The draw with Swansea was a bit of a snooze-fest. What did you make of the game?
Very frustrating. Swansea were so negative and we just couldn’t find that cutting edge. We huffed and we puffed but never created as many chances as we would have liked and missed a real opportunity to build on our previous three results. I suppose the positives are another clean sheet and point but overall we expect better from Everton, especially at Goodison, and we were left tearing our hair out as the Blues failed to break down a stubborn Swansea who looked happy to play for a point. I thought McCarthy was class – so much energy and hunger – but it wasn’t a vintage display from Martinez’ side who now need to focus on Lille and Sunderland before the break for internationals.
Who would you prefer at centre-back… Gareth Barry or the lesser-spotted Sylvain Distin?
Distin. Simply because Barry is so important in the midfield. I thought we missed him there once he was pushed back due to Alcaraz’ injury and I just can’t see Martinez starting with Barry at the back. Although Distin has hardly filled us with confidence this season but he did well away to Lille and I believe he will feature alongside Jags on Thursday night and again on Sunday at the Stadium of Light. Hopefully Alcaraz isn’t out for too long because we are so short on numbers in that position and we can’t afford to lose any more centre halves to injury. Maybe after the international break we will see a couple of players returning from knocks, Kevin Mirallas the obvious name that stands out.
Have you picked up Leon Osman’s book yet? What did you make of his comments re: Tim Cahill?
If I’m honest I haven’t, and I probably won’t. Ossie has been a great servant to the Club and nobody could question his professionalism but you can’t always get by on these factors. He can be brilliant one minute and so disappointing the next and with age has come some really frustrating performances – but I don’t believe some of the grief he gets off some of our supporters is always warranted. As for his comments regarding Cahill, I haven’t read into that too much. A lot happens at Football Clubs that we don’t see or hear about and just because he has wrote a book it and mentioned a few things it doesn’t rattle or worry me in the slightest. Cahill will always be a favourite at Everton and I’d like to think Osman will also be remembered fondly too once he moves on or retires – however the latter does divide opinion amongst our supporters so I know not everyone will miss him when he eventually does.
It’s Lille next, followed swiftly by Sunderland away. Are there signs the Blues are getting better at handling their heavy fixture programme?
I think so. Martinez has been chopping and changing in different areas and he has to do that with a busy fixture schedule to contend with. Injuries hit us hard earlier in the season and the theme has unfortunately continued (Stones, Pienaar, Alcaraz, Kone) but overall the squad looks in good shape and when you look at our bench we do have options there. I think Eto’o has given us all a boost and I like the way Roberto is using him, Naismith and Lukaku – our attack hasn’t looked as good for many a year. With Mirallas to come back we will be bolstered in our creativity department and Ross Barkley’s return from a long lay-off has been a big positive too. Others like McGeady, Pienaar and Osman have been alternating and as I say, Roberto has to do this to keep people fresh and utilise what personnel he has as he sees fit. At the back is a worry though, we cannot afford anymore absentees at the heart of our defence.
How would you set up for both games? And how do you think both will finish?
I think we’ll see changes from the Swansea game for Lille and again for the trip to Sunderland on Sunday. On Thursday I expect to see a decent game against a Lille side who are one of the better in the competition. We managed to score four times against Wolfsburg and although I can’t see us getting that many against Lille I can certainly see us beating them at Goodison and I’d expect the old master Eto’o to again be a factor in our European campaign. When we faced Lille away we struggled at times but came away with a point, I can see this Thursday being a more open affair and I think we will edge it 2-1. Barkley against a European side at Goodison is an exciting prospect, bring it on.
Last season at Sunderland it was painful to watch at times and we eventually scraped a 1-0 win – I think all Evertonians would take that score line again just so we go into the international break with a victory and continue our decent run of League form. Sunderland are hit and miss and they got a good result on Monday night but I think we have enough quality to go there, dictate the play and come away with all three points. Again I’d expect changes. Lukaku might be on the bench for Lille and start at Sunderland, whereas Eto’o could be the other way round, Pienaar/McGeady will probably be alternated in each fixture as Martinez continues to shuffle his pack. Anything less than a victory would be disappointing against a lowly Sunderland but as cliché as it does sound there is no easy games in the Premier League and we can’t take anything for granted. I’ll go 1-0 the Toffees.
Any other business?
After a frustrating start we’ve showed signs of improvement since the win over Villa but the game against Swansea was our chance to show consistency and keep winning. We obviously haven’t done that and need to focus on getting back on track but we should take heart from not losing in our last four and putting in some better defensive displays. Three clean sheets from four is brilliant and thankfully our defenders have got their acts together after a shaky opening couple of months. The Lille game is an exciting challenge and one that we should embrace, whereas Sunday will be very different against an unpredictable Sunderland side. The goal is obviously six points and I feel confident that we can achieve this, but there is no denying that it will be tough.