Everton take on Manchester City tonight at Goodison Park in the Semi Finals of the League Cup. Let’s not beat around the bush, this game is huge. It is huge for Roberto Martinez, huge for his players, and also massive for Evertonians who have been starved of silverware for over two decades. Tonight we face the chance to take one step further to that elusive silverware and are potentially 180 minutes away from a trip to Wembley as a League Cup final appearance awaits for the winner over two legs.
Everton will host a visiting City side in front of an expectant Goodison crowd who will be hoping to see a continuation of Everton’s determination shown in the second half against Spurs on Sunday. Against the North Londoner’s the Blues only sprung into life in the second half and a draw was probably a fair result overall, but after a disappointing festive period and Everton dropping down to 11th in the League, there has been plenty of frustration amongst our supporters. The frustration has mainly been directed towards the Manager and certain players, how we’ve failed to defend properly, how we’ve failed to hold onto leads and concede too cheaply – it is a common theme. Unfortunately, after a decent opening couple of months at the beginning of the season, our league form hasn’t exactly gone to plan since with too many sloppy draws creeping in and too many sloppy goals conceded on a regular basis. We find ourselves in the bottom half of the table – in the same position where we finished last season – and with the best crop of players we’ve had for years at our disposal the questioning of the Manager has well and truly begun. In fact in some quarters the questioning and calling for Martinez’ head hasn’t stopped since this time last year. There is still a long way to go this season, and everyone keeps mentioning our ‘potential’ – I just hope that we can fulfil some of that potential from now until May and we drag ourselves up the table with finally some consistency shown. The quality is there, but whether or not this Manager can get the best out of it in the imminent future remains to be seen and whether or not Evertonians are prepared to wait is another matter.
Tonight is the perfect opportunity to distract ourselves from Premier League matters and give ourselves a massive boost going into a busy run of games. Tonight’s clash versus Manuel Pellegrini’s men is the second game of five; Spurs (h), City (h), Dag & Red (h), City (a), Chelsea (a), within two weeks so there is no denying our squad will be tested and we will see changes to the starting XI in each game. With the first leg being at home, it is important to get our noses in front before the return leg at the Etihad just before the end of the month. We all know City’s quality, with the likes of Aguero, Toure, De Bruyne and Sterling, and when they visited Goodison back in August they beat us comfortably 0-2 as they started the season like a train. However, City’s recent form away from home isn’t exactly impressive – winning 3 of their last ten outings, drawing 3 and losing four times too along the way. A Kompany-less City defence is there to be got at it in my opinion, and with Lukaku in hungry form I can see a real battle emerging between him and Mangala/Otamendi who are both expected to start at the heart of the visitors’ defence this evening. Another battle we could see tonight is Besic/Barry up against Toure and Fernandinho – I’d expect cards!
Martinez is bound to tinker with his side again but for me Gerard Deulofeu simply has to start. If we are to get ourselves a lead to take to the Etihad then I believe the young Spaniard will be key to that, as he looks to link up with Lukaku and provide the prolific Belgian with more opportunities to get on the score sheet. I’d expect Deulofeu to get the nod after starting from the bench against Spurs, and I’d also expect Tom Cleverley to start too, along with the vitally important Gareth Barry. One player who I’d like to see start is Mo Besic. The Bosnian was superb during his cameo appearance on Sunday and he offers defensive and offensive midfield qualities. He adds bite to a side that distinctly lacks it at times, and if he does get the nod tonight then it is likely that Cleverley may be pushed out wide left, which is where he finished the game on Sunday. Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku – no surprises aside – should make up the rest of our midfield and attack. If Baines is fit enough to start two games in quick succession then the defence basically picks itself because Jagielka still isn’t ready to play, so Coleman, Stones, Funes-Mori, and the aforementioned Leighton Baines should form our back four. It has been difficult to predict how Everton will line up and Martinez usually throws in a curveball or two, but the above is what I’d like to see as our starting line-up tonight. There’s no point in thinking he will go with Mirallas one side and Deulofeu on the other, it won’t happen, so that’s why Cleverley will probably be the man to be pushed out of his usual position if Besic starts, with the Bosnian and Gareth Barry forming our central midfield with Barkley ahead of them. Kone shouldn’t be playing in my opinion, and after his performance on Sunday I wouldn’t be surprised if he got dropped to the bench – where he probably should stay.
Speaking of dropping players – two words – Tim Howard. On numerous occasions over the past few years I’ve called for him to be shipped out. He simply isn’t good enough and I’m sick of saying it. But let me get one thing straight I wouldn’t go down to Goodison and boo the player, and I don’t agree with the jeering of him, this helps nobody, and neither does his reaction to the jeers, but he shouldn’t be our regular ‘keeper anymore and something has got to give. Even though Robles will start tonight Howard will probably come straight back in on Saturday against Dag & Red or next Wednesday at City, he seems to have this divine right to keep his place. Just look what happened last season when Robles performed admirably for that run of games whilst Howard was out injured, his reward was a place back on the bench basically ever since! Give the lad a go tonight – as he has done well in the other Cup fixtures – and if he does well then let him keep his place until the end of the season. Don’t let Tim Howard just walk back into his position until the end of the season just because he is coasting towards one final swansong of his career in the MLS next summer (should have been three summers ago!). No player has a right to keep his place, we have to think about what is best for Everton FC – not for people’s egos or for what has happened in the past, and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter because I’ll end up going on all day about it.
I’m excited for the game tonight, as I say I believe it is a good chance for us to put our league frustrations to one side and begin to realise our potential against one of the Country’s best sides. There is no denying City will bring with them a wealth of quality on the pitch and great support off the pitch too, but we have to focus on ourselves, realise the players we currently have at our Club and realise what our capabilities are – we can beat anyone on our day, especially at Goodison under the lights in front of 40,000 hungry-for-silverware Evertonians. These Semi Finals are a real chance to make an impression, a real chance to make history and do something special. Do we have the quality and the bollocks to do something memorable? Only time will tell, I just hope Martinez goes for it, because this is a real chance to take our frustrations out, and the only way to do that is by winning, that word Martinez was talking about in the press last week.
Let’s get behind them.
Up the Toffees