Landon Donovan’s third match in an Everton shirt was substantially less successful than his first two. But that should be no surprise given the competition. Birmingham City has been unbeatable the last three months and plays a very traditional British style of football featuring several long time veterans of the British game.
The result, a 2-1 Brum victory at Goodison Park, knocks Donovan’s Everton side out of the FA Cup. The match also marked the return of Mikel Arteta, who probably represents Donovan’s biggest competition for a starting spot. Arteta came on for Donovan midway through the second half.
Criticisms of Donovan’s play yesterday can be made, but when the central midfield is totally run over (as Fellani and Cahill were in this match), it’s difficult to integrate a wide midfielder into the attack. So while Donovan was certainly less than adequate, he was far from Everton’s biggest problem.
The Blues are now unbeaten in fifteen matches and continue to demonstrate a grittiness and quality, that are bi-products of veteran leadership from within the leagues of the British Isles. Alex McLeish’s team has shown remarkable structure and organization away from home since October and if anything, has been more often than not the victim of several strange calls that have prevented the Blues from climbing into the Premier League top four.
The physical play of Birmingham’s midfield and defense, have made a huge impact on every match they play. Everton was not prepared for that type of play on the day, despite confidence running high after achieving results against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City in the league over the past month.
Also of interest to CONCACAF fans should be successful move of Christian Benitez to Birmingham. Chucho as he is known was outstanding for several seasons in Mexico with Santos Laguna, including in year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
Donovan made some good runs down the right sided flank, but did not receive adequate service from the central midfield, or watched left back Phil Neville often times choose to distribute the football back to the central midfielders bypassing Donovan completely. So perhaps, judging Landon Donovan on this performance, while surely poor, is unfair.
Donovan’s play in this match may have been subpar, but it was a good learning experience. Given how well the American did against finesse oriented sides in Arsenal and Manchester City, Donovan has the confidence to perform at the highest levels of English football. The loss to Birmingham, who have since late October been the most successful Premier League side, should simply be viewed as a learning experience.