Comments from Marouane Fellaini, the result of Everton’s last Premier League game and the decision by FIFA not to ratify the loan signing of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe have cast a shadow over the midfield at David Moyes’ disposal.
Fellaini’s comments, reported by the Liverpool Echo, will disappoint everyone associated with Everton, although their timing is somewhat strange – not so much that Fellaini would speak to his native press while on an international trip, more that they come after his worst performances in months against West Brom. Not only did Fellaini miss an eminently-presentable chance shortly before the Baggies took the lead, but he lost his marker for Albion’s second goal too, to cap an altogether awful afternoon for the player and the team.
Everton began the match at the Hawthorns strongly but when Gibson was withdrawn after 20 minutes the Toffees’ supremacy went with him. Gibson was withdrawn, but not replaced. Fellaini later dropped into midfield and could not offer what Gibson now does. The former Manchester United player excels at recycling possession, allowing Everton to keep the pressure on the opposition and pin them into their own penalty area. Without him, Everton’s attacks lost their structure.
Fellaini though is surely allowed one poor game, especially considering how excellent he has been since February. But the West Brom affair showed that Everton are light in midfield, that if Gibson suffered a long-term injury it would seriously affect the way in which Everton play and that against teams that are well-drilled and confident, it can be a struggle – not every game comes with the inspirational magnitude of Manchester United or the inviting openness of an Aston Villa defence.
The signing of Odjidja-Ofoe would have been intended to solve one of those problems. If it does not go ahead – Everton suggested they may appeal – then Moyes may be forced to turn to Ross Barkley, having previously been reluctant to put too much pressure on the teenager’s shoulders. The Fellaini situation will be a more long-term issue, if it develops further and if Fellaini stands by his words rather than attempt to claim a mistranslation or misunderstanding.
As for the final problem, the midfield’s inability to unlock a well-marshalled defence, an off-day for Steven Pienaar was as big a contributory factor as anything else. Such dips in form are rare and Everton would not lose the firepower they previously showed in the course of 90 minutes, but the West Brom defeat and the Fellaini story are reminders the season really will not be plain-sailing.
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