Aston Villa 1 - 3 Everton
They say in football that you should "never go back", but if there is one player who provides the exception that proves the rule, it's Steven Pienaar. Frozen out and miserable at Tottenham just eight months ago, in tears three-and-a-half months later at the thought of not being able to stay at Goodison Park after a glorious return to Everton on loan from White Hart Lane, he is back with the Blues for good and is playing like he never left.
Everton ended what had, at one stage, promised to be a hugely disappointing 2011-12 season with an impressive run of results and, with the possible exception of Nikica Jelavic, no one could claim to have been more integral to that top-four form than Pienaar. Indeed, no Evertonian really wanted last season to end and, on the evidence of two games into the new season, Blues fans needn't have been concerned by the disruption of the close season or the painfully protracted negotiations to bring the South African home.
Fresh from ruining Sky Sports' and Manchester United's opening day party on Monday, Pienaar and the Blues swaggered down the M6 and took a little over two minutes to begin destroying Paul Lambert's home debut as the new Aston Villa manager.
The Scot had barely had time to warm his seat before a lovely interchange in midfield ended with Pienaar curling a beautiful shot into the far corner of Shay Given's net from 20 yards. Darron Gibson, and full-debutant Steven Naismith were both involved in a quick one-touch move just outside the Villa area that led to the Scot laying it back to Pienaar to artfully pick his spot.
It was the perfect start for a club that had won just once at Villa Park in the Premier League era and it allowed the Blues to take a stranglehold on proceedings with what was, for the bulk of this game, a devastatingly effective midfield display.
Though Marouane Fellaini was nominally the man deployed behind Jelavic in the "Tim Cahill role" — that term will be short-lived if the Belgian Beast keeps up this form — in truth there was an impressive fluidity to Everton that saw all of Fellaini, Pienaar, Naismith, and, to a lesser extent, Leon Osman easing in and out of forward and wide positions interchangeably.
If any of that quartet of attacking midfielders spent more time playing off the striker, particularly in the first half, it was the lively Naismith but it was Fellaini who popped up in the striker's role after half an hour to double the Blues' lead.
As if to underscore the versatility in Moyes's team, it was centre half Phil Jagielka who romped down the right flank on the overlap to collect Pienaar's return pass and pick out the Belgian's unmistakeable mop with a wicked cross. Given looked to have got behind the ball sufficiently to stop Fellaini's downward header but he allowed it to squirm off his gloves and into the net instead. 2-0 and Everton were firmly in control.
There have been enough topsy-turvy, goal-laden encounters between these two teams in recent seasons for the Blues to know not to ease up. Jelavic had twice headed over and Gibson had dropped a 25-yard half-volley a foot over the bar by the time Fellaini had doubled the lead, and while a couple more very promising situations were wasted when Villa were caught short on numbers at the back, the game-killing third did arrive just before the half-time interval.
Baines and Fellaini combined nicely down the left, with the former latching onto the latter's through-ball in typical fashion before cutting it back invitingly for Jelavic who had peeled instinctively into space in front of the home defence. Just like 27 times before today, the clinical Croatian despatched the ball into the goal with his first touch, tucking it inside the near post.
Lambert was, no doubt, stone-faced on the Villa bench with storm clouds gathering above him and little positive to point to until Barry Bannan unloaded with his side's first shot on target in first-half stoppage time, one that Tim Howard gathered comfortably.
3-0 was almost 4-0 inside two minutes of start of the second half when Jelavic was denied by a lunging block by Baker after Fellaini had flicked Pienaar's cross on to the back post. Moyes's side's momentum appeared initially undiminished by half time and they didn't need the additional advantage that would arrive just before the hour mark with Ciaran Clark's professional foul on Nikica Jelavic.
Referee Michael Oliver had no option but to show the defender a straight red card and it was clear at that stage the game really was up.
Still, Gibson dinked the resulting direct free kick inches over the bar and Pienaar was denied by a reflex save by Given a few minutes later after Karim El Ahmadi had escaped a yellow card despite blatant shirt-tugging near the touchline. Sylvain Distin met the ensuing corner with a towering header but Darren Bent was on hand to deny the Frenchman by heading off his goalline.
Not surprisingly, the pressure from the visitors began to ease in the last third of the game. Naismith was withdrawn after an impressive debut in favour of Seamus Coleman and he was followed to the dugout with 19 minutes left by Gibson who was replaced by another new boy, Kevin Mirallas.
And the two substitutes almost combined to provide a goal with Mirallas' first touch but Matthew Lowton's outstretched leg diverted the ball behind and away from the Belgian forward who was in acres of space near the penalty spot.
Mirallas would later have a goalbound shot blocked by Ron Vlaar and a goal ruled out by a very narrow offside decision but that was either side of El Ahmadi ruining Tim Howard's clean sheet with an impressive 25 yard strike that embarrassed the American 'keeper as it swerved in flight and away from his outstretched fingers. It was a minor blemish on an otherwise superb day, one that Everton closed out in typically efficient fashion.
So, back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time in five years has got Evertonians humming with expectation but they will mindful of getting too over-excited at this early stage. The return to the Midlands next weekend promises to be a tougher prospect than a Villa side still finding its feet under new management. West Bromwich Albion under Steve Clark have comprehensively beaten Liverpool and denied Tottenham three points at White Hart Lane so far and in Romelu Lukaku they have a dangerous striker who will need to be watched.
What will make Moyes confident, though, is the impressive manner in which his side came away from home and comprehensively beat Villa on their own turf with some scintiallating football. In addition to their customary tenacity and harrying in midfield, the Blues exhibited some wonderful usage of the ball; from quick, one-touch interchanges to raking balls over the top or pin-point cross-field balls to keep Villa chasing shadows for the much of the afternoon.
Lambert's side did enjoy a few spells of superiority but they were kept at bay — Andreas Weimann's last-minute strike that hit the post aside — by a side that looks to already be in the kind of groove that will grind out results against any level of opposition. Keep that up, hopefully add a key signing or two before the transfer deadline, get some luck on the injury front and this could be a very exciting season.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Neville 7, Jagielka 8, Distin 8, Baines 8, Gibson 8 (Mirallas 7), Naismith 8 (Coleman 7), Osman 7, Pienaar 8*, Fellaini 8, Jelavic 8 (Heitinga -)
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229 Posted 26/08/2012 at 01:03:20
235 Posted 26/08/2012 at 02:12:11
Nothing wrong with pub teams, but they're all well paid pros out there on the pitch today, and we can can simply be proud of the way our boys represented us.
And not only the MU game last Monday, we have carried on in the same way that we took Newcastle apart at the end of last season.
I saw Brazil playinng at Goodison in 66. Decent team. This one we have now can hold their heads up to anyone. As good as the 80's? The world turns and things change, but they are right now a silky smooth RR of a machine. The best I've seen in the Blue for a long time.
That will do me for the moment. Nothing lasts forever, and our cover is low, but we have the best bunch of footballers in the league playing for us right now.
Thank you EFC.
ps - which other football club has a slogan on its stand written in Latin?
Touch of class, if you ask me - which you didn't.
237 Posted 26/08/2012 at 03:29:47
238 Posted 26/08/2012 at 03:45:07
Good feeling isn't it? Reminds me of buying every newspaper for basically the same reports after a big win as a kid.
Backed us w/o the "Big 6" at 3/1 pre season. Into 7/4 today. Can still get 5s w/o the "Big 4" very tempting - what odds were we this time last week?
Looking around, tell me a position that Arsenal or Liverpool are better off in? Or Newcastle? Or Spurs? I'd take our midfield 4/5 over all of them. I'd take our Back 4 (or at least 3 of them). And Jelly is just Jelly - and now he's got some support.
Getting carried away? Absolutely!
239 Posted 26/08/2012 at 04:10:33
I felt that Mirallas was easily out muscle by the opposition when he got the ball. Hopefully he can get used to the physical aspect of the BPL.
Other then this, with 1 or 2 more signing/loans I am sure we will have a good season.
Toffee till I Die.
240 Posted 26/08/2012 at 04:32:13
How about a dogged rear-guard action only broken by sporadic breaks up the pitch to offset a typical "dour Davie" display?
243 Posted 26/08/2012 at 05:03:48
The last view of the one touch maestro's goal shows just how good it was.
Jag's cross - where did that come from??!!
And I counted 12 passes building up to Pienaar's goal.
260 Posted 26/08/2012 at 07:48:59
To me, it was one of the best games I've watched us play for long time... What do MotD want us to do!?!?!
266 Posted 26/08/2012 at 07:59:48
292 Posted 26/08/2012 at 10:22:55
301 Posted 26/08/2012 at 10:56:39
308 Posted 26/08/2012 at 11:49:27
Naismith's first touch - he could get away with that in Scotland, not here. He will sharpen up like, for example, Fellaini did.
Kevin - don't you just love to have a Belgian called Kevin in the team - put the ball in the net on his debut. Just, but only just, offside. He won't be next time, or maybe the time after that. Another very good signing.
One word of caution though. DM took Gibson off, possibly to protect a niggling injury he's carrying. And that was when they almost got back into the game. Yes, we were soft pedalling by then, but it still goes to show how important he is to us. Fellaini can do that job as well as him, and should have been dropped back to cover. Those two are at the heart of our play and we would struggle if, for any reason, we lost them.
314 Posted 26/08/2012 at 12:32:57
Fellaini was dropped back and that was when the trouble started. Once Gibson went off, we lost our pressure on the ball completely. Fellaini was too slow in getting out to the shot that beat Howard. He is far more suited to playing the attacking role with his back to goal bringing other players into play and providing an aerial threat.
Gibson has a better passing range and orchestrates the rest of the team into attacking positions. It works well as it has been in the last two games, and like it did against United last season with Fellaini up top.
321 Posted 26/08/2012 at 13:28:17
342 Posted 26/08/2012 at 14:41:06
In addition we didn't do our usual go one up and then backs to the wall but controlled the tempo, that will do me for the rest of the season.
BTW great report, Lyndon.
436 Posted 27/08/2012 at 01:41:02
537 Posted 27/08/2012 at 15:29:52
Having the three goal cushion before that meant there was little or no problem, but the change really affected our flow and let Villa back into it, and with a lesser lead it could well have made for a more nervy finish.
As for Gibson, I thought I saw him grimacing slightly and testing out his leg in the first half... I thought then maybe he had a slight injury but kept on going...
542 Posted 27/08/2012 at 16:10:14
Some people are using really bad examples to try to argue that Fellaini should play the advanced role permanently. Would always employ Fellaini with the likes of Gibson, Heitinga, or Neville operating just behind because he will naturally gravitate to a more attacking role whenever he gets the opportunity.
Fellaini is a good option for in behind Jelavic, but he can also be effective further back with a more robustly defensive partner and we should have more options for the attacking positions than we had at any stage last season.
551 Posted 27/08/2012 at 17:01:09
"Fellaini was dropped back and that was when the trouble started"
rather misses the point that I was making. It was when Gibson was taken off that they were allowed to play. Personally I would have left Fellaini where he was and sured up defensive mid with Heitinga, or maybe Neville with Johnny at RB.
553 Posted 27/08/2012 at 17:43:23
566 Posted 27/08/2012 at 18:14:11
He's an out-ball that most sides can't contain, being the springboard for Mirallas, Pienaar, Naismith or whoever to bomb forward knowing the ball isn't coming back that quickly. Baines should have a fieldday, can Coleman? With Gibson playing a responsible defensive midfield role... although he takes a nice set piece and will score goals from the edge of the box.
Jelavic likes playing on the shoulder so the opposition can't play a highline, whereas Fellaini is just out-powering the gap between midfield and defence. We have great attacking options in that we can probe, or play counter-attacking football. We are defensively sound, can mix it if teams want to play dirty.
Slightly carried away, appreciated, but the 80s team was great because they could play a variety of ways. This is key to a successful team, as even the best can get done without a Plan B (Barca, Arsenal and the new Liverpool). A bit more squad for competition and things could get interesting.
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