The Premier League resumes this weekend but Everton could do with holding the return of domestic football off just a little longer. In particular, David Moyes’ midfield, with Darron Gibson and Marouane Fellaini injured, would benefit from a little extra time to prepare.
For all Everton’s well-deserved plaudits this season it has largely been the same cast of characters game to game. Now injuries have started to mount up and the options available to Moyes look a little thin. Everton had missed Gibson before the international break and the loss of Fellaini compounds matters.
The two represent different ends of the spectrum of praise. Along with Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, Fellaini has been the centre of attention during Everton’s strong start. The Belgian is eye-catching to say the least. Tall, stocky and with that striking hairstyle, Fellaini is rarely out of the frame but his form has been the dominant reason this season, more so than his physical qualities.
Playing off Nikica Jelavic but spending a lot of his time drifting left to form a triangle with Baines and Pienaar, Fellaini has been immense. When he plays well, Everton play well. The games in which he has not quite performed, such as West Bromwich Albion or Wigan Athletic, have led to two of the poorest Everton performances of the league campaign so far. How Moyes reacts to Fellaini not being present at all will be decisive against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.
Gibson is the other end of the scale from Fellaini in everything bar his importance to the team. Efficient and unassuming on the pitch, really only noticeable when he attempts a long-range pass or a fierce shot from distance, Gibson is the latest in a long line of Moyes’ midfielders who are only valued at their true worth when they are missing from the side.
Lee Carsley was the archetype and in many quarters the standard by which such players are judged. Replacing the Republic of Ireland international was for years at the top of Moyes’ agenda, and, a little ironically, when Fellaini was signed with a reputation as a ball-winning midfielder it was assumed he would be the long-term solution.
But with the Belgian now clearly at his best rampaging further forward, Gibson has filled the gap admirably. He is the player who knits Everton together, ensuring the ball reaches the creative axis of Baines and Pienaar in as proficient a manner as can be. Gibson also offers a useful defensive touch, positioning himself smartly to act as a barrier before the centre-backs.
Neither is expected to be fit to play QPR. The derby a week later with Liverpool is possible for both but could still be pushing it for Fellaini especially. QPR may be bottom of the league but they clearly have the capacity to cause trouble, and while Moyes will not fear having to find a solution to replace two vital players, he will hope this is the only time that he has to.
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