Everton 3 Blues 1 .. match report

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 04 November 2007

Olivier Kapo had looked to have earned Blues a draw, but some more shocking defending late on meant that Everton went on to win.

So, back to one of the current burning issues - the Blues system. Well, it was as Blues had started against Wigan Athletic, with Seb Larsson coming in for Wilson Palacios whose brother's disappeared, whilst Johan Djourou came in for Franck Queudrue. The French full-back had been on the Goodison Park pitch some 50 minutes before kick off, but it looked like he was failing a fitness test, so Djourou came in at centre half and Rafael Schmitz switched to left-back, whilst Queudrue probably went off to do some more interviews to keep his reputation up as the world's most interviewed person.

Right, let's get straight to the point - ignore all these hard luck stories that you'll be reading, and the "poor old us" quotes from Steve Bruce (I presume there'll be lots of the above, but haven't checked yet). This game was not won or lost in 4 minutes of injury time, it was won or lost over 94 minutes of football. In that 94 minutes of football Blues didn't do enough to win the game. Simple.

The plucky little loser tag is beginning to grate with me a little bit, because it seems that as long as we throw away the lead, and then have a bit of a go for the last 20 minutes, we have the right to claim to be unlucky, hard done by, etc, etc. Well, maybe it's about time we started playing for 90 minutes, and having a bit of a go against the teams in the middle section of the Premier League, rather than just banking on the fact that we'll beat the Derbys and Wigans of the top flight.

Blues weren't at it for much of the game. Shortly before Yakubu put Everton in front early on, Fabrice Muamba had played a sloppy, lazy pass forward, and Cameron Jerome had been on his heels as the ball was knocked forward towards him. They were nothing incidents, as such, but they just highlighted that Blues had come out and were far from at full steam. They seemed to just bo coasting and making up the numbers.

The fact is that Everton are a decent side when you let them play. If you give the likes of Yakubu, Arteta, Cahill, Osman and Pienaar time and space to play, then they'll play. They're not THAT good though. If you have a go at Everton, they're not good enough to just deal with that and play their own game regardless - they're not one of the top four sides, and as such, they're human. If you have a go at Everton, you've got a chance against them. If you lack belief and let them dictate things, they will. As I say, they're in the middle of the Premier League - they're one of the teams who will finish anywhere from 5th to 13th this season, like Blackburn, Man City, Newcastle and Portsmouth. All of those teams are beatable, but it seems that Blues don't believe that they are.

The lack of belief thing is a worry. You watch someone like Kapo, and he always wants the ball - even though sometimes he can be wasteful - because he believes he can compete with this people and believes that he can have an impact on the games. At the other end of the spectrum, you've got Cameron Jerome who seems up for it when he's presented with the likes of Emerson Boyce, Dean Leacock or Andy O'Brien marking him, but when the opposition is a little tougher, he seems to have little or no confidence whatsoever. He's not the only one either - people like Stephen Kelly, Fabrice Muamba and some others all seem to be a little in awe of these teams. Yes, Everton are ok, but they're only bloody Everton.

When you're playing the system that Blues are currently playing, rightly or wrongly, you need your lone forward to be on his game, and Jerome hasn't been of late. He's not good enough to carry the burden on his own if he's not at it, and you could argue that he's not the right kind of player to play the role in any case. Once again, Garry O'Connor came on and held the ball up well, linked up well with the midfield and he HAS to look a better bet than Jerome at the moment, if Blues continue playing this sort of system.

As for the system, well it's all too easy for people to stand and scream that we should play 4-4-2 - in reality, once again, the system wasn't really the problem. It was the lack of belief and desire that was. Blues got themselves into good positions to hurt Everton in their final third on many occasions, but Kapo (and possibly De Ridder) aside, they didn't have the players willing to try that risky through ball that if it doesn't come off leaves you looking stupid, but if it does come off, gives you a chance to score. Too many Blues players, when they were attacking (and this extends all the way back to the defenders too) were happy to play a simple, possession-retaining ball across the pitch. You HAVE to try and take one or two risks against a team who set up and defend in a disciplined way like Everton. You'll get absolutely nowhere if you get 40 yards from their goal and think, "ooh, there's a few of their players around, and a few of my players are marked, so I'll knock a ten yard pass back to so'n'so and then I'm not seen to be giving the ball away". That will get you nowhere.

As for the people moaning about there "only being one up front", our opponents, Everton, only played one up front, and it didn't do them any harm. The reason? Because they had four confident midfielders behind (Lee Carsley was the fifth, but he plays a different role) him in Cahill, Arteta, Osman and Pienaar who can support and pick out passes that actually hurt teams. In the Blues side, Kapo, De Ridder, Larsson and to some extent Mehdi Nafti are all capable of doing the same, but they don't, and so you do have to question why. It's not so much the system that is hurting Blues, but the way that the players play their roles in the system, in that they're too tentative and too cautious.

As I've said, the hard luck stories are getting boring now, and it's about time Blues tried to impose themselves on a game from the start - why not go and have a bloody go at Everton? If you set yourself up worrying that you might lose, you probably will. Why not tell the players to go out there and really express themselves and have a bloody good go? Why not get Everton on the back foot? They're not good enough to simply deal with that and carry on hurting you - if you attack Everton, then they have to worry about you before they worry about attacking you themselves. The fact is, for the first time in a while, Blues have the players capable of doing so, but for whatever reasons they don't. The likes of Jerome, Kapo, De Ridder and Larsson should all revel in such instructions, and when you've got O'Connor, Forssell, McSheffrey and Danns on the bench you've got more than enough options.

The reason Blues were so exposed late on was because they'd thrown on three forwards from the bench and so they ended up with Kapo and Muamba in the middle of the park, Jerome on the right flank, McSheffrey on the left and O'Connor and Forsell up front. Because they'd surrendered the initiative to Everton so early on, gone behind and not really tried to hurt them for so long, they had to start throwing all these people on. I genuinely believe that if Blues had played properly, from the start, they'd have never got themselves into a position where they needed to throw so many strikers on and leave themselves exposed once they'd got their equaliser. In adopting this "we'll just have a go late on" approach, Blues are doing themselves damage in so many other ways.

Blues have to start looking to win games other than just the ones against the other struggling clubs, because they're going to need to. If you only pick up points in the games you expect to, you'll struggle. You need some surprise results to earn you points that you don't expect. This season, out of the 11 points that Blues have accumulated, there's only the 1 at Anfield that you'd say was unexpected. They need more than that, because you cannot rely on just beating Wigan, Bolton, Derby, Sunderland, Fulham and Reading.

Blues, for a change, are actually capable of punching above their weight. It's about time they started believing that they can, and actually trying to. As long as they keep going 1-0 down and throwing men forward in the last 20 minutes so that it looks like it was unlucky, then unfortunately they'll remain the unlucky losers and they'll be embroiled in a bloody hard relegation scrap.

Derby are this season's plucky little club who give it a go, but are ultimately going to get beat 4 times out of 5. It just seems that Blues feel the same about themselves, and unlike previous seasons, they don't need to, because they're better than that. Narrow defeats and last-minute defeats and unlucky defeats are still defeats, and if you go into most of your games believing it's a game that you should lose, then you're likely to lose.

Next week there'll be no better game to take the initiative early on, and not just surrender it without a fight, thinking at least you can have a go in the last 20 minutes. Have a go in the first 70 minutes, and the last 20 minutes will take care of themselves.

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