It was one of those matches where the result mattered far more than the performance, and Everton duly delivered by beating Swansea City 1-0 despite never truly shining. A first home victory since mid-November means the Toffees go into the Christmas period on something of a high as they slowly climb from the Goodison Park nadir that was defeat to Stoke City earlier in December.
Swansea, as expected, were much the more organised and compact side, and, in Joe Allen, could boast the most impressive midfielder on the pitch. The nuanced probing of Allen and his teammates Mark Gower and Leon Britton are exactly the sort of thoughtful midfield players Everton are sorely lacking. Lining up in the centre of the park with Marouane Fellaini and Phil Neville leaves Everton totally bereft of creativity, invention or subtlety, and their play is stifled as a result. Both Neville and Fellaini are ball-winners, who, once they take possession, need someone more inspirational to lay-off to. When either the Belgian or the club captain won possession against Swansea however, they could only find a player as defensively-minded as themselves, leaving Everton to meander forward as Swansea massed the defence.
Neville, always more a right-back than a midfielder, did have an excellent spell in the latter role when partnering Mikel Arteta, while Fellaini is of such obvious class he would make a fine complement to any playmaker. But Everton are desperately short of players with the quality or the temperament to dictate the play. The closest in the current squad is probably Leon Osman, who was needed to support Louis Saha against Swansea, and against Norwich City the game before, was stationed on the right of midfield. Neither position gets the best out of the little midfielder with the cool head and quick feet – his most impressive Everton performances have always been in the centre of midfield.
Indeed, when Neville and Fellaini form a midfield partnership it essentially pushes two players from their best positions, Neville from full-back and Fellaini from shielding the back four. When he is teamed with another destructive player the onus is on Fellaini to break forward and support Everton’s attacks, something that does not come naturally to the No 25 and which pulls him away from the area in which he excels. Fellaini breaking up the play in front of his own defence and a skilful, creative player with him to orchestrate Everton’s attacks, feeding the likes of Louis Saha, Royston Drenthe and Seamus Coleman, is on paper a formidable line-up. For various reasons, Moyes has yet to take such a combination on to the pitch. It is not only down to Swansea’s stout defending that it took a set-piece to break the deadlock – some poor finishing but mostly Everton’s inability to attack with speed or innovation is an equally guilty party.
Regardless, Everton take three points into the Boxing Day meeting with a slowly-rejuvenating Sunderland. A win for the Black Cats would put them above Everton on goal difference, a worrying fact when it is considered the Mackems were said to be in relegation danger after the sacking of Steve Bruce. Such difficult away trips might actually be what Everton are best suited for in their current, inexpressive condition.
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