Fan Focus - Everton (A) Pre-Match Views

For this weeks Fan Focus with Everton, we had a chat with Thomas Mallows of the top-draw Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey. We chatted about Everton in general, and the upcoming game, getting an inside track on what's going on over on Merseyside...

All I’m reading with regards to Everton is doom and gloom. Things haven’t been that bad this season have they?

Thomas: Compared to recent seasons yes! We have been spoilt a bit in recent years as David Moyes has got the best out of the squad on a limited budget – 6th,5th,5th,8th and a Cup Final in the past four seasons.

But lingering in the background has been the club’s inability to back Moyes in the transfer market and to make that mythical ‘step up’ into the top four. Our struggles this season have been down to our relative poverty compared to other clubs – it is no coincidence that Sunderland for example have climbed the table after spending big money. If you don’t splash the cash you will only go one way, which is why we are all so worried.

A few posts online suggest it could be time for David Moyes to go? Surely not!?

Thomas: The fans are searching for reasons to explain away our struggles and some have pointed the finger at David Moyes. I agree to an extent that he has made some mistakes and there is an argument that things have gone a bit stale. But we would be in a far worse state if he did leave and if anyone is to blame for our struggles it is the board for failing to give him the money he needs to improve the squad. Moyes has worked wonders on a limited budget and we would probably only truly appreciate what he has achieved once he leaves. I hope that isn’t this summer though and the board must do everything they can to keep him.

Everton’s youth system has produced some fantastic players, with Jack Rodwell currently the cream of the crop. However, will he still be in an Everton shirt at the start of next season?

Thomas: I have my doubts. If we can’t find fresh investment then we may have to sell-to-buy in the summer. Rodwell is undoubtedly one of our key assets and the Manchester United rumours just don’t go away. However, despite our worrying debts Moyes has said he doesn’t have to sell any of his best players in the summer and would rather keep what he has got than see the team break up. That will of course mean zero cash to bring new players in - Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!

If we are to let anyone go then it could be Marouane Felliani as he only has two year’s left on his contract in the summer. If he refuses to sign a new one he may be sacrificed in order to re-coup a decent transfer fee and avoid what happened with Steven Pienaar.

Touching further on the Everton Youth Team, is there another Rodwell, Rooney, Osman etc in the wings?

Thomas: Ross Barkley is a player in the Rodwell mould and one who many are tipping for big things. A big, strong box-to-box midfielder he has represented England up to Under-19 level and was on the brink of the first-team before he suffered a double leg break on international duty in October. He is close to a return but I don’t think we will see him at his best until next season. Definitely one to watch though – you heard it hear first!!

Why do you think Moyes has been so reluctant to go all out for a striker, seemingly the missing piece of the puzzle at Everton?

Thomas: He has no cash, simple as. The accounts released last week revealed that although we aren’t on the brink of administration, all of our income streams are tied up and we have nothing left to spend on players. Moyes made the conscious decision to use what little money he has to keep his current set of players and tie them down to new contracts rather than sell them to raise funds. Therefore we were limited to free transfers over the summer. It is frustrating though because if we had a fully fit regular goalscorer in the side it really would complete our team – it would have been a completely different season had we bought someone like Gyan or (dare I say his name??) Darren Bent.

On to the game, pretty big one for both teams I’d say. You’re flirting with the bottom, and we’ve lost all momentum after 3 defeats in a row?

Thomas: It is a massive game for both teams for different reasons. After the Bolton defeat the spectre of relegation has really lurched into view. We were awful in that game and although we responded against Chelsea there is a pressing need to pick up Premier League points in order to lift us away from trouble. We have played like a side who think they are too good to go down in recent weeks but history tells us that reputation counts for nothing, we need to roll our sleeves up and dig in.

As for Sunderland things seemed to have slowed down in recent weeks, though there is no shame in losing to Spurs & Chelsea, while the Stoke defeat came in the last minute. However, defeats do drain confidence so I imagine Bruce will be desperate to get back to winning ways to sustain your European challenge as you have a great chance of a top six finish this season.

Who do you see as a weak link in the Sunderland team that you think Everton can exploit?

Thomas: I think this game will be won and lost in midfield as both sides tend to pack it with players and leave one up top. You miss the battling presence of Cattermole in the middle and although the likes of Henderson have gone off the boil recently you have had a few days off so may come back refreshed. If we are to win we need the likes of Fellaini to stamp their authority on the game (not literally, though I wouldn’t put it past him!) and dominate midfield as we tend to attack as a team and defend as a team.

...And likewise, who from Everton should we be looking to give a rough time?

Thomas: It honestly depends which Everton will turn up. If we play like we did at Bolton then you will run us ragged! Plus we have become a little vulnerable to set-pieces in recent weeks which is worrying. I would try and attack down the flanks and maybe stretch the play a little bit as that will also nullify the threat of Leighton Baines who tries to get forward. But such is our inconsistency you could have an easy afternoon or it be your toughest match of the season!

What’s your predicted line-up for Saturday?

Thomas: Injuries aside I will guess at: Howard, Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Fellaini, Arteta, Osman, Cahill, Beckford

Though Cahill may be out in which case Jack Rodwell could return from injury to take his place. We are also waiting on the fitness of Louis Saha (as always!). Formation wise I expect Fellaini to sit in the holding role with Arteta slightly further forward and Cahill will push on alongside Beckford. Expect a lot of our attacking play to go down our left hand side with Baines, who has been excellent this season.

And finally, what’s your prediction for the game?

Thomas: Hmmm, a tough one, we have had some good results against Sunderland in recent years (of which I’m sure you don’t need reminding!) and this is a game we really have to win. I have said that all season though and such is our inconsistency I just don’t know what Everton side is going to turn up. Sunderland have had a bit of a rest and will be equally determined to end their losing run. My head says 1-1, heart reckons we could sneak it 1-0.

Thanks for chatting with us, and we'll catch up with you after the game to get more views.

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