Everton’s Carling Cup victory over Sheffield United may not have totally restored the goodwill lost around Goodison during a fractious summer, but the 3-1 triumph was at least a positive step ahead of the resumption of Premier League football this weekend.
The Toffees travel to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, site of a 1-0 defeat last season, having rediscovered some of the style and cohesion against the Blades that was so lacking against Queens Park Rangers. The midfield, having looked weak and disjointed as the Blues slipped to defeat against the newly-promoted side, was instead slick and powerful, offering protection to the back four and support to the lone striker.
Victor Anichebe was selected in attack, due to a knee problem ruling Jermaine Beckford out and Louis Saha still struggling for match fitness, and the burly Nigerian performed well, taking his goal nicely, working hard and battling admirably against the visitors’ defence, a vast improvement on his usual displays with feature more petulance than anything else, which always leaves the crowd unimpressed.
Another of Everton’s more maligned players, John Heitinga, improved immeasurably from his weekend performance, dropping from the base of midfield into the centre of defence and looking far more assured.
Whether there was enough on show for Moyes to continue with Anichebe – usually selected on the right wing – and Heitinga in their varied positions is questionable, however. Heitinga in particular was a target of Evertonian scorn after the defeat by QPR, with many supporters questioning his positioning and distribution, two areas in which the No 5 impressed against Sheffield United.
Quite why the drop of 15 yards could reverse Heitinga’s game so dramatically is difficult to explain – the Dutch international may feel more comfortable at centre-back but has played in midfield many, many times before, so it is not an unfamiliar position – and the quality of the opposition may be one reason, but Sheffield United’s forward line was mobile and full of neat interchanges and off-the-ball running, exactly the kind of movement that so confounds the World Cup finalist when handed a midfield berth. Meanwhile, Heitinga’s long-range passing, much of it with his weaker left foot, was unerringly accurate, contrasted to a failure to even attempt similar balls when in midfield.
The standard of the opposition must be taken into account – Sheffield United, for all their endeavour and the excellent start Phil Jagielka’s error gave them, faded drastically and were eventually overrun in midfield – but Everton played with a confidence sorely lacking against Neil Warnock’s QPR. Marouane Fellaini was a dominant force in midfield, although did tire towards the end and was perhaps lucky not to see red for a high challenge, while Ross Barkley again impressed as Everton’s most dangerous attacking outlet.
Nonetheless, Blackburn also enjoyed a 3-1 triumph over a Sheffield side, Sheffield Wednesday, boosting their confidence in a similar manner after a start to the season arguably even poorer than Everton’s. Three points from Ewood Park and carrying over a few performances from Wednesday’s win would put Everton’s season back on track.
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