Following yet another disappointing home result on Saturday, we’re back with ‘The Opposition Opinion’ ahead of tonight’s crucial clash at St James’ Park, bringing you the thoughts of an Everton fan prior to the big kick off against Big Sams blues.
Here we’re looking to bring you a view from the other side before each and every game this season, interviewing an opposing fan to gain their opinions on NUFC, some insights into their own club and their thoughts on of our upcoming match.
This week I’ve been speaking to Will (@ProudWill) – a good friend of mine and a big Everton fan. Here’s what he’s had to say following our chat ahead of tonight’s game at St James’ Park:
Q1) What have you made of your season so far? I’m keen to know what sort of shape you feel you’re coming into tonight’s game in?
“It’s a funny one that question. A few weeks ago, when it looked like we may even end up as low in the managerial barrel as Martin O’Neill, I would have said it the worst season in living memory, certainly since I don’t remember the great escape of 1997.
“Koeman managed to mess up what seemed like his wonderful project quicker than it seemed to get put together and he rightly had to go. Games against Burnley and Atlanta early in season confirmed that he was destined for Ajax again and not Barcelona like we all believed.
“Unsworth was never more than transitional. I don’t think he will be ready for the first team job for a while. Maybe after Big Sams successor.
“In years gone by I would criticise teams managed by Sam Allardyce, rightly so, but I’m trying to get behind it now he’s with us and he’s actually done a pretty good job of making the right noises. Using ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ is only a minor detail, but he’s managed to connect with the fans which I doubted in his ability to do.
“Sundays result will only help with that. I think we are coming into this one in very different shape to pre-December. We look organised defensively, as you would expect, but we where leaking goals quicker than when Richard Wright and Paul Gerrard were in goal which is alarming enough.
“Hopefully the beginners luck/good start Allardyce has made will carry on through the busy festive period.”
Q2) What do you make of our start to the season & Newcastle’s current side? Who do you see as our threats & is there any weak links in our team that you feel you can exploit?
“Similar to us, your start to season has been a mixed bag. I read (and sent you) a stat claiming that, statistically speaking, NUFC had the easiest start to season this season and EFC had the most challenging. But you did start well. Goals always looked like they would be an issue but I was, and still, am expecting you to comfortably stay up.
“Injuries and Jonjo Shelvey haven’t helped your cause, all this off-field speculation and uncertainty looks to be having an effect now with a very poor run of results for your boys. I imagine Rafa will be right up for facing his old Merseyside rivals as well, so I expect he’ll rally the troops.
“I think your strengths lie in hard work, Merino if he turns up, which he’s struggled to do since the injury and the potential of going a goal ahead. With the day extra rest and home advantage a lead at half time could give you a massive edge. I believe your current side leaves a lot to be desired but it’s also good enough to stay up and be safe by mid April.
“As for your weaknesses, I imagine that lack of goals may be an issue particularly considering we have conceded 1 in 4 – with that 1 coming against the unstoppable “fab 4”.
“I think we could also exploit some surprising defensive uncertainty in Yedlin, Manquillo and the surprisingly fragile Lejeune.”
Q3) Likewise, who do you feel are the strengths & weaknesses in your Everton side – any players for us to watch out for tonight for any particular reason?
“Again, massively different answer than if this was a month ago. A month ago I would have just said ‘Idrissa Gana Gueye is boss, defensive is awful’ and then answered the next question. But now we appear to be organised and have momentum. I think that will be our key. We seem to have picked up some real momentum over last 4 games.
“Dominic Calvert-Lewin (striker) has been excellent, displaying some very intelligent play to draw fouls…”
“But in all seriousness, I think Jordan Pickford is our main strength. As I’m sure you lot won’t want to admit given he’s a former Sunderland man, I believe he should be England’s number 1. He was our best business of summer by a mile.
“Hopefully a returning Baines and Keane will shore things up even more and Sigurdsson can make something happen with his magic which we are finally beginning to see.”
“Big weakness is Cuco Martina. The lad is awful at right back, let alone left back. Not his fault he’s out of position, but shows that £140million still couldn’t entirely sort the squad out. A lack of cover for Baines and Coleman is daft seen as though we have 3/4 young full backs on loan to championship clubs.
“I also think we could struggle to score if your defence plays like it can. “
Q4) What sort of game do think it will be and how do you see it panning out? Score prediction?
“I think it will be quiet first 30 with neither team able to concede.
“We need to keep the crowd quiet and hopefully grow into the game. If your fans get restless the team tends to get more reckless and make mistakes.
“Newcastle 0-2 Everton. Both goals in second half.”
Q5) How do you see both sides faring over the remainder of the season? Predictions for rough league position?
“I think the best is yet to come from both teams. As you’ve mentioned in a later question, I firmly believe Everton are the 7th best team in the country and I still think this is where we will finish.”
“I think I had you lot as 13th-15th at start of season and I think that will be about right. Maybe 15th with no January investment and 13th with some.
“A bit of Premier league experience is desperately needed on the pitch. Rafa can only take this team so far. You need playing staff who can control a game but I don’t have a clue where that will come from in January – you can have sick note McCarthy if you want!?”
“Both clubs desperately need investment in January, which seems mad to say about Moshiri’s big spending blues, but a striker and a full back are so necessary for us in January. Failure to bring them in and I’ll be surprised to see 7th, maybe 9th. But that means Watford or Burnley will probably finish above us and that just feels wrong.
“We should be challenging higher given how much was spent.”
Q6) Many of us NUFC fans were envious of your free spending summer, especially when we watched Rafa receive so little backing from a certain Mike Ashley. On reflection, what do you make of our clubs contrasting levels of investment over the summer?
“Yeah, it’s two ends of the spectrum really isn’t it!”
“Ashley pulled to wool over your eyes with the whole “all the money made from selling players”. Sounds great on paper, but nobody wants the likes of Saviet or Mitrovic.
“I think Ashley’s days are numbered at the club (thank god for you) but because of that I wouldn’t expect any real investment in January. I would hope for a couple of shrewd loan signings at best, but it will be enough to get you over the line.
“You needed big investment, I said to you when we worked together 3 years ago that the best thing to happen to NUFC would be relegation, getting rid of all the dead wood, bringing in some fresh new hungry talent and coming back strong like Southampton did a few years ago. I think that has mostly panned out, except I had a hungry young manager in there, but you’d be better off with Rafa.
“The investment has to come next to establish yourselves again. I always remember Newcastle as the club with the talisman on the pitch in Shearer, but recently that talisman has become the man in the dugout, which is great and all, but it’s the players that win games – and you need to invest in a man who is going to stay at the club and become a legend.
“I know deep down you want that player to Mikel Merino, who appears to be your best bit of summer business, but I honestly don’t think they’re at the club yet. Investment is needed to bring them in.”
“We need the same again over the next 2-3 seasons to possibly begin to challenge the gap between big 6 and the bottom 13 from last season.
“We don’t want to be that club in limbo and money is needed in excess for that to happen. Poor signings will be made, but hopefully a striker (Giroud please) will be the next step.”
Q7) Sam Allardyce – He wasn’t a popular figure during his short time on Tyneside, but has made a habit of keeping teams up – with his time at Sunderland being a rather unfortunate example for us! I’m intrigued to know your thoughts on his appointment? Is it a short-term rescue mission or is this the job he’s been waiting for in the Premier League?
“I don’t think his style of play is popular, certainly with some Everton fans.
“We crave a number 9 who we can adore and a team that will give 100% week in week out. Under Martinez and Koeman we had Lukaku, but not the heart and fight we want. Allardyce should give us the latter and hopefully enough money will give us the number 9.
“I do believe it is the biggest job he’s ever had in the premier league and also the biggest club he’s managed.
“The idea we were in crisis was partly true, partly media hype. Three games later and we are pretty much as close to Spurs as we are to relegation. Doesn’t seem much like a crisis to me?!? But I admit there was a time I was worried.
“Many fans will chalk this one up as desperation and the 18 month contract only backs up their claim. My point of view is that an 12-18 month contract or “rolling” contract is very common in Spain and Italy because clubs want to be able cut and change if it’s not working. Having Allardyce in for that length of time and then giving it to Unsworth would be a step backwards, but if Sam is our insurance policy and then we go big in summer 2019 for a top name after finishing 7th or 8th under Allardyce then it could look like a stroke of genius.
“I don’t think he’ll stay on any longer than this contract. I never expected to see him back in the Premier League after Palace and I must admit I never expected to see him in charge of Everton, but let’s see if it works before we jump after the the gravy down his throat.”
Q8) We spoke at length over the summer about our sides hopes and ambitions ahead of the new season. With Benitez and a Premier League return sealed, I was really hopeful of some decent investment and a team that looked more than good enough to stay up. You saw Everton as comfortably the 7th best side in the league and hoped ‘Ronald Koeman’s Blue Army’ could even make a push to break the top 6 after £140m of summer investment. We’re almost half way into the season now and it’s fair to neither of these things have panned out as we hoped/expected for both our sides. Why do you think that is?
“I don’t think either of our plans worked for very different reasons with some similarities. I think we both expected too much.
“Everton expected a new team to gel immediately and that we wouldn’t miss Lukaku (who despite all his flak recently I still believe is destined for the top). In truth we didn’t gel immediately and we do miss Lukaku, but I think, with time and another couple signings here and there, these problems will go away quickly.
“Our hard start didn’t help and media/fans were quickly to jump on the teams back, rightfully so mind. We spent a lot and it didn’t work out immediately, but I prefer to try and wait longer than 16 league games to judge too much – especially with three different managers.
“I think Allardyce needs a transfer window before we can know how much he’s saved the mess Koeman left us in. Sandro and Klaasen may come good still, they just need time. I seem to remember Christian Eriksen taking time to settle. Maybe Klaasen will have similar transition period coming from the Dutch league to EPL. He and Sandro are still young.
“Sigurdsson is starting to settle now, after being disrupted by the long nature of his transfer and not having a proper preseason with us thanks to early participation of Europa League.”
“As for NUFC, I think there was a massive over-expectation.
“Firstly an over expectation for Rafa to be able to use his experience and talent to bring in some massive names. The amount of you lot who thought you would sign Real Madrid’s Lucas Vasquez or Max Meyer (you know who you are, @HallJackh). Remember, just because players may want to play under Rafa, the club is not obliged to him in any way, which is what I think we saw with Tammy Abrahams going Swansea instead of you lot. No doubt you’re where he’d rather be, but Chelsea would sooner see him at a club where he would be more of a centrepiece at.
“Secondly your very good start contributed to a rise in momentum which is good, but it got SOME fans carried away. This meant when the results have taken a turn – as they will for any newly promoted Championship team regardless of the perceived size of them – the fans will turn as well. Yes you’re in a slump, but the some negativity online is extreme at best. This season should be about nothing other than survival and, for as long as Ashley is at the top, that may stay the same.”
“I hope for you lot Rafa is there for the post-Ashley days. Obviously a failure to bring in a keeper, striker and Premier League experience made life a lot more difficult.
“Again, you sure you don’t want James McCarthy? His hamstrings/knees/legs are fine…I promise.”
9) And finally – if you could make a combined XI from our two squads, what would yours be? (be honest!)
“This is hard because 3 players that would walk into are all Everton and injured but if all were on form and available..
“(4-2-3-1) Pickford – Coleman, Keane, Lascelles, Baines – Gueye, Barkley – Sigurdsson, Rooney, Bolasie – Calvert-Lewin“
A superb insight from Will here, who rarely holds back in our conversations about either club and hasn’t once again here.
A funny season for both so far when you look back at our hopes and ambitions prior to our very different summer transfer windows. It might not be want we like to hear, but Will’s delivered a few home truths on that front – with him being spot on when discussing some fans unrealistic expectations of who Rafa would’ve been able to attract to the club over the summer.
Back to the actual game in hand tonight, it seems pretty clear that Everton aren’t going to be the pushovers they were earlier in the season. As you’d expect with any Big Sam team, they’ll most probably be compact and up for the right – especially on the back of a morale boosting 1-1 draw in the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday.
Be sure to comment below with your thoughts on Will’s assessment and send in any questions you may have for him before tonight’s game.
We’ll be back later this week with the thoughts of an Arsenal fan ahead of Saturday’s trip to Arsenal.
Here’s hoping for a big performance against Big Sams blues tonight – we need it!