Everton

The Good Life? Not anymore at Goodison Park

Life at Everton could not be much different from this time last year, with the sweet success of last season being replaced by tales of tribulation for the Toffees, which is leaving a more sour taste in the mouth.

Monday night’s 0-0 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion was their eighth match without a win in all competitions.

Kevin Mirallas taking a penalty, ahead of first choice spot-kick taker Leighton Baines, and then missing the said penalty has epitomised Everton’s season so far.

This last time last year, coincidentally after a draw against West Brom (this time 1-1 away), they were sat in sixth, with 42 points, just one point off the top four, while this campaign they are looking over their shoulder.

Only 23 points have been amassed, 19 less, and they are perched in 12th, four points adrift of the bottom three.

Such a situation was unthinkable in the summer, as a side that ended up in fifth by the season’s end, bolstered their squad with Muhamed Besic, who was a regular for Bosnia and Herzegovina at the World Cup, and two time Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o.

Eto’o is, in fact, subject to speculation away from Merseyside already with Sampdoria monitoring the 33-year-old.

Half of the players Everton had on loan during 2013/14 also joined, this time permanently: Gareth Barry on a free transfer, as well as Romelu Lukaku for a club record £28 million fee.

Christian Atsu also joined from Chelsea on a season-long loan but, at the time of writing, has only managed three league appearances in Everton’s shade of blue.

Lukaku is the most puzzling disappointment of the quintuplet considering his impressive Premier League goalscoring record that has seen 32 goals in 76 games, 15 of those coming in the 31 games he played for Roberto Martinez’s men last season in a loan spell.

Just six goals in 21 have been provided by the big Belgian since his permanent switch, most worryingly of all, that tally makes him the Toffees’ top goalscorer so far this season.

Wonderkid Ross Barkley has also struggled to regain his dazzling form from last season after suffering a knee injury one day before the season started in what has turned out to be a foreboding moment.

The aforementioned Barkley is not the only Everton casualty, however, with eight sidelined in total – the third highest in the Premier League.

First choice goalkeeper Tim Howard is sidelined (calf), Besic too with an ankle problem, along with Mirallas and James McCarthy with hamstring injuries.

Martinez must have thought he had left relegation worries behind when he departed Wigan for Everton in 2013 but unless results turn around soon, he will need to dust off his great escape handbook.

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Swindon Town have found their ideal captain in Nathan Thompson

At 23-years-old, Nathan Thompson is the second youngest captain in League One leading the youngest side in the division, Swindon Town – a team with an average age of just 22, but while experience at the County Ground may be low, the ambitions are high.

“I look at the talent and potential we have in our team and I think the Championship is where we belong”, Thompson insists.

“The ethos of football we play is different to any team in League One, and arguably the Championship and Premier League too. In my opinion it is the way ‘the beautiful game’ should be played and, when we are in form, the opposition can’t compete with us.”

It is big talk from the sprightly Swindon skipper who seems completely unfazed at the task of captaining such a youthful side.

“The fact I’m the longest serving player (at the club) helped me take to the role and my team mates have been extremely supportive of me, so I’m grateful they’ve helped make the transition a smooth one”.

His team mates may well be the secret to his success but it was Thompson that took the plaudits after Town’s 0-3 win at Chesterfield last Tuesday night.

Swindon’s two games previous had ended in a 2-3 loss and a 2-2 draw on their own patch to Rochdale and Colchester respectively in what were disappointing results considering the Robins were the fourth best team at home in League One last season.

Thompson missed those two games due to a suspension but his return match ended with Swindon securing their first clean sheet since September 27 where they beat Barnsley by the same score at Oakwell.

This is even more impressive given the fact that Thompson is now playing a sweeper role in a three man defence instead of his favoured full-back position.

Nathan Byrne, arguably Town’s stand out performer so far this season, is occupying Thompson’s right wing-back spot while the left has been covered by former loanee from Liverpool Brad Smith and now Amari’i Bell who has joined temporarily from Birmingham City.

“Throughout pre season I trained in the wing-back position and I only switched to centre back a couple of training sessions before our first game”, Town’s back-to-back Player of the Year explains.

“It was a shock but I didn’t have time to dwell on it – which I think has helped me. As time’s gone on and I’m learning more about the position, my confidence has grown and I enjoy the new role I play during games”.

This attitude is a testament to Thompson’s character who genuinely gives his all for the club he has been at since the age of 12.

When asked how he felt about being awarded Swindon’s Player of the Year award for two years running he responded:

“What makes this award so special is that it’s voted for by the fans, and each game I try to give 100% for them and the club, so to be recognised in this way is very humbling indeed.

Top of the Tree: Rockin' Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

Top of the Tree: Rockin’ Robin Thompson with the first of his Player of the Year awards

“It goes without saying I’m immensely proud to captain a club that I’ve been at not just for my professional career, but for my Centre of Excellence years and youth development too. I take the role extremely seriously – working hard to ensure the team morale is high – so that this team gives back to the fans and the club.”

Giving back, as he puts it, is clearly very much at the forefront of the man’s mind as he is also an ambassador for the girls’ Centre of Excellence as he “feel(s) it’s important to show them I was in a similar position once, and with perseverance they could be in my boots one day too”.

Said perseverance and more importantly hard work have reaped the awards for “Thommo”, something he did not forget as he recalled the time he first put pen to paper on a professional deal for the Wiltshire side in 2009.

“When I think back to to when I first signed my professional deal this club had a very different ethos in developing young players. The average age of the first team was around 26 and not many players remained at the club past their scholar.

“While there were occasions of concern and anxiety (that he would never get his chance at Swindon), I had a very strong support network around me and that helped me to keep focused and determined to break into the Swindon Town first team.

Interest from Premier League teams Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur around that time did not distract him either.

“One thing I have learned is to keep attention focused on my game and, at that point in particular, leave off-field discussions to my parents and third parties.

“It’s often seen where youngsters leave lower league teams to join top flight clubs and too often it’s unsuccessful. Therefore, while it’s always flattering to have interest from these sorts of clubs, the last thing I wanted to do was get carried away so I was committed to establishing myself at Swindon.”

That sort of attitude will be music to the ears of many a Swindon Town fan I’m sure. The future of SN1 is in a safe pair of feet with Nathan Thompson with a wise and selfless head on those young shoulders too.

Follow me on Twitter: @BenjaminWillsSJ

Vote for me in the Football Blogging Awards: http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/about/categories/best-young-football-blogger/

Arsenal must toughen up to become a top side again

As a result of their 2-0 loss away to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal have now gone 14 games without being able to defeat a side in the previous season’s top four.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa provided the goals while the away side did not even fashion a shot on target at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal have been bullied by the top sides in recent seasons. Chelsea have notched eight goals and conceded none in the last two meetings between the sides, Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at Anfield last season, Manchester City won 6-3 at the Etihad and even David Moyes’ under performing Manchester United side took four points off their old adversary in the 2013/14 campaign.

Many suggest the reason behind this is that Arsenal get out-thought in midfield, esteemed pundit Gary Neville labelled them “confused” after their 3-0 loss away at Everton in April.

“Arsenal become so confused by it, if you’re going to defend in a four-four-two system you need legs and you need discipline, everything this Arsenal team didn’t have.

“They don’t understand how to defend a cross, they don’t understand the fact that when a left sided player goes across to the left side, the midfield player comes across.

“This is why Arsenal will never move forwards playing attacking players with attacking mindsets”

The likes of Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and Gilberto Silva who were all so prominent in the 2003/04 “Invincibles” side are long gone and have been replaced by a new brand of midfielder who play a with a delicate passing style.

Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are the three players most likely to provide bite in the middle but Wilshere is too often sidelined and it is no secret that Wenger is looking for a new defensive midfielder.

Happier times: Arsenal haven't quite been the same since Viera's departure.

Happier times: Arsenal haven’t quite been the same since Viera’s departure.

Sami Khedira and William Carvalho were both heavily linked to a move to the Emirates but neither signed on the dotted line at the North London club.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all added top class defensive midfield players in the shape of Nemanja Matic, Fernando and Daley Blind respectively.

Arsene Wenger’s outfit are already nine points behind the league leaders only seven games in, only two of which have been won along with four draws.

Manchester United 2-1 Everton

Manchester United overcame Everton 2-1 at Old Trafford to secure back to back home league wins for the first time since November 2013.

Louis Van Gaal’s marquee summer signings won the game for his side with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao scoring either side of Steven Naismith’s header.

Di Maria opened the scoring with 27 minutes played, sweeping in from just inside the area, assisted by Juan Mata after Phil Jagielka could not efficiently clear a cross from the right.

Naismith lost his marker Rafael to head home Everton’s equalizer from Leighton Baines’ cross 11 minutes into the second half but Falcao’s first goal for Manchester United seven minutes later proved to be the winner.

The Colombian was on his toes to pounce on Di Maria’s low shot and beat Tim Howard who had little chance of keeping it out.

Angel of the North: Di Maria celebrates his goal.

Angel of the North: Di Maria celebrates his goal.

It could have been an entirely different story however as Baines had a penalty saved in first half stoppage time.

Tony Hibbert was brought down in the box by Luke Shaw but David De Gea saved the spot-kick which was too near the centre of the goal.

United were worthy of their win however, putting Everton on the back foot from the off. Howard having to deny a Falcao header just four minutes in.

They started the second half with the same velocity, Di Maria’s miscued shot was almost turned in by Falcao from close range but there was too much speed on it.

Everton did fashion chances of their own however. Jagielka had a header cleared off the line by Falcao from a corner before a late flurry of chances.

Substitute Leon Osman forced a superb save by De Gea in the closing stages before fellow second half sub Bryan Oviedo’s effort from the edge of box was somehow tipped over the bar by the Spaniard.

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, McNair, Rojo, Shaw (Blackett ’71), Blind, Valencia (Fellaini ’78), Di Maria, Mata, Falcao (Wilson ’73), Van Persie

Subs not used:  Lindegaard, Thorpe, Fletcher, Januzaj

Everton: Howard, Hibbert (Browning ’77), Jagielka, Stones, Baines, Barry, Besic, Pienaar (Oviedo ’64), McGeady (Osman ’77), Naismith, Lukaku

Subs not used: Joel, Gibson, Eto’o, Alcaraz

Man of the match: Angel Di Maria

Roy Hodgson must start picking England squad on merit to win back belief in fans

Roy Hodgson has named his 23 man squad for England’s upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Estonia and San Marino and while some promising players have made the squad, there are some still waiting in the wings. 

England fans are growing ever more impatient with their national side following a poor World Cup and have shown that with their feet. Just over 40,000 turned up for a home friendly against Norway, in which England limped to a 1-0 win via a penalty against a side then 33 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.

Saido Berahino is the top English scorer in the early stages of this Premier League season with four goals in six games but will not be joining up with the Three Lions despite Daniel Sturridge’s absence from the squad with injury.

Nathan Dyer of Swansea, who are flying high in fifth, also misses out, being snubbed by Tottenham’s Andros Townsend. Dyer has netted three goals in three games this season while Townsend has zero in two.

Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone, FA Cup finalists with Hull City last season, find themselves without a spot in the squad again as well.

Positive steps have been made however with the inclusions of Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Gibbs and Jonjo Shelvey.

However, the inclusion of Rickie Lambert may have annoyed a few as he is mostly used as a substitute now he is at Liverpool and the former Southampton striker will be 34 when it is time to jet off to France.

England squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City)

Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), John Stones (Everton)

Midfielders: Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Welbeck (Arsenal)

Capital One Cup Third Round Draw

Capital One Cup holders Manchester City host Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in the third round while last year’s runners up Sunderland have been drawn at home to Stoke City.

The most frequent winners of the League Cup Liverpool will play Middlesbrough at Anfield as they hope to win the competition for a ninth time while Arsenal have to face Southampton in one of the five all Premier League face-offs.

Elsewhere MK Dons’ 4-0 win over Manchester United has been rewarded with a home tie against fellow League One side Bradford City who defeated Yorkshire rivals Leeds.

Draw in full:

Chelsea vs Bolton
Arsenal vs Southampton
West Brom vs Hull City
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle United
Leyton Orient vs Sheffield United
Cardiff City vs AFC Bournemouth
Sunderland vs Stoke
Derby County vs Reading
Liverpool vs Middlesbrough
MK Dons vs Bradford City
Manchester City vs Sheffield Wednesday
Burton Albion vs Brighton and Hove Albion
Swansea City vs Everton
Shrewsbury Town vs Norwich City
Fulham vs Doncaster Rovers
Tottenham vs Nottingham Forest

2014/15 Premiership prediction

1) Chelsea
——————————————–
2) Manchester City
3) Manchester United
4) Arsenal
———————————————
5) Liverpool
6) Everton
7) Tottenham Hotspur
———————————————
8) Newcastle United
9) Swansea City
10) Sunderland
11) Stoke City
12) West Ham United
13) Southampton
14) Queens Park Rangers
15) Aston Villa
16) West Bromwich Albion
17) Crystal Palace
——————————————–
18) Hull City
19) Leicester City
20) Burnley

QPR look to lead race for Cardiff’s Caulker

Newly promoted Premiership side Queens Park Rangers hope to beat a number of established top flight clubs to the signing of Steven Caulker according to the Express.

Caulker, 22, is also attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Southampton following Cardiff City’s relegation back to the Championship.

The Cardiff defender is reportedly most keen on a switch to Goodison Park.

Southampton are believed to lodge interest in the former Tottenham man should they lose Dejan Lovren this transfer window while Arsenal and Liverpool want to add more English players to their squads.

QPR however will be hoping their ability to offer a lucrative wage will be enough to bring Caulker back to the capital.

Harry Redknapp’s side were promoted to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs this season thanks to Bobby Zamora’s last minute winner against Derby at Wembley.

Change needed for England? Again?

Following what looks to be England’s latest failing at a major tournament, there are yet again calls for major overhaul.

After the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where England crashed out in the last 16 with a 4-1 hammering by rivals Germany, the Three Lions were encouraged to base their style on the tiki-taka of Spain who went on to win the coveted trophy.

St George’s Park was built with this philosophy grained into it and the effects have been predicted to come to fruition for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The problem now however is that tiki-taka looks tiki-toast after Spain themselves were dumped out the group stages this summer by The Netherlands and Chile.

To Roy Hodgson’s credit, England did play the positive attacking football in their opener against Italy and were arguably the better side but Uruguay was a different story as static, nervous England seemed to be back as the pressure looked to have got to them.

England need to create their own identity, possibly starting with a new Captain.

Steven Gerrard has come into particular light as the 34-year-old has probably waved goodbye to the World Cup due to his age and it did not end on a high, his header setting up Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez’s winner to all but send England home.

Liverpool’s iconic hero has been a loyal servant to his country with some fantastic highs including scoring the equalizer in England’s famous 1-5 win over Germany in 2001, scoring a brilliant goal against Trinidad and Tobago at World Cup 2006 and of course his crucial World Cup qualifying goals against the likes of Croatia for 2010 and Poland for 2014.

Along with this though, he has had his lows including a dodgy back-pass at Euro 2004 against France which led to Thierry Henry being fouled for Zinedine Zidane’s winning penalty as well as the Uruguay gaffe.

If Gerrard is replaced, either by choice through International retirement, or by force as Hodgson continues to build for the future, who could replace him?

Joe Hart: The England goalkeeper would be a popular choice among fans as he is one of few England players who has a safe spot in Hodgson’s starting eleven.

Two time Premiership winner with Manchester City, Hart, has established himself as England’s number one after Robert Green’s high profile error against the United States at the last World Cup and then number two David James has since retired.

Hart is a known leader on the pitch, often seen barking instructions from his penalty box and is refreshingly honest in interviews, something that adheres to England supporters as he is one of very few players who embodies himself among fans as “one of them”.

It is a myth that England players do not care about their national side as much as the fans but Hart is a rare example of someone who truly proves this. Perfect Captain material.

Wearing his Hart on his shoulder: England's number one.

Wearing his Hart on his sleeve: England’s number one.

Gary Cahill: John Terry’s partner in the heart of Chelsea’s defense is starting to emerge from the former England Captain’s shadow.

Since joining Stamford Bridge from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has blossomed working with Terry and has picked up plenty more England caps to boot as he ‘s built up a solid partnership with Everton’s Phil Jagielka.

Along with this, Cahill has similar personality traits to his colleague such as on-pitch leadership and an equally similar playing style. The 28-year-old is often seen putting his body on the line for his team much like Terry (“Superman” dive vs Slovenia esque) in true English lion-heart style, something the Three Lions have missed since Terry’s acrimonious departure from the national fold.

Another positive of Cahill’s, he also does not come with the baggage of John Terry with his personal life stories of affairs and racist allegations.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

Wayne Rooney: Expected to be the bookies and media favourite to replace Gerrard. The England poster boy is undoubtedly the star man.

94 caps and 40 goals would be an impressive return by anyone’s standard but the main criticism of “Wazza” is that he does not turn up on the big stage.

The Manchester United forward, 28, has only scored six goals in major tournaments (four at Euro 2004 where he was just 18, one at Euro 2012 which was a header from two yards against Ukraine, and his leveler against Uruguay) – his first World Cup goal at the third attempt.

Criticism of his attitude would also be a harm to him, frequent contract issues with his club where he seems to be constantly demanding more money does not portray him in a good light.

Many also believe that we have never seen what Rooney is truly capable of, citing that if he had more drive and determination he could have been one of the best players in the world, possibly even ever.

Rooney’s rant into a camera following a 0-0 draw with Algeria at the last World Cup will also live long in the memory of many an England supporter. “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s what loyal support is”, is not a sentence that endears you to fans well.

Despite all this though, Rooney is still seen as the man to lead England. Why? Because he is England’s best player and, after all, isn’t that what the Captain should be?

Wayne's World: England's next captain?

Wayne’s World: England’s next captain?

Ghana 1-2 USA

A very early goal from Clint Dempsey and a very late goal from John Brookes Junior won the United States of America their first match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side could not have started better, after just 29 seconds they were ahead. USA burst forward through Clint Dempsey who darted past John Boye with a tidy nutmeg, taking one more touch and then firing low and hard past Adam Kwarasey in off the post.

It was the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history, 19 seconds slower than Hakan Suker’s strike for Turkey in 2002.

Dempsey became the first American to score at three successive World Cups.

Ghana leveled eight minutes before the end thanks to Andre Ayew scoring with the outside of his boot following a Sulley Muntari set-up with a cheeky back heel.

John Brookes Junior scored the dramatic late winner with a powerful downward header with four minutes left on the clock. The German born defender with his first International goal to send USA level on points with his native country in Group E.

USA were dealt a blow after twenty minutes though when Jozy Altidore was stretchered off with a strained left hamstring he picked up while running that put the rest of his tournament in serious doubt.

Goalscorer Dempsey was clattered soon after – taking a boot to the face – a nosebleed followed but, unlike Altidore, could carry on.

Star Spangled Start: USA score in seconds.

Star Spangled Start: USA score in seconds.

Just before that however Ghana started to threaten, first Christian Atsu curled wide and then Asamoah Gyan stung the palms of Tim Howard with a shot from long range on 32 minutes that Everton stopper did well to keep out

The second half started how the first finished – with Ghana on the front foot. Muntari wasn’t far off with a powerful drive and Gyan headed over soon after.

Gyan was largely wasteful throughout, screwing another chance wide on the hour mark.

The Black Stars will feel a slight sense of misfortune at full time as they had 21 shots to America’s eight but they just were not clinical enough and were duly punished.

America meanwhile go into a crucial match against Portugal knowing they are capable of winning games without particularly playing well and may take confidence from the 2002 in South Korea/Japan where they overcame Portugal’s so called “Golden Generation 3-2. A side that included the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Sergio Conceicao.