A poor performance, a red card and suspension to a key player, and a draw against the side bottom of the Premier League – hardly the best way to prepare for the Merseyside derby. Everton came away from Queens Park Rangers with a point but will be without Steven Pienaar for the visit of Liverpool.
Pienaar was dismissed for picking up two yellow cards at Loftus Road and, whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, it merely underscored what was a pretty dismal performance by all bar three players. The trio of Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard were praised by many observers after the match, and indeed the three did just about enough to mask the failings of their teammates.
This was an Everton team shorn of the style and tempo of before the international break, but also shorn of not one but two important players as Marouane Fellaini joined Darron Gibson on the injured list. The impact was predictably great. Without the reference point of Fellaini, Everton’s attacks were disjointed and easily snuffed out. Replacing Fellaini, even for one game, was always going to be difficult and so it proved. He may not be fit for the derby.
Gibson’s absence has been a long-running problem, one that has not been solved by the partnership of Phil Neville and Leon Osman. They each have their individual merits but as a duo do not offer the composure and control of Gibson and a partner. The former Manchester United midfielder has formed effective pairings with each, with the common factor clear. Gibson could though return to play Liverpool.
With Pienaar out and Fellaini and Gibson both doubtful for Everton’s next fixture, it becomes increasingly important that Distin, Jagielka and Howard maintain the form they showed against QPR, and some of the players who failed to impress dig a little deeper. If Fellaini is missing then how to supply Nikica Jelavic becomes a major quandary. The combination of Leighton Baines, Fellaini and Pienaar has been Everton’s creative hub but Moyes faces the prospect of being without two of the three.
Unable to appeal Pienaar’s sending off despite the controversial nature of his second yellow because the South African received two bookings – Football Association regulations do not allow the appeal of a yellow card – the meeting with Liverpool will be another match in a long line that has seen Moyes forced to do without one of the first names on his team sheet. First Gibson, then Fellaini, now Pienaar.
It will also be possibly Everton’s most difficult game since the opening round win over Manchester United, the difference in quality between Liverpool and Newcastle United indicated by last season’s league table negated by the pressure of the local skirmish. Such games, Merseyside derbies in particular, have been the making of squad players or young prospects many times before. Everton have a few players on the fringes of the first team, unable to establish themselves. They will never have a better time.
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