Build-up to Everton’s Saturday lunchtime fixture with Manchester United will be dominated by the return to Goodison Park of one of the club’s prodigal sons, Wayne Rooney, in his first domestic match since his appearance on the front page of last weekend’s tabloids. But while much of the outside world focuses on the England forward, David Moyes has to decide what to do with the Toffees’ own misfiring strikers.
Louis Saha’s knee injury may have been the final straw for the manager, who has seen his side fail to win any of their three Premier League games this season, scoring only one goal in the process. With Jermaine Beckford struggling to adapt to the top flight, Victor Anichebe carrying a knee injury of his own, Yakubu’s future no less clear now the transfer window has closed and James Vaughn making a loan move to Crystal Palace, Moyes’ pickings are slim – so slim, in fact, that the Scot is considering going into the game against United without a recognised striker. Instead, Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini could be deputised into emergency forward action, reprising a partnership that carried Everton to the FA Cup Final in 2009, when each of Everton’s recognised strikers at the time was ruled out through injury – Saha may have returned in time for the showpiece game but it was the two makeshift centre-forwards that took the Blues down Wembley Way.
That Fellaini-Cahill marriage was one of necessity, after a serious injury ended Yakubu’s season in November and Saha was struck down by a series of problems from the autumn months until late February that left Everton desperate for anyone who could plug the gap. But now, even with Saha’s international duty-received injury, Moyes does have a handful of strikers to call on – Beckford, Yakubu and Vaughn – but has chosen otherwise, even letting Vaughn leave the club temporarily. Beckford’s performances have very much been those of a player toiling at the highest level for the first time, while Yakubu has not been the same since the aforementioned injury in late 2008, and to select two midfielders – albeit ones with decent goalscoring records – in their stead perhaps tells of Moyes’ concern. With Beckford and Yakubu stuttering, Vaughn’s progress habitually slowed by injury and no further striking options arriving before the end of transfer deadline day, Moyes has again been forced to make do and mend.
This writer suggested last week that shifting Cahill to the centre-forward’s role could help solve Everton’s goalscoring troubles, envisioning a creative player slotted behind the Australian to aid supply. Fellaini is as cultured as any of Everton’s midfielders but slipping through balls between centre-back and full-back would not appear to be the Belgian’s forte – he is more suited to gobbling up possession with one stretch and calmly moving the ball to a teammate. When the two were paired together in the past it was because of Fellaini’s knack for getting a goal – nine of them in his first season – but the goal well has run dry ever since; only three goals in 34 appearances last term, one of which was against Huddersfield Town. Perhaps Fellaini’s height will cause United’s defence enough discomfort to give Cahill space to exploit but aerial challenges, despite his towering size, are certainly not the 22-year-old’s speciality. Even with all 6 ft 4 ½ ins of Fellaini leading the line, Everton cannot be reduced to hurling long balls forward – Nemanja Vidic will dominate if they do.
Everton’s season is in dire need of a kick-start, but looking for a boost against a United side that have at times been rampant this term sounds like a task bound to be fruitless. Yet Everton have a tendency for startling performances against the men from the other end of the East Lancs Road, not least in the season the Fellaini-Cahill partnership was first formed. Then, October 2008, Everton had won just two league games – two more than now – and were trailing a first-half Darren Fletcher goal but a fiery Phil Neville challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo lit the blue touch paper and the crowd roared Everton back from a goal down to clinch a vital point. Everton lost just five more times in the league that season, after the 62nd minute equaliser turned the campaign around. And the goal scorer? A certain Marouane Fellaini.