It's Christmas, it's time for Fan Focus, and ladies and gent's we've got a cracker for you, and we're not even just saying that because of the season.
In the hotseat this week to answer some questions is James Corbett, author of several wonderful books on Everton, founder of their legendary fanzine "Gwladys Sings The Blues". Not to mention he wrote the brilliant book "England Expects" which you can buy on Amazon by clicking here.
Not only that, but he's also worked, or currently worked with World Football Insider, The Observer, FourFourTwo and many more. A supremely talented fella, and someone we're delighted to have answered some of our questions.
With that, we'll move right on to those questions...
So how's the season going from your standpoint? Better than expected? Worse? Tell us how things are shaping up so far...
James: As expected, really. If you keep chipping away at a small but highly talented squad it doesn't take long for the holes to be revealed. We're not playing good football, we're not scoring many goals but we're doing enough to keep our heads above water. There is a deeper sense of gloom and disillusionment among supporters and a rising distrust of not just the chairman, Bill Kenwright, but the club administration too. If I'm honest these are really bad times. From being so close to having a team that could compete up at the top just a few years ago, the lack of resources and crazy economics of the Premier League are catching up with us.
What's your reaction to the impending return of Landon Donovan to the club? I recall he did very well last time...
James: Very pleased, obviously. He's not only a very good player but inherently ‘gets' what Everton are all about. That's a rare quality. The club grows on most people, but Donovan understood Everton and Evertonians right from the outset. I was reporting at the World Cup last year and asked him about coming back to Goodison; you could tell by the way he bit my head off that (1) he was desperate to do so (2) it wasn't going to happen then. It's a shame, because had he been added to the squad then I really think it would have given us that little bit of momentum we needed then. As it is, we've lost Pienaar, Arteta and a few of the squad players; Neville and Cahill are older and lesser players...
Is there anywhere else Everton need to be addressing come the January transfer window?
James: Everyone points to our lack of goals, but the key turning point for this team was the defection of Joleon Lescott to Man City in 2009. I think with him in the team for three years we'd had 2 of the 4 most successful defensive seasons in Everton history. A lot of our games were won by the odd goal. We've completely lost that. Just one home league clean sheet all season so far. With someone like Sylvain Distin or Johnny Hettinga there, opponents are guaranteed at least one clear cut chance a game. What we need is someone of Lescott's calibre to come in again. A tall order - I know.
We've also lost two of our most creative players the past twelve months - Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta. Royston Drenthe isn't a bad alternative, but he's the sort of player we should have added alongside Arteta and Pienaar, not instead of.
Its often written about Everton that they lack strikers. A situation we also find ourselves in. How have Everton managed to maintain decent league finishes despite this, and could you pass us some tips on how it's accomplished!
James: A good defence, as stated above, and goalscoring midfielders, although it's been 12 long months since we last saw the once-imperious Tim Cahill do his little celebratory dance around the corner flag.
Lots of young talent at Everton too. We all know about the likes of Jack Rodwell, and Ross Barkley appears to be making a name for himself too, but the big question is, for how long can you hold on to them?
James: God knows. Your question betrays the cancer at the heart of the Premier League. Why should we have to contemplate such ‘dilemmas'? If the league was properly governed from the outset the financial doping and stupid economics would allow Everton (and Sunderland) to compete on and off the pitch with most of our rivals, instead of having to worry about some petro-dollar funded plaything poaching our best young talent. The game has been killed by Man City and (to a lesser extent) Chelsea. No matter how hard a properly run club tries, they're never ever going to succeed. You can see it happening with Tottenham too. I've really lost my appetite for the Premier League the last season. I still love live football and the routine of going to the match with my family. But overall it's become boring and predictable. I rarely watch MOTD now and have cancelled my Sky subs.
Looking ahead to our game, we don't have a particularly great record against your lot. You must fancy your chances this weekend?
James: Until a few weeks ago I'd have agreed but we have a poor record against teams managed by Martin O'Neill. I think the last time we beat one in the league we were still managed by Howard Kendall!
Have you seen much of Sunderland this season, and what do you make of the appointment of Martin O'Neill?
James: I think O'Neill is a good appointment, but if he has to work under financial constraints I think that - after what happened at Villa - it'll be interesting to see how he adapts, or indeed if he'll be willing to do so at all. I was always amazed at how much money Steve Bruce was given to spend because he always seemed doomed to failure. His career is one of the great mysteries of English football: so many clubs yet so little success. How does he do it?
Is there any particular ‘battle' on the pitch where you feel Everton are stronger and have the upper hand headed into the game, and conversely is there any major areas of concern?
James: My major area of concern is the quality of the game. Two teams largely out of form battling for the upper hand in mid-table mediocrity. It doesn't look very appealing, does it? But your win at QPR shows there's some fight, so maybe it'll be one of those ding-dong battles Moyes and O'Neill had a few years ago when he was at Villa. Your defence looks very flat while we've been playing with two wingers at times (with the always-excellent Baines maurading down the left), so if Drenthe and Gueye are given a run maybe there'll be some threat there. Heitinga will need to avoid his mid-afternoon nap if Bendtner decides he's up for it.
And finally, what's your prediction for the game...
James: Tightly fought and Cahill to break his scoring duck to either secure a dramatic late win - or, more likely - a 1-1 draw.
Many thanks go to James for answering our questions, and be sure to give him a follow on that there Twitter @James_Corbett. Also be sure to use the links at the start of the article to check out some of his fine works.