Everton’s Painful Wait
To say it was a week to forget for Evertonian’s is an understatement.
Three games, three defeats, 10 goals conceded and a casualty list befitting a small battlefield, it is no wonder Toffees fans are wearing concerned expressions at the moment.
What makes it more galling for Blues fans is its predictability and familiarity. This time last year they were actually three points worse off, without a win on home soil and dumped out of Europe and the League Cup. This had come off the back of a frustrating summer where Moyes was hamstrung in the transfer market and had to be content with a clutch of last minute deadline-day signings.
Fast forward to the summer of 2009 and things began to take a familiar path.
Once again Moyes struggled to make an impact in the transfer market with much of the transfer talk involving the protracted departure of Joleon Lescott. This disrupted and fractured summer no doubt affected the side as they crashed 6-1 on the opening day to a rampant Arsenal.
Ironically, part of the recovery process last year, which culminated in a second consecutive fifth place finish and a FA Cup Final appearance, was injuries to all of David Moyes’ first choice strikers. Tim Cahill and record signing Mauroane Fellaini were pushed further forward and all of a sudden results started to return.
A brief upturn this year saw European progression and a six-game unbeaten run, but Everton’s injury curse struck again and any momentum has screeched to a shuddering halt.
It was interesting to hear Rafael Benitez’s comments in the build up to the Manchester United game last week regarding the injury ‘crisis’ at Anfield , particularly to key players Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres – ‘the worst he had ever known’ he said.
Well across Stanley Park Everton fans feel Rafa’s gripes are trivial compared to what they have had to deal with. They have been without star midfielder Mikel Arteta since February with a serious knee injury. Phil Jagielka suffered a similar injury in April and is yet to return. Twenty goal striker Yakubu ruptured an achilles last November and has only just comeback while young striker Victor Anichebe has also been sidelined for eight months.
But the Blues had shown they could cope with these setbacks last season as they defiantly marched onto Wembley in May. But with a squad already at breaking point Moyes knew he needed to increase quantity as well as quality in pre-season. He didn’t, and Everton are paying the price.
The knee curse struck again when captain Phil Neville was sidelined for three months in August. Steven Pienaar has been out for the past month after being caught late on the, you’ve guessed it, knee, down at Portsmouth, while injury-plagued forward James Vaughan once again had to go under the surgeon’s knife.
It has proved one injury too many and with an entire XI out against Benfica, their lack of squad depth was ruthlessly exposed as they were taken apart by the dominant Portuguese at the Stadium of Light last Thursday.
So what lies ahead for Everton?
Well they have to play the waiting game.
The inspirational Arteta and reliable Jagielka – the duo most Toffees fans would say have been missed most – are not set to return till the end of November and with matches coming thick and fast, those who remain will have to soldier on.
But having already been dispatched out of the Carling Cup, that sobering defeat in Lisbon and lying a lowly 14th in the league. Will Everton’s pre-season ambitions be irreversibly damaged by the time they return?