What The Papers Say - 31 October
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DAVID MOYES has warned any Everton players shirking their responsibilities will be in for a “fright” once the club’s walking wounded start returning to fitness.
The Goodison outfit aim to arrest a run of three successive defeats when they host Aston Villa in the Premier League this afternoon.
With injury ravaging Moyes’s squad to the extent he was without 10 senior professionals for Tuesday’s Carling Cup defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, those players that have remained fit have almost become automatic choices by default.
And the Everton manager has warned he will not hesitate in wielding the axe on anyone who has been taking their place for granted.
“I would hate to think that was the way our boys thought, but subconsciously maybe there is an element of that,” said Moyes. “And if that is the case they are going to be in for a fright when the injury situation changes.
“If we don’t get performances out of them then ultimately they will be changed. I’m like an elephant, I don’t forget. I don’t forget if people don’t perform and they let me down. We all need to be on it.
“It has always been my policy not to talk about the players who are injured and talk about the ones who are fit, and the players who are available need to stand up for themselves.
“A lot of them are playing out of position and doing jobs that are unusual for them but I can’t make excuses, they’ve got to play better no matter where they play.
“We did it last year. We probably had our best spell last season when we had no centre-forwards and people playing out of position, so why should it be any different this year?
“I try not to look for excuses. I try to make people accountable for whatever job they do.”
Leighton Baines and Joseph Yobo are likely to ease Moyes’s injury headache by returning to a defence that has shipped 10 goals in their last three games, having recovered from calf and head problems respectively.
And a late decision will be made on the fitness of Louis Saha, who was forced off at half-time at White Hart Lane with a sore calf.
Everton are aiming for a first league victory since their 1-0 triumph at Portsmouth on September 26 and have been without a triumph in any competition since beating BATE Borisov in the UEFA Cup five days later.
And while an increasingly leaky defence has attracted much of the criticism, Moyes believes the blame should also be shouldered further up the field.
“We haven’t defended as well as we’ve done in the past,” he said. “Over the years we’ve been pretty solid and hard to play against, but I also think we’ve missed a lot of chances.
“We missed a few chances against Stoke to have won the game, we had one or two against Wolves and even against Tottenham the other night.
“It is at both ends at the moment. We are getting opportunities and not taking them, and we are not defending well when we’ve had to.
“Everyone goes through spells when they are not playing well or lacking in confidence but I don’t necessarily think that is us.
“We’ve have played okay in some of the games. The first half in Benfica we played well, we played quite well at Bolton with the exception of the opening 15 minutes and, while I wouldn’t say we played well at Tottenham, we were never really out the game. We had a few opportunities.”
Phil Jagielka and Phil Neville are close to resuming non-contact training but both remain some weeks away from a first-team return.
Not every storm cloud evaporated over Merseyside last Sunday. While Rafael Benítez bid adieu to another Anfield crisis with victory over Manchester United, David Moyes was digesting an 86th-minute defeat at Bolton that left Everton three points above the relegation zone. A third away defeat in six days followed at Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup. Not for the first time, a season where Moyes had envisaged taking the next step is being dismissed as a wasted opportunity and, unlike his Liverpool rival, he has yet to conjure a contrary response.
Aston Villa are the perfect opponents to heighten Moyes' worries at Goodison Park today. For the past two seasons Martin O'Neill's team have strengthened as the Scot would have wished, flirted with Champions League qualification, but ultimately finished one place below Everton. This term began with both clubs harbouring similar expectations and problems, Moyes and O'Neill embarking on a late transfer trolley dash for defenders, but their paths have since veered in opposite directions.
"I can't see this season as a lost cause," the Everton manager said. "I get the feeling people will see our season as a lost cause because of the improvement made by Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Sunderland, but I can't. Maybe, without knowing, we are in the process of building a new side. Maybe we are building again and are in the throes of transition just now. It might well be that we finish mid-table but it would be wrong of me to have that as my ambition. My ambition is to finish as high as I possibly can. That hasn't altered."
Moyes' defiance has not been matched by his players in this campaign, one that opened with a 6-1 humiliation at home to Arsenal in the midst of the Joleon Lescott transfer saga, but which has yielded two more points than at the same stage last season. Everton were also out of the Carling Cup and Uefa Cup at this point 12 months ago, before finishing fifth again and reaching the FA Cup final.
Injuries are the principal reason for the stalled progress, with 10 or 11 casualties the recent norm, and why Moyes refused to lambast the inexperienced and disjointed team that slumped to a record 5-0 European defeat at Benfica. It is not the only factor, however. A newly assembled defence, basic individual errors and the poor form of last season's key contributors, such as the £15m record signing Marouane Fellaini, have added to the malaise.
"I definitely expect more from the players available," Moyes added. "A lot of them are playing out of position and doing jobs that are unusual for them but I can't make excuses, they've got to play better no matter where they play.
"We did it last year. We probably had our best spell last season when we had no centre-forwards and people playing out of position, so why should it be any different this year? I try not to look for excuses. I try to make people accountable for whatever job they do. We haven't defended as well as we've done in the past. Over the years we've been pretty solid and hard to play against, but I also think we've missed a lot of chances. It is at both ends at the moment.
"We're always looking for a good result and if it can turn your fortune, then that is what we would like it to do. This week has not been particularly good and we were disappointed, but probably the bigger disappointment was that we didn't take full points against Wolves and Stoke at home."
The Everton manager has a chilling warning for any senior player who feels his position is secure due to the size of the club's casualty list. Moyes said: "I would hate to think that was the way our boys thought but subconsciously maybe there is an element of that. And if that is the case they are going to be in for a fright when the injury situation changes. I'm like an elephant, I don't forget. I don't forget if people don't perform and they let me down."
On paper at least, Moyes arguably has the strongest squad of his Everton tenure at his disposal but denies any claim he is under added pressure as a result. "Managers are always under pressure to get a result but, in my role as a football manager at this club, I don't feel under pressure, no," he states.
"It's about that Saturday night feeling. If you've won you can enjoy a meal with the wife and a bottle of wine if you fancy it, or there's the alternative, which is to pull the curtains and get a Chinese in and hope nobody sees you when you've lost. There have been a few nights with the curtains drawn this season, that's for sure."
THE recession may continue to bite, but David Moyes would like nothing more than to deny his local Chinese takeaway some welcome income.
And every Evertonian will be similarly hopeful their manager steers clear of the prawn crackers and spring rolls this evening.
It’s nothing against Oriental cuisine, however. Merely an insight of how the life of a Premier League manager can by influenced by results on the pitch.
With Everton having gone five games without a win, Moyes admits it has been some time since he has been able to enjoy the “Saturday night feeling” of revelling in victory.
The visit of Aston Villa this afternoon gives the Goodison outfit a chance to arrest a slump that saw them lose three games in six days, the most recent of which saw them slip out of the Carling Cup at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.
And Moyes does not want to be left picking up the telephone and ordering his tea once again.
“Managers are always under pressure to get a result,” says the Everton manager. “That is my job and there is nobody who hurts more than me, and nobody who examines himself more than me, when we don’t get them.
“Whatever anyone thinks or says, I have already thought about it and tried to correct it.
“I used to talk about the Saturday night feeling. If you’ve won you can enjoy a meal with the wife and a bottle of wine if you fancy it or there’s the alternative, which is to pull the curtains and get a Chinese in and hope nobody sees you when you’ve lost.
“There have been a few nights with the curtains drawn this season that’s for sure, but that’s football management. As a manager you want the positive Saturday night feeling more often.”
Such positivity has been sadly lacking around Finch Farm during recent weeks, with a lengthy injury list finally starting to bite into Everton’s ambitions for the campaign.
The Goodison outfit are languishing in 14th place, although it was from that position exactly 12 months ago that Everton began their steady climb up the table before securing a successive fifth-place finish.
And Moyes says: “I can’t see this season as a lost cause. Our points total is very similar to this time last year. I get the feeling people will see our season as a lost cause because of the improvement by Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Sunderland, but I can’t.
“Maybe, without knowing, we are in the process of building a new side. Maybe we are building again. The injured players might not be the same when they come back, who knows? We are in the throes of transition just now.
“It might well be that we finish mid-table but it would be wrong of me to have that as my ambition. My ambition is to finish as high as I possibly can. That hasn’t altered. We are the kind of footballing side that could easily go on a run and I hope that’s about to start.
“First of all I’ve got to get back to a side that is resilient and hard to beat, and much tougher to play against than we are at the moment. At the moment I think we are too easy to play against.”
The hectic schedule – Everton are coming towards the end of a period of seven games in 23 days – has meant there has been little time to work on regaining those obdurate traits.
“I’ll not make any excuses for it but where do you get the time between these last few games?” says Moyes. “The back four in the last few games, with Tony Hibbert having to play at left-back, is not the back four of the last few years. If we can get back to a resemblance of normality I would hope that would give us some stability.
“The hardest part is when you go out on the training field and have only a small number of players to work with.”
Among those to have found their form questioned this season is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian’s preparations were hampered by a summer virus, and he has taken time to get into his stride.
However, there have been signs during the past week – most notably with his fine goal in the defeat at Bolton Wanderers last Sunday – that Fellaini is rediscovering his mojo.
And Moyes says: “I don’t think his form was great at the start but I think it has improved in recent weeks and he’s doing better in the games. I know what people were saying after Benfica where he had a good first half but obviously you have to play well the entire game.
“There are signs of his form coming back. He scored at the weekend and he got nine goals for us last season which were all very important. Him and Tim Cahill are vital to our goals tally.
“Tim had a few chances against Stoke too. They are both important to us and, strangely, they are both probably at their best when playing higher up the pitch and closer to the top end than the back.
“Sometimes they can impact on each other. Right now we don’t have the option to make too many changes but I think we can play them together. Their best spell last season was when they both played together as unorthodox strikers.”