Taking solace from defeat is not a practice most professional footballers engage in. It is certainly not a phrase uttered by Everton
Fate decreed that 24 hours before Everton toiled into extra-time against Chelsea, United were able to stroll past Aldershot Town. As if playing two hours of football is not physically and mentally draining enough, the adrenaline high of what in the late second-half looked to be a stirring comeback and the crashing low of the eventual defeat must also take their toll. Perhaps the only hope from the defeat against Chelsea as we look ahead to the Manchester United game is that the players remember both aforementioned states and endeavour for far more of the former than of the latter.
The course of the 120 minutes against Chelsea encapsulated much of what has been good and bad about Everton’s play this season. There were times in the first-half when Louis Saha was completely isolated in the Everton attack, and just as many when Saha’s abysmal positioning left whatever support was offered from his teammates equally alone. The French striker often plays everywhere but against the opposing defence which, when partnered by a more traditional target man, can cause the opposition problems as he cuts in from unorthodox positions. But when Saha is the lone striker, and the midfield is made up of Tim Cahill, who played deeper than usual, and the defensive Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, Everton can be left desperately short when crosses are played into the penalty area or counter-attacks are stutteringly launched.
At the same time, Everton, after being handed the initiative by Ross Turnbull’s red card, as well as for part of the game before albeit with less success, played with a high tempo and did not let Chelsea settle into their rhythm outside of the first and last 15 minute periods of the game. The Toffees turned over possession with regularity and exploited their numerical superiority in wide areas by consistently overloading on the flanks – Chelsea’s wide players did little tracking back and Everton had ample opportunity to cross into the box. The performances from Rodwell and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov were amongst their best in an Everton shirt in recent memory, while Tony Hibbert, a half-time substitute, again showed why he has become a cult hero amongst the Goodison Park faithful with some expertly timed challenges on the edge of his own area.
Possible injuries to Cahill and Phil Neville, as well as Royston Drenthe’s suspension after his mindless second booking, do dampen spirits ahead of the resumption of the Premier League this weekend. A wounded Manchester United can often be the most dangerous Manchester United, but Everton are limping too. Exacerbating the positives from the Chelsea defeat could bring a much-needed glorious victory over an old enemy.
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