Behind Enemy Lines : Everton

Behind Enemy Lines : Everton

Ahead of monday nights season opener we spoke to Everton fan James Hollis, who runs the brilliant website www.followtonians.com, to ask him a few questions on Everton, their chances this season and who he thinks will win our opening game.

What are your hopes for the coming season?

I hope Everton can be more consistent. I would like Everton to perform against bottom half teams the way they do against top half teams. Over the past three seasons, Everton has performed better (than in the past) against top five sides (15 points, 15 points, and 10 points respectively) and worse against sides in the bottom five (22 points, 16 points, 14 points). I’d love to see us maintain the performances against the top sides and improve week-to-week performances against teams we’re expected to beat. This will turn more draws into wins and put real pressure on the teams above us.

So, another season with Moyes at the helm even though at one point it looked like you might lose him. What do you think of him? Seems to be a clear divide of people who think he is a managerial genius and others who think he’s too negative.

I fall into the camp that thinks he’s a managerial genius. I think you’ll find that the Evertonians that think he’s too negative tend to have unrealistic expectations about what members of our team are capable of. For example, the “Moyes you negative ” is often followed by, “Why don’t you start Ross Barkley? He’d play United/Barcelona/Messi off the park.” At the beginning of last season, I thought that we’d see Moyes leave this summer. However, as tends to happen under his watch, things began to look up toward the end of the season and, at this point, I think it’s likely that he’ll sign another contract. There’s no doubt that Moyes can be negative at times, but, at times, being negative is necessary. I think if there was one thing I want more of from Moyes, it’s playing more positive football against teams that we’re expected to beat. He still has the ‘avoiding relegation first’ mentality, so he often brings similar strategies out against both teams like United and bottom feeders like Wigan. That leads to too many narrow defeats and draws against bad teams. That’s my only problem with him and I think signing Jelavic and Pienaar went a long way toward fixing it.

Jack Rodwell has gone to Manchester City; good thing or bad thing?

It’s a very good thing and probably the best possible scenario this summer. In fact, I think we’ll find over time that selling Rodwell will be viewed as another deft transfer move by Moyes. Moyes knew that he had to sell if he wanted to bring in talent that would make out team better this season. Rodwell was behind at least Fellaini and Gibson (and likely even Phil Neville) for the holding role. Also, if he had another season like he did last year, his ‘potential’ would have been worth less than it is now. Moyes selling Rodwell reduces the need to sell the likes of Baines or Fellaini, and really is the best Everton could have asked for this summer. If I’m honest, I never really rated him to turn into the midfield dynamo that so many had picked him to be. I think his body is better suited to play centerback than midfield (which Moyes disastrously attempted one year). In Fellaini, we’ve got a player who is better than him in every way and we also have youngsters coming up who are destined to play in the center of our midfield (Ross Barkley, Fransisco Junior). The bottom line is that he was going to struggle to see the field this season and selling him will probably end up helping our squad more than him leaving hurts it.

Do you think the money will be re-invested in the squad or just used by Kenwright to pay the bills?

A considerable amount of it will go back into the squad. There’s never a lot of certainty when it comes to Everton’s finances (except that we don’t have a lot of liquidity), but Kenwright seems to have done enough to keep the banks happy in the past year while somewhat reducing our debt. Everton are not in a terrible financial condition. We have a fairly small amount of debt (a little less than £40 million) and we just about break even every year. However, if we’re going to challenge the teams above us into the future, we’re going to need more investment. Right now, we’re still relying on David Moyes’ intelligent buys and strategy to punch above our weight year after year.

After he scored against us last season at Old Trafford I can’t stand him, but I’m assuming you’re happy to have Pienaar back?

That was quite a match wasn’t it? I’ve said for a number of years now that Steven Pienaar is the engine of our team. I was very unhappy when we sold him to Spurs because I knew how important he was to our team and thought we should have met whatever wage demands he had. His absence is the reason we played so poorly at the beginning of last season: we became predictable, had little creativity, and couldn’t find a final ball to save our lives. With his return, Pienaar’s interplay with Leighton Baines will again be our number one attacking threat. Also, I think you’ll see Pienaar link up more and more with Marouane Fellaini to great effect.

As well as Rodwell you’ve also waved goodbye to Tim Cahill this summer. Was it the right time for him to leave?

Sadly, I think it was. Every Evertonian loves Tim Cahill. However, over the past couple of seasons his goals for us have dried up and Moyes was moving him into a defensive role because his passing and dribbling have never been the best part of his game. Cahill was on the highest wages at the club and, with the arrival of Steven Naismith, he was going to struggle to cement a place in the team. Selling him to the New York Red Bulls saved us about £7 million on his contract and allows him to grow a global brand. That’s a win-win; though there’s no doubt Cahill’s presence will be missed in the dressing room. I should also note that his last act as an Everton player was getting red carded after attempting to strangle Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, who had just shoved an Everton ball boy into the advertising boards. What a legend.

Steven Naismith has been brought in to bolster you options up front. Do you think him and former Rangers strike partner Jelavic can form a good premier league partnership or do you think one of them will be dropped deeper to accommodate Moyes’ favoured 4-4-1-1?

I don’t think you’ll see a lot of 4-4-2 from Moyes. It’s not really his style. I think what you’ll see with the addition of Naismith will allow for more rotation of Everton’s midfield during each match. Naismith can play on either wing in addition to the ‘Cahill role’ behind Jelavic and as a second striker. Last season, Everton had a lot of success shifting Fellaini into the position behind Jelavic and swapping Osman and Pienaar to try to find holes in opposing defences. Everton has lacked a true right-sided winger for a while and, though Naismith isn’t one of those, I think he’ll rotate between that and a more central position. Also, he provides cover in the striker position if (God forbid) something happens to Jelavic. Jelavic also says that Naismith is his favorite striker partner that he’s ever played with for what it’s worth.

Can you push for a European place this year? Where do you think you’ll finish?

We can definitely push for a European place this season. I think the start of our season is critical, along with picking up more wins against teams from the bottom half of the table. Do that, and it will be hard to keep us out of Europe.

Liverpool beat you three times last year but you finished above them in the league. Did that take away the sting of those defeats and can you finish above them again this year?

There’s nothing that feels better than beating the RS and nothing that feels worse than losing to them. So, losing three times was horrible, especially in the FA Cup Semifinal. What was so frustrating last season is that we were (and are) a better team than they are. Their fans knew it, our fans knew it, and most intelligent pundits knew it. The first match against them was spoiled by an early Jack Rodwell red card (which was successful appealed), we fielded a weakened team to prepare for the FA Cup Quarterfinal in the second match, and we just seemed to lose confidence in the FA Cup Semi final despite being on better form and taking a 1-0 lead. I think we can definitely finish above them this season and I think we can also notch at least one derby win this season (probably around the time that their supporters begin to lose faith in their new flavour-of-the-month manager).

Onto Monday’s game – who do you think will win?

I’ll be conservative and say no one (draw). The fact is, Everton have won two season openers in the past decade under Moyes. I suspect that Sir Alex is still quite cross after the 4-4 draw with Everton that cost United the title last season and will be looking to put things right. But, if my memory serves me, United tend to start fairly slowly as well (before surging and becoming unbeatable during the middle part of the season). Hopefully, facing a big team this early will galvanize the Everton team and Nani will play defence the same way he did against Tony Hibbert at OT in the spring, but you never know. I could see us winning, I could also see us getting thrashed (à la Arsenal 6-1 in the opener in 2009). So, I’ll go with a draw.

What’s your favourite United vs. Everton game and why?

It’s between the FA Cup Semifinal from 2009 and the 3-1 thumping we gave United in February 2010. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was during the penalty shootout during the semi or been as joyous as when Jack Rodwell rolled the ball past van der Sar and ran into the Gwladys Street crowd. However, I’ll go with the 3-1 win because I’ve always thought the semifinal was kind of spoiled by the weakened team United put out.

Where do you think United will finish this season?

United probably now have an attacking team that is in the top 3 in Europe with the addition of van Persie. I’m still not convinced by the central midfield and think that your defence needs more depth in order to keep Jonny Evans as far from the field as possible. That said, I have no doubt that you’ll either finish top or second. The only team I hate more than the RS are City. So, here’s to hoping that you knock their fossil-fuel-financed team and their manager (the most arrogant man in the world) off of their perch. We’ll certainly do our best to help you in that again, if only to continue Mancini’s stellar record against us (1-0-5).

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