. Equalising was straightforward enough, and without playing well we made other chances in a first half that ebbed and flowed, with first Everton then ourselves getting on top before Everton finished the half the stronger.
VDV was running wild and free, largely unfettered by the opponents’ defence. Modric also did some good work before fading. He was pressured hard in the second half by his opposite number. We made passes and half-breaks into the channels but missed or the ball was just cut out. Crouch once again delighted in the way he set up Rafa’s goal (he’s assisted 6 out of Rafa’s 11 goals) then infuriated by missing decent chances in the air and on the ground. That header in the first half – for goodness sake. The offside goal – what a waste. In the home game, Baines did the best marking job on him this season by tucking himself into Crouchie’s armpit and easing him off-balance. Did him every time. Neville sussed this by the end of the first half and the big man couldn’t handle it. If only he didn’t do things like that brilliant run near the end, we could consign him to the bin, but that’s what makes him so exasperating, the ability is there, it’s just that he fails to make use of it so often. Too often.
Half time provided some respite and a chance for Harry to regroup. Before the break, JJ was being bellowed at by Jordan and Bond. That may not be unusual – one imagines Jordan’s normal conversation as starting with the bellow and building from there. Also, Harry was taking notes – never seen that before, although he was using the same type of biro that I have in front of me. Me and ‘arry – two sprigs from the same bush, us.
Didn’t do any good. By the middle of the second half I lost count of the number of times that we gave the ball away. Luckily it was almost matched by the number of Everton missed chances, but in the end the goal was both inevitable and deserved. By this time, Everton were swinging it around like champions, we were bewildered. Bale was off injured. Neville gave him the treatment but no worse than the tackling he’s received earlier this season. Niko came on and was pathetic. An inexcusably feeble effort. If you can’t be bothered, just leave.
Gomes did well. He might have parried the second out wide but it was a fizzing shot. No chance with the first – credit to Saha for a firm, well-placed effort. Otherwise he had plenty to do, being unprotected and all, and he handled it all. In particular, he stood tall when Coleman was given the freedom of Merseyside, rather than committing himself early as he has done in similar situations lately, and this was a factor in Coleman’s miss. Hopefully with Tony Parks he’s working on righting that fault.
A forgettable night. Let’s console ourselves with the fact that Everton played really well, that we remain 4th and we took 9 out 12 points in 4 knackering games in 10 days.
A final more sobering thought. Perhaps our open style caught up with us last night. The idea lingers, that Everton were the first team to exploit fully a weakness in our play. The midfield have to be 100% to make it work, in terms both of going forward and when we don’t have the ball. I didn’t see the game but I strongly suspect the two teams at the Emirates didn’t approach the battle for the CL spots in quite the same way. Maybe we have to moderate our natural instincts for the long term good. One thing’s for sure – we can’t play like that again in the future.