As Everton prepare to resume action after a rare free weekend, one player has more reason than most to welcome the Toffees’ return to competition. January signing Nikica Jelavic has played only 30 minutes of football in Everton colours since switching from Rangers and his absence has come at the worst possible personal time, coinciding with the emergence of Denis Stracqualursi as not only a capable Premier League player, but a cult hero at Goodison Park.
Arriving on transfer deadline day, Jelavic had the misfortune of signing in on Merseyside the same evening Stracqualursi confirmed his re-birth from borderline laughing stock to genuinely respected talisman, as transfer deadline day was also the date of Everton’s match with Manchester City. Coming just days after Stracqualursi scored his first Everton goal as the Toffees knocked Fulham out of the FA Cup, it was against the league leaders that Stracqualursi confirmed his performance against the Cottagers was not a one-off. If anything, and despite not scoring, Stracqualursi was even better against Roberto Mancini’s side. The Argentinean battering ram ruffled the usually composed City backline and followed that up with a similar performance and the added bonus of a goal against Chelsea. In three games a hero was born, and Jelavic’s task became a lot harder.
Prior to Stracqualursi’s new-found form, Jelavic’s mere presence would have been enough to garner a warm welcome from a home support starved of quality centre-forwards. Louis Saha, re-energised at Tottenham Hotspur, had looked completely worn out in his last half season at Everton, and so the freshness a multi-million pound striker was bound to bring to the Everton attack was desperately needed. Jelavic would even have been afforded a honeymoon period as he adjusted from the more serene Scottish Premier League to the rigours of the English version. The Croatian will still be well-received and not expected to deliver immediately but Stracqualursi has single-handedly changed expectations. Before Stracqualursi intervened Jelavic was the answer to Everton’s goal-scoring problems. Jelavic is an unquestioned starter when fit and was likely to become the central thrust of Everton’s attack. Now, he is second in the pecking order, behind Stracqualursi.
Stracqualursi’s form may however benefit Jelavic, particularly if the sports hernia that has ruled him out for the past few games does not clear soon. If Saha had departed and Stracqualursi was still the blundering oaf he appeared earlier in the season, Jelavic would be the focus of far more attention, particularly regarding his injury and all-round fitness. With Stracqualursi playing so well however, and attracting so much praise, the heat is off the new boy who can recuperate in relative obscurity and ensure he is fully healed when he does return. Without Stracqualursi Everton would be desperate, and Jelavic might have rushed back too soon, unable to do himself justice and harming his long-term success. Instead, David Moyes is in no great need of Jelavic, with Apostolos Vellios also in the fold to back-up Stracqualursi. It is a long time since that could be said about Everton.
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