What’s your take on how things have gone so far this season for Everton? Results seem to have taken an upturn in recent weeks.
Everton played a pretty sub-par pre-season schedule, especially for a team that has Champions League aspirations. As a result, the team looked like they were still sleepwalking at the beginning of the season, being very un-Evertonlike in defence and shipping boatloads of goals.
Since then they have settled in and new signings like Samuel Eto'o have had a chance to integrate themselves into the squad and the team has looked better as a whole. Roberto Martinez has also had plenty of early-season injuries to contend with, especially to key members of the squad like Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman, and Kevin Mirallas which have further limited his options.
Is Roberto Martinez still the man to take the club forward? It’s fair to say that the style of football has remarkably improved since he joined the club.
Oh yes, undoubtedly on both fronts. David Moyes did an excellent job with the limited resources he had to get the team on the periphery of Europe. Under Martinez though, the Blues are now showing they can take that extra step and actually contend on the continental stage. Whether Moyes could play attacking football and handle squad rotation is still up for debate, what is not questionable though is that Martinez understands how to get the team playing the same style on multiple fronts.
Speaking of style, Everton have shown more flair under the Spaniard, which comes from the possession-based passing game that he has entrenched at Goodison Park. Sometimes the passing does get too much especially when the attack has no teeth, but it does look a sight for sore eyes when the ball moves from end to end in a series of calculated and precise moves. The Toffees under Roberto are not so much a pure skill-based or flowing counter-attack team, they'll beat opponents with the 'death by a thousand cuts' method instead.
Jack Rodwell’s had a fairly poor start to life as a Sunderland player, finding himself in and out of the team. Do you think he’s going to live up to the hype at our club?
The lad needs to get his head sorted out. The hype was huge as he broke into the Blues senior squad and he was led to believe he was a bigger deal than he really was. Oil-fueled club sides in the Premier League will do that to younger players. Sitting on the bench for long periods of time at said club did nothing for his development, and he completely fell out of relevance. Going to the Black Cats is a great opportunity for him to show that he can amount to a decent player. If he can put his ego aside and work hard at establishing himself on the field again, there is no reason he cannot be successful at Sunderland. No doubt he has the talent, and if Gus Poyet gives him a stern talking-to, that could be his 'come to Jesus' moment.
It was a great win against Lille on Thursday, but teams playing midweek European games often find their league form fluctuates due to the increased schedule. Have you noticed an impact thus far this season?
Oh yes, definitely. Like I had mentioned previously, some critical injuries have limited Martinez's squad options and weary legs have made all the difference in Sunday fixtures after Europa League exploits midweek. The Blues have had two losses and just one win after a Thursday game so far this season, and that win was against Burnley so I wouldn't say it counts for too much either.
Squad rotation is key for balancing that workload, but it's difficult for a smaller side like Everton. I have to say though, the influx of television money has been a boon for the team, as they have been able to go out and spend a bit more freely than they have in the past. I fully expect Everton to be quite active in January bolstering key positions across the pitch.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a dark living room in Lancashire (or Glasgow?), a middle-aged, ginger-haired and icy-eyed man by the last name of Moyes is throwing his strategy books at the wall, raving and ranting "Where was this money when I took Everton to the Champions League qualifiers?!"
Who should Sunderland be looking out for at the weekend? Romelu Lukaku always tends to give us a good hiding!
Lukaku played the full ninety minutes yesterday, so I expect he'll be on the bench and Samuel Eto'o will get the start instead. Gareth Barry is suspended for this game, so the midfield pivot will be James McCarthy and Darron Gibson instead. Everton more often than not play a 4-2-3-1, so the triangle that the two holding midfielders play with Ross Barkley as attacking midfielder will be the key to the game. Sunderland will need to crowd the middle and cut out balls between that trio to shut down Everton's passing game.
Also, you cannot overlook the Leighton Baines factor. Baines spends a lot of time bombing up and down the left wing and the Black Cats will be well-served to have a 'spy' on him every time he crosses the midfield line. Seamus Coleman is out injured and will save your side a lot of grief on the other wing, so Sunderland can key in on the Blues left.
Although we’ve got a bit of an injury crisis, we still managed a decent away win against Palace on Monday. What are you expecting from Sunderland on Sunday?
That Saints game was more an anomaly than anything else, and own-goals aside Sunderland have actually defended decently otherwise. Palace have been quite the bugaboo for Everton lately, so any team that spanks them has my respect! Everton and Sunderland are similarly-sized clubs with proud traditions and excellent atmospheres at the respective stadiums. This being a Sunday game will not diminish the event and I expect the crowd to be roaring their side on. Everton's away support has been stellar this season so it could get raucous at the Stadium of Light.
I'm expecting Poyet to play for three points, so I think we'll see Sunderland play five in midfield looking to intercept passes and break down the wings. Everton have been susceptible to pace down the wings and from set-pieces too, and we know Seb Larsson all too well from the past.
Is there anyone in the Sunderland side you feel Everton might struggle to handle?
Steven Fletcher has been on an excellent run lately, and I think he'll be able to get in between Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin to cause trouble. It will be a relief to not have Lee Cattermole nipping at the the Blues midfielder's heels, but I'm also expecting Connor Wickham and Jordi Gomez to make some late runs and make hay between the defence and midfield lines.
Finally, do you have a score prediction?
I'm usually awful at these, but I'll give it a shot. Everton show their midweek blues again, going down to an early goal before throwing the kitchen sink and all the fittings at the home side and equalizing late with a dodgy goal - possibly a penalty from Leon Osman tripping on sod or a cross bouncing in off Wes Brown's knee.