Monday Musings: 400 up Osman a credit to Everton

400 up Osman a credit to Everton

It speaks volumes about loyalty in modern day football that, since the induction of the Premier League, only two Everton players have broken into the all time top twenty record appearance holders for the Toffees.

Which is why Leon Osman notching 400 appearances in the Royal Blue shirt should be looked upon with pride by everyone associated with the club.

Since making his first team debut in the 4-3 defeat to Tottenham Hostpur back on 12 January 2003, Osman has become a stalwart within both previous Toffees boss David Moyes’ and current manager Roberto Martinez’s matchday squads despite being routinely hung out to dry as ‘one of the boo boys’ at times by a small minority of Evertonians.

osman

In spite of his lack of physical attributes, the 33 year old has amassed 400 appearances, as well as 56 goals, so far after graduating from Everton’s academy at the turn of the 21st century, and certainly proves the view that Osman possesses the talent required to play at the highest level of the English game.

Techincally sound, with a deft touch and the ability to spin out of trouble with first class close control of the ball, hard working, resilient, feisty, intelligent and energetic have all been used to describe one of Everton’s most trusted performers, and his loyalty and fight for the cause have been demonstrated in seasons gone by when the diminutive midfielder has played through the pain barrier to aid the Blues in times of injury crises, even if it was to the detriment of his own personal performance on the pitch.

There would be much debate amongst football fans in general, let alone Evertonians, about the criteria required that would enable a footballer to be deemed a ‘legend’ but, regardless of this, Osman’s milestone of 400 appearances for Everton should be applauded by Blues fans across the globe.

Naismith injury could be blessing for Barkley

It was unquestionably frustrating to see Steven Naismith stretchered from the field of play, at the weekend, with a suspected hamstring strain, especially with the manner in which Everton’s injury list has grown in recent weeks.

However, the possibility of Ross Barkley now being able to play in his natural position, the traditional number 10 role behind the striker, does allow for some form of comfort.

barkley

The 20 year old, who had missed the first two months of the season with a knee ligament injury sustained on the eve of the current Premier League season, has had to make do playing in an unorthodox wing position for Everton in recent weeks due to the form of Naismith and the preference of manager Roberto Martinez to play veteran Samuel Eto’o in behind Romelu Lukaku in certain matches.

The injury to Naismith though, plus the careful management of 33 year old Eto’o to keep him fresh throughout the course of the campaign, will allow Barkley the opportunity to re-ignite the fruitful partnership that he and Lukaku exhibited during the 2013/14 season.

The old cliché states that football is a squad game, and it is imperative for both the Toffees and Barkley himself that the England international is given a run of fixtures in his preferred position and, in turn, boost the form, fitness and confidence of one of England’s brightest young talents ahead of the hectic Christmas footballing fixture list.

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Monday Musings: Barkley or Eto’o, but not both

It was another disappointing afternoon, where Evertonians were concerned, as the Blues drew 1-1 away to Sunderland, with both the result and performance leaving Roberto Martinez with much to ponder.

One of the more pressing matters should be whether to start Ross Barkley or Samuel Eto’o behind Romelu Lukaku, because yesterday’s encounter at the Stadium of Light did reveal something: the Spaniard cannot start with both.

Both Barkley and Eto’o are extremely gifted footballers, with the former a budding starlet in this new exciting, enterprising Everton side, and the latter needing no real introduction after being a world class striker for many years and winning countless trophies during his glittering career.

At 33 years old, Eto’o, though, is entering his twilight years as a footballer, and as a result the Cameroonian has had to adjust his style of play to accomodate the fact that his legs aren’t as spritely as they once were. Now, the forward drops deep to receive the ball, to link up play through the middle of the pitch, to float around the attacking third of Everton’s play and create opportunities for others in the team to take advantage of.

This is where the problem lies, as Barkley performs this same role in the team.

barkley

True, the youngster’s game is more reliant on his physical stature than Eto’o’s, as well as his technical ability, with his surging runs from deep causing panic in opposition defences and opening up spaces for other players like Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku to exploit.

That doesn’t detract from the issue that both Eto’o’s and Barkley’s style of play are extremely similar, as well as the fact that both players like to occupy the same positions out on the pitch.

This was particularly evident in the match in the North East yesterday afternoon, with Barkley deployed on the left side of an attacking three playing just behind Lukaku, and Eto’o occupying the traditional number 10 role.

Of course, the interchangeable nature of the three players in behind Everton’s Belgian international allows Barkley and Eto’o to swap positions, in an attempt to confuse defenders and pull them away from their natural positions, but there were numerous occasions when the young England international would drift inside from the wing, thus congesting the middle of the field and occupying a similar position to Eto’o, and in turn made the Blues narrower when in approaching Sunderland’s defensive third of the pitch.

Barkley drifting infield also prevented Leighton Baines from having a team mate to link up with on the left wing (an issue that was brought up in last week’s column on this blog), thereby preventing one of Everton’s best attacking outlets from making his traditional marauding runs forward, as the full back had to be aware of the Toffees being vulnerable to the counter attack down his flank.

eto'o

All of this leaves Martinez with two main options. The Spaniard can start Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman or Naismith out on the left wing as foils for Baines’ darting runs from deep, to give the England international someone to link up with, and allow either Eto’o or Barkley to float in and around Lukaku from the position behind the striker; or Martinez can opt to play Barkley off Eto’o and allow the pair to interchange positions, so that only one of the two occupies the traditional number 10 role at any one time.

This latter arrangement would, obviously, mean that Lukaku would have to be content with a place amongst the subtistutes in some matches, whilst Barkley and Eto’o would likewise have to make do with a spot on the bench if either player did not start, but all three players would get game time in a season where Martinez has to rotate his starting eleven, and eighteen day match squad, due to the demands of three domestic competitions as well as a Europa League campaign.

With the last international break of the year looming over the next ten days, Martinez has time to ponder over what his first choice eleven will be when West Ham United visit Goodison Park in just under two weeks time and, for the balance of the side to be correct both offensively and defensively, as well as giving his team the best chance of taking maximum points on home soil, his side must contain either Barkley or Eto’o, not both.

The Friday Reflection: McCarthy is future captain material

McCarthy a Blues captain in the making

You would have been forgiven for thinking that Everton played with twelve men in last night’s Europa League victory over LOSC Lille, such was the tireless Man of the Match performance from James McCarthy.

The energetic, tenacious midfielder raised eyebrows when he signed from Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2013, even more so when the transfer fee of £13m was bandied about, but the Republic of Ireland international has not put a foot wrong since making his debut for the Toffees in the 1-0 win over Chelsea, and has become a firm fans’ favourite ever since.

Despite his still relatively young age (he is still only 23 years old after all), McCarthy possesses a maturity and experience that belies a player of his youth, with Toffees boss Roberto Martinez consistently praising the midfielder, who he originally signed for Wigan from Hamilton Academicals whilst manager of the Latics before bringing the Irish man with him to Goodison Park, for his industrious 90 minute displays.

And, after amassing 294 first team appearances across his spells in Scotland and England (including 52 appearances for the Blues), as well as accruing 24 caps for his country since first starting for the Republic of Ireland in 2010, it is clear to see why McCarthy is already one of the most experienced young footballers in Europe, let alone the Premier League.

mccarthy

Couple that footballing knowledge and tactical nous with his steadfast performances in the centre of the park for club and country (McCarthy has won 69% of his duels and tackles so far this season, and possesses a distribution average of 89% when the Blues are in possession of the ball), and the 23 year old would be an excellent choice to consider as a future captain for Everton Football Club.

Naturally, there would be other choices to consider for the role when the time comes for current incumbent Phil Jagielka to hang his boots, including fellow youngsters John Stones and Ross Barkley, and at 30 years old Jagielka is in no hurry to give up either football or the armband just yet but, in the future, and under the tutelage and guidance of Martinez and his coaching staff, McCarthy has all the hallmarks of becoming a future Everton captain.

Everton Half Season Christmas Ticket advert shows off players’ personality

It has become somewhat of a cliche in recent years that footballers are less engaging than they used to be, or that what they make up for in talent they lack in personality.

So it was refreshing to see Samuel Eto’o and Steven Pienaar star in Everton’s Half Season Ticket advertisement this morning.

evertonxmas

It has always been something of a proud tradition that Everton’s players and staff show off their personable sides, especially around the Christmas holiday period, and to see a world class star in Eto’o really buy into the ethic of the football club, both on and off the pitch, further enhances the notion that the team spirit and humour within the current Everton squad is second to none.

Tuesday Thoughts: Lack of width cost Blues against Swans

Lack of width cost Blues against Swans

It was a frustrating afternoon, as Everton were held to a goalless draw against Swansea City, at Goodison Park last Saturday and, after a few days to contemplate what was missing from the Toffees’ game plan, one problem seemed more symptomatic than anything else.

Roberto Martinez’s charges lacked width.

Naturally, the Spaniard’s hand was forced by a lack of options to deploy on the wings. Kevin Mirallas is still recuperating from the hamstring strain he suffered in the Merseyside derby, Steven Pienaar has been plagued by niggles since hobbling off in the August draw with Arsenal, and Christian Atsu has so far struggled to adapt to the Blues’ tactics.

These three issues combined ensured that Aidan McGeady was the only natural winger that Martinez had at his disposal and, with Ross Barkley deployed in an unorthodox left wing position, both wide men found themselves cutting inside from their respective wings onto their more favoured feet.

evertonswansea

Coupled with a Swansea City side that, for all intents and purposes, arrived with a more defensively minded mentality than usual, that included flooding the middle of the park with bodies and narrowing the space inbetween their back four and midfield, and the Blues struggled to break down the resilient visitors.

The introduction of Pienaar midway through the second half ensured that the normally maruading Leighton Baines had greater opportunities to ghost down the left wing, whilst Samuel Eto’o was shunted out onto the right wing when Romelu Lukaku was introduced to the fray, which stretched the Swans’ defence and allowed for a supply of crosses from both wings as the match wore on.

The dismissal of Jonjo Shelvey twenty minutes from time evidently aided the Blues’ cause in fashioning more goal scoring opportunities too, but for sixty five minutes Everton noticeably  toiled against Garry Monk’s men. And with the likes of Leon Osman and Pienaar sitting on the bench, no doubt being saved for the upcoming Europa League tie against Lille in two days time, there will always be the argument that Martinez could have deployed either player in front of Baines to act as a foil, for the full back, and allow the 29 year old to supply the width that was lacking from Everton’s gameplan.

Distin ‘row’ can wait until after Christmas

Much has been debated since rumours surfaced, at the end of September, that Sylvain Distin and Roberto Martinez had had a falling out following Everton’s defeat in the third round of the Capital One Cup to, funnily enough, Swansea City, despite the French man making an appearance just two weeks ago in the draw at Lille.

However, with Antolin Alcaraz now joining John Stones on the centre back injury list, pride must be swallowed and Distin has to be introduced back into the fold.

alcaraz

The Blues, and Martinez, can ill afford to go into another busy schedule in the fixture list, especially with a packed month of December looming over the horizon, with captain Phil Jagielka, youngster Tyias Browning and emergency options Gareth Barry and Tony Hibbert as the centre back choices available, despite Barry effortlessly slipping into the makeshift role last Saturday due to Alcaraz’s injury.

Distin is experienced, pacy, strong and had played with the rest of Everton’s back five for the last few seasons, therefore the 36 year old would need no bedding in period if selected in the starting eleven for the upcoming matches against Lille and Sunderland.

Once the hectic Christmas schedule is over, and the likes of Stones and Alcaraz are fully recovered, Martinez and Distin can sit down and clear the air over whatever issues, if true, came about on that night in September. For now, though, Everton need Distin if the recent run of good form is to be continued.