It wasn’t the strongest or most organised of European opposition but that wasn’t the fault of Everton.
The rather convoluted route to a Europa League final derided with an experimental overpopulation of match officials has sometimes brought the validity of the event into question. I’m not sure if the shambolic way that AEK Athens defended set piece corners has helped to stem the ridicule. Still, there were a few Everton moments to make you smile.
It was finally nice to start with a balanced Everton team which we haven’t seen for ages, if ever. Aside for the injury-enforced redeployment of Dan Gosling at left back, David Moyes selected every player in their recognised position. Having two left footed players playing on the left really brings that illusive balance to the team shape. Pienaar does a wonderful job of holding down that left midfield, but he does so out of necessity rather than preference. With Diniyar ‘Bily’ Bilyaletdinov looking every bit the class act that we were promised, the left flank looks strong and now opens up possibilities for Pienaar to influence the game from other, more vital areas.
I was impressed with the individual performance from both Bily and Pienaar on the left and right of midfield, but I was even more impressed with the group tactics of the collective midfield unit. Frequently the wide middies were tucked very narrow creating options and penetration through the middle for the short range passing game that, when at its best, is the signature of the true Everton philosophy. The good times are here again. Now we shouldn’t get too carried away given the charity of the opponents but the maturity of the football available now looks to be graduating to a new echelon given the personnel available.
Perhaps one niggling riddle is the current form and formation of Tim Cahill. I think Moyes has just about worked out that Cahill and Fellaini shouldn’t really play together. It didn’t much matter in this game, but I suspect that during Premiership matches they won’t both be in the team. They seem to want to perform the same task for the team and too often that results in a duplication of movement or an absence of depth. Moyes now might just find himself in the rare and privileged position of having to rest and rotate his squad, Cahill and Fellaini will surely be each others understudy.
Tim Cahill is a wonderful talent and a true servant to Everton and I hope he can regain that magical form that, when ripe, marks him as an unplayable attacking midfielder. At the minute he looks a little out of sorts and his rather petulant booking in this game was a frustrated punctuation of his erratic form so far this season. Pienaar has raised his game over the last year and Bily has that pheromone of potential that excites the terraces, I hope that Cahill can reinvent or relocate his form for the next phase of the Everton advancement.
My favourite part about the game was the continued emergence of Jack Rodwell. Moyes has elected to start the youngster in many games this season and he really does bring a craft to the midfield which has previously been reliant on experience and destruction. Rodwell patrolled the deep-lying midfield berth with a calming manner and with a clarity of decision making that bodes very well for the Everton prognosis. Rodwell routinely changed the point of the Everton attack with inelegant passes and a technique to lean on when midfield serenity will not be given with such consent. There were times during the Athens games when his reception and distribution of the ball resembled that of Paul Scholes, and if Rodwell can get anywhere near to the inspiration of English footballs most cultured midfielder then he will be quite the influence.
Rodwell seems to float along the ground with a classic ease; in contrast to Fellaini who looks like he’s towing a caravan, Rodwell glides with an elegance. This marries very well with a composure that has Rodwell targeted for the future Everton captaincy and certain international recognition. For now he fits very well into the crucial role at the centre of the Everton midfield. And long may that continue.
So with the balance of the team more organised and with the pattern of play forever moving beyond the attrition of past performances and closer to the true sentiment of football, the prospect looks good. Even if the current assembly of Premiership victories does not. The depth of the entire squad provides genuine cover in all positions and the blend will result in other, better players being attracted to the club during the next transfer window and more. Though the most seminal component of the current regime is that while Russian internationals and Champions League regulars are being brought in, there is still room and opportunity for young, local talent to rise up through the club structure and blossom in the first team.
Jack Rodwell is fast becoming the heartbeat of the Everton midfield and I fully endorse that decision.
From The Writings Of Jonny Carter