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Conservatism vs Adventurism

By Ryan Kelly :  06/01/2011 :  Comments (8) :

On Monday 3rd January, rumours were rife that Everton manager David Moyes had handed in his resignation. Such a development would, perhaps, not have been much of a surprise; with twenty games played Everton, a team with lofty aspirations of a European finish, sat 13th in the table, with a mere 22 points. Added to this fact, there had been speculation of problems in the dressing room?former stalwart, Joseph Yobo, was loaned to Fenerbache, while new players Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Johnny Heitinga, who collectively cost around £15 million, have struggled to get into the Everton first team, fuelling rumours that they may be seeking moves elsewhere.

In the transfer market, Moyes has been financially restricted, meaning that he has been unable to strengthen his squad with established players and instead has been deploying players in unfamiliar positions. Unsurprisingly, amid these rumours and the accompanying flurry of bets, the bookmakers slashed the odds on Moyes leaving Everton. But Moyes did not resign.

There is a tendency in such times of uncertainty for managers to panic and to become ultra conservative. They will stick with what has worked in the past and with the players who have proven that they can deliver, regardless of their form. David Moyes is no different and fans will usually understand the rationale. However, there is a strong case to be made against Moyes?s conservative approach, with particular regard to his recent team selections. With only three senior centre halves in the first team squad and two of them carrying injuries, it seemed as though David Moyes was facing a problem with his defence.

Johnny Heitinga has had a recurring knee injury, while Phil Jagielka recently injured his thigh and with Joseph Yobo on loan at Fenerbache, Sylvain Distin was the only fit centre half ? at least, according to David Moyes. It is quite obvious, from the manner in which Moyes has been talking about his ?defensive crisis?, that the likes of Shane Duffy and Shkodran Mustafi, who are widely considered to be two of the most promising centre backs in Europe, do not even enter the picture when it comes to the first team. For example, when Johnny Heitinga and Phil Jagielka sustained injuries in late December, Moyes expressed the view that he had effectively no cover for centre half:

"I'm not sure about Jags, we are hoping he might not be out too long. He is certainly a doubt for the Birmingham game, as is Johnny Heitinga, so we could have a problem at centre half." (Evertonfc.com, 23.12.10)

The Boxing Day game against Birmingham was postponed, but in the following fixture against West Ham on the 28th, Shane Duffy was included in the match squad, leading fans to think that Moyes was ready to take a chance. But Duffy started on the bench and full back Tony Hibbert, who stands at 5?8?, started alongside Sylvain Distin at centre half. Hibbert had previously lined out at centre half alongside then 17 year old Shane Duffy in the Europa League in games against AEK Athens and BATE Borisov and later played at centre half against Tottenham Hotspur, performing reasonably well. Nevertheless, the game against West Ham finished 1-1, and Tony Hibbert scored an own goal.

In the next game on January 1st, against Stoke, Phil Jagielka, who had previously been ruled out with a long-term thigh injury, remarkably started the game. David Moyes cited Tony Hibbert?s small stature as the reason he decided to play an unfit Jagielka:

"We needed him because otherwise we would have had to come here with Tony Hibbert at centre-half which against their size would have been really difficult." (Liverpool Daily Post, 3.11.1)

If David Moyes preferred to have a player who could win headers against Stoke, he could have played the fully fit 6?4? Shane Duffy, who has shown both at international and club level that he is immensely strong in the air, over a half fit Jagielka or an out-of-position Tony Hibbert ? but Duffy didn?t even make the bench. The Stoke game finished in a 2-0 defeat, with Phil Jagielka scoring an own goal and the question that has been on every Everton fan?s lips is ?Why not play Shane Duffy??.

There are a number of possible reasons why Moyes is reticent about playing Duffy. Having only just turned 19, he lacks crucial competitive experience and according to Alan Stubbs, he has only just found the form and fitness levels that he was at prior to the life-threatening injury he sustained in May. One can understand why a manager would be uneasy about throwing the kid in at the proverbial deep end.

However, despite his age Duffy has shown that he is more than capable of competing at a high level. He made his competitive debut at the age of 17 when he replaced Sylvain Distin against AEK Athens in a Europa League tie, helping Everton to a crucial victory. And a few weeks later, he gave a Man-of-the-Match performance against BATE Borisov, with former Scotland international Pat Nevin highlighting the young defender?s impressive ability to read the game. Added to that, the young Irishman has an abundance of under-age international honours and has already trained with the senior Ireland team. It is no wonder that many Everton fans would like to see Shane Duffy given the chance at centre back ahead of an injured Phil Jagielka or Tony Hibbert.

Then there is Shkodran Mustafi, a highly rated young defender who has forged a formidable partnership with Shane Duffy at the heart of the Everton reserve and youth defence, even helping Neil Dewsnip?s academy team to a remarkable thirteen clean sheets last season. Everton signed the Germany U-19 international from Hamburg, for a relatively substantial fee and it was reported that Hamburg were extremely disappointed to see the young defender leave.

Surely, even in times of crisis, either Duffy or Mustafi should be seen as better options than unfit or out-of-position players? Indeed, if the consequence of sticking with such an attitude yields two own goals and two poor results, when exactly is the right time for Moyes to take a chance?

A perfect example of how a departure (albeit enforced) from conservatism can prove successful came just days after the Stoke game, when Everton beat Tottenham 2-1. With Tim Cahill on international duty, Moyes abandoned his usual 4-5-1 formation and adopted a 4-4-2 formation, with Jermaine Beckford and Luis Saha up front. Saha scored a goal in the opening minutes and Séamus Coleman popped up with another goal to clinch victory. The success of Coleman (and indeed Beckford) is another enduring testament to the rewards of taking chances with talented, if unproven, players. With the transfer window now open again, and Moyes keen to give his prospects loan moves, perhaps the likes of Duffy, Baxter and Mustafi will get their chance to impress potential suitors in the upcoming game against Scunthorpe in the FA Cup.

Reader Comments

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David Price
1   Posted 06/01/2011 at 18:16:22

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Well it makes it a change from "Moyes must go" I guess.

A sentence happily missing from today's feedback on last night's game.

I'm sure these young defenders are being brought on correctly and no doubt lined up to be effective future Everton players, that will re-affirm Moyes's eye for talent again.

Our bold formation, or more to the point our attacking play with pace, was great to see.

The defence looked calm, Heitinga slotting in well. Arteta, who must know his own form, didn't hide and gave a resolute display of determination and at last no little skill.

Saha looked to relish the pace of Beckford and the move for the winning goal would not have happened in a "4-5-1 let's build our attacks slowly" kind of way.

It was attacking football at it's best and it's hard to see the teams who we haven't beaten this season, actually coping with that sort of display.

Moyes got it right and the strange catalyst for this was the enforced absence of Cahill.

Selection problems in February perhaps, let's hope so. Moyes will bring the young lads in when they are ready, for now let's hope he keeps the leash of the current crop and has a go, week-in, week-out.

Roman Sidey
2   Posted 06/01/2011 at 22:17:16

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I agree with the question being asked; "When would have been a better time to blood them?"
Think about a heavy Christmas schedule that no doubt takes it out of the players, and that we, on paper, scored a fairly easy run over the 3 games directly after Christmas - this WAS a good time to give Duffy a game.
What I don't understand, is that if they're not good enough to play on the field, what is even the point of having them on the bench?
Christopher McCullough
3   Posted 06/01/2011 at 23:03:52

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Now that you mention it, Ryan, I'm wondering if the Nigerians at Everton were upset about Moyes's decision to loan Yobo to Fenerbache. Whatever, I know which ones I'd prefer to leave the club.

I, too, wanted Duffy to start the West Ham game but if he is still recovering from a life threatening accident then caution is not only acceptable but prudent.

If Heitinga had've been played in his correct position from the season's beginning who knows where the butterfly affect would have taken the club.

Here's hoping Moyes continues to learn from concrete events. Last night he put square pegs in square holes. Everton's strengths overwhelmed the opponent's strengths.

Let's hope he reevaluates Everton FC in line with the true Evertonian valuation. (A valuation that is strategically lowered by Kenwright and his chums) That is, let's hope he fosters more attacking, beautiful football. Then the trophies will come home.
Chad Schofield
4   Posted 07/01/2011 at 04:29:29

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Christopher, I'm by far not Bill's biggest fan, but I really can't see why he and his 'chums' would/could 'strategically lower the value of the club'... Come on? Why? If they didn't mind losing money then they'd simply drop the asking price rather than damaging their stock.

Anyway, sorry, knackered rambling to what is a good article. It is a shame that Moyes takes an age to change things, including introducing youth, when things aren't working... Having a trip out to warm a bench, while useful to see and familiarise with the first team can be useful, is nothing compared to actually being able to play alongside them. And it can only be frustrating if you're constantly bench warming or not getting a look in when things aren't clickng.
Christopher McCullough
5   Posted 07/01/2011 at 05:34:15

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To clarify the line of reasoning,Chad.

We Evertonians believe nothing but the best is good enough, we want to be the best, we want to watch beautiful football, we are leaders, we don't accept constraints. We are not 'reasonable' when it comes to constraints. We have guts.

Kenwright is hardly the apotheosis of this ethos, the living manifestation of Nil Satus is he? I'm talking about his worldview here. His cheery resignation act filters down through the club like osmosis.

He took charge of a club in the depths of despair, he didn't take any great risk, he doesn't have a dynamic business plan.

Moyes has increased the value of the club. Kenwright has had £££ in his eyes for years.
Michael Brien
6   Posted 07/01/2011 at 14:23:20

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The result and the performance against a very good Tottenham ream were great. Personally I think that if Moyes had shown more adventure in his tactics we would have won some of the games that we have drawn. Apparently the Tottenham game was the first time that we have started with 2 strikers in a Premier league game.

I think the feeling that prevails amongst some Evertonians is that if you dare to be critical of David Moyes then you are guilty of wanting him out. I have never said Moyes Out - more a case of Moyes " Change Your Tactics". I hope that the Tottenham game is a sign that Moyes is prepared to be more adventurous - if it is great but if it isn't then he will be guilty of throwing away a great opportunity. As the saying goes" Fortune favours the brave" now is the time to be brave Mr Moyes.
Chad Schofield
7   Posted 07/01/2011 at 21:15:42

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Ha, right you are Christopher! The thing is that even if Bill was an adonis who healed the sick, had more money to sheik a stick at (sorry) - oh and spent it on the team - was no threat to your missus and bought the pre, during and post-match beers - he still would get stick.

That said, in his current guise as the "apotheosis of this ethos, the living manifestation of Nil Satis" - he does, in my opinion, deserve criticism. And while I would suggest
that it's unfair, if not dangerous, to demonise him to the extent that you seem to be suggesting that he is in some way deliberately devaluing the club - there will be others who would criticise you for giving Kenwright the credit of having a plan - other than not to die.

Some complain that he has not been making any public statements of late when things haven't gone so well, but the minute he says anything he gets berated.

Whether you beleive his shifty backers spit-roast him (metaphorically of course) merrily in the shadows, he's just a blue doing the best he can, he's the anti-Christ who lies on purpose to hise his hidden agenda, he's a cringe-worthy lucky Walter Mitty character or basically a combination of all of these is simply a matter of opinion. But I do feel sorry for him as ultimately he's always going to get shit... I just fail to see why he'd see sense in dliberately losing (more - if he has/ever had any) money.
Christopher McCullough
8   Posted 08/01/2011 at 01:29:14

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In a sentence then.

Everton expect better and better is not hard to find; it's an unusual situation.

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