After the crushing disappointment of Everton’s pitiful derby showing, David Moyes has the opportunity to begin his second decade at Goodison Park in a better way than he ended the first when Sunderland come to town in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Getting back on track at the first possible opportunity and in doing so booking a place in a Wembley semi-final is a tempting prospect after such a catastrophic appearance at Anfield. Moyes’ decision to make six changes drew much doubt before kick-off and even more criticism as the match unfolded, growing to outright condemnation in the aftermath of the 3-0 defeat. Whatever the identity of the first XI the bare fact remains that the individuals on the pitch did not perform to anywhere near their capability. Moyes’ selection may not have helped but he was let down by a number of players who chose the worst possible time to put forth their poorest performance of the season.
The composition of the team that takes to the field against Sunderland on Saturday will then come under much scrutiny. Best bet is a halfway house between the line-ups that saw action against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool respectively, with at least one change enforced as the cup-tied Steven Pienaar drops out of the squad altogether. There is certain to be a handful of players in the side that also featured and failed so badly against Liverpool, with a showing of far greater effort and application needed to get past Martin O’Neill’s in-form Black Cats. The defence has to be more commanding, the midfield more authoritative and the attack more creative. Each of these qualities were distinctly lacking against Liverpool despite having been abundant in the nine games prior.
Whether those characteristics disappeared in the derby because Moyes made half a dozen changes or whether they would have been lost regardless will never be known. What we do know is that playing three high-intensity games in a week can be exhausting, and a handful of alterations between Tottenham and Liverpool were always likely. Pienaar was destined to return after being ineligible against parent club Spurs while anyone who saw Leon Osman running on leaden legs in the 95th minute against Harry Redknapp’s Champions League-chasers would not have been shocked to hear the midfielder was rested. Osman was nevertheless sorely missed, with the midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell lacking the finesse to replace his dancing feet and touch of class.
Osman is a candidate to return on Saturday, and against O’Neill’s industrious side that little bit of magic can be the difference between progression, elimination or an energy-sapping replay. Sunderland have that skill to their name, not least from the set-pieces and crosses of Sebastian Larsson, but the Everton that showed up against Spurs had plenty of it too, as well as the fight to snuff out the opposition. Returning to that mind-set if not that line-up will determine if Everton have something to play for as the season draws to an end.
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