I recently had the pleasure of doing a question and answers session with Tom Mallows of Royal Blue Mersey, SB Nation's Everton blog. We discussed the upcoming FA Cup 4th round match between our teams at Goodison Park, how we thought our teams were doing, and even sketched out transfer wishlists. Head on over to RBM for my responses to his questions; his answers to mine are after the jump.
GM: Everton have pulled off some good results so far this season - beating Manchester City in Manchester and the thumping home win over Liverpool were particularly impressive, as were the comebacks against Manchester United and Liverpool at Anfield. Not everyone can claim points when they visit Stamford Bridge either. But they've been really inconstant as well - what're your thoughts on the shape of the season so far?
TM: Hugely frustrating. We have the basis of a decent side but the combination of having a paper-thin squad, too many out-of-form players and the lack of a proven goalscorer means we are playing nowhere near our potential.
Our results against the ‘top clubs’ are encouraging but they are mainly due to the fact we can sit back, soak up pressure and hit on the break. We are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to hanging onto a lead for dear life. But when the tables are turned and clubs come to Goodison and defend we struggle to break them down – hence the poor results against Wolves, Wigan, West Brom and West Ham.
GM: Steven Pienaar was out of contract in the summer and thus almost destined to move, but can you explain his decision in going to Tottenham, where he appears likely to permanently be a squad player? He didn't seem the type to be happy with sitting on the bench for a few years, and he's not beating out Gareth Bale on their left wing anytime ever. What gives with that?
TM: Well the extra £10,000 a week he is getting may help with the bench warming! I hold no grudges against Pienaar though as he has always given his all for the club even during the past few weeks when his future was up in the air. I think he has compared the two clubs and seen one that is going places and one that is on the slide. At 29 he only has one big move left in him and he probably thought Spurs are his best chance of playing Champions League football - The likes of United or Arsenal weren’t interested in him and even if they were he would most certainly be on the bench.
True, he may not play on the left but his ability to play all across the midfield means he may play more than expected. I just wish we could have matched his ambitions because I’m confident he would have signed a new deal if we had.
GM: After breaking into the top four some seasons ago Everton seemed to be on the verge of something special. Since then, they haven't really grown at all while their immediate competition has. What do you think has been going on with the club, and is David Moyes the man to take you higher?
TM: Though many Evertonians disagree I think David Moyes is a fantastic manager and the right man for the club. However, he has not had the financial backing to take the club on. If you compare us to someone like Spurs, a few years ago we were considered their equals and actually finished above them three years in a row. But while Redknapp has had the money to continually add to the squad Moyes has always had to sell to buy. The time to push on was after the 2009 Cup Final when a few quality additions would have completed the side. Instead we had to sell Joleon Lescott against Moyes’ wishes and left him days to bring in re-enforcements. This season Moyes has had no money whatsoever and once more will have to sell to buy.
The board have a lot to answer for in this. The chairman, Bill Kenwright, is an Everton fan and continually says the club is for sale as he has no money to take the club forward. But he says there is just no-one out there willing to buy the club who has the best interests of the club at heart. Us fans are left wondering whether that is true or he is just grimly hanging onto power, suffocating the club in the process.
GM: Same question as what you gave me (it's a good one!). What three players would you dispatch from Everton's ranks, and who would you bring in to replace them?
TM: Given our lack of money I think we have to take some risks by selling some of our big names (who still carry some transfer value) and bring in some younger, cheaper replacements.
I would first sell Jonny Heitinga, who is fishing for a move anyway, and bring in Roger Johnson of Birmingham. He has proven to be an astute buy by Alex McLeish and comes across as a competent Premier League defender.
Despite the next question I would sell Bilyaletdinov, who we could get 7-8 million for, and bring in Matt Jarvis of Wolves. Jarvis offers pace and trickery on the wing and though would be considered a risk would cost a lot less than what we would get for Bilyaletdinov, meaning we can pay off some of our debts with the proceeds.
I would also sell Phil Neville, who if rumours are to be believed is set to move to Spurs anyway. As well as servicing debt I would hope to still have some cash from those three moves and spend the rest of the it on a striker.
I would love to see someone like Andy Carroll, a young up and coming forward and one in the old-school, Duncan Ferguson mould – who is a legend at Goodison Park!
GM: My favourite Everton player, and it's not even close, is a man named Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (I can even spell his name right without looking it up!). He's got a brilliant name and a brilliant left foot, and basically I think he's amazing. So why isn't he playing?
TM: Far too inconsistent is probably the simple answer. Like many players new to the Premier League he appeared surprised by the pace of the game and the lack of time on the ball last season. But even after a year he still seems too lightweight and unable to keep possession. His crossing can be either woeful or majestic, as can his shooting. But with Pienaar - who built up a great understanding with Baines on the left wing - departing, now is his big chance to prove his worth – starting with Saturday!
GM: Jack Rodwell is a future England mainstay, yes or no? Discuss. (Graham's note: The answer is yes)
TM: Yes, definitely yes. I tell anyone who will listen that he will be a future England captain. His composure on the ball and maturity for such a young man is a talent you cannot teach. He is the sort of player who can dictate the flow of a game, maintaining possession and building attacks from the back, as well as having a decent shot on him as Man United saw last season. Whether he will be wearing an Everton top when he does play for England though remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.
GM What was your reaction when you saw that you'd drawn Chelsea for the fifth round? What do you think of the Blues this season?
TM: My first thought was "oh no, not again!" Had we been away I wouldn’t have given us a chance but as we are at home, given our decent record against the top sides this season we have a chance, provided we can keep things tight at the back. I am less confident though after watching the Bolton v Chelsea game on Monday!
As for Chelsea’s season, well like most people I am wondering just what went wrong! You looked set to walk to the title but a dramatic collapse in the autumn means even 4th place isn’t guaranteed. From an outsider’s view it seems internal politics has disrupted the squad and management. How much interference Abramovich has I don’t know, but when you have spent that much money I guess you can do what you like!
Injuries haven’t helped either. The core of your side – Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba - have all been out for long spells. If they return to full fitness and form then you can still challenge for the title and win the FA Cup…again.
GM: How will Everton deal with Chelsea's major threats on Saturday? Are we going to see a standard lineup from the Toffees, or will they focus their energies on the league?
TM: Moyes always plays his strongest team, whatever the competition, so don’t expect the reserves to play (not that we have that a big squad anyway!). I expect it to be passionate and not very pretty. Defenders Heitinga and Distin will make things tough for your forwards while Fellaini will look to disrupt the play at every opportunity. Chelsea will have to win the battle first in order to be able to play football.
A lot will rest on the first goal. If we get it than I can see us hanging on to a scrappy 1-0 win. If Chelsea get it, the way our confidence is, you could score three or four.
GM: Any prediction on how the game will turn out?
TM: Hmmm my heart says a narrow 1-0 home win for the reasons discussed above. But after watching the way you dismantled Bolton, who are a good side this season, I fear for us, especially confidence being so low. But trying to be positive I am going to go for a 1-0 home win with Jermaine Beckford getting the only goal.