David Moyes this week marked 11 years as Everton manager and it’s hard to remember a seven days more fraught at Goodison Park during the Scot’s tenure. The woeful FA Cup exit to Wigan Athletic on Saturday, combined with long-standing concerns over the club’s ownership, the growing worry regarding the manager’s contract and the team’s poor form, all contributed to a tense and occasionally unseemly time on the blue half of Merseyside.
Various media outlets covered events at Everton this week, one national radio station devoting an hour to the topic, drawing extensive contributions from Evertonians, broadcasting criticism of the local media and drawing a stinging rebuke from one of Liverpool’s biggest-selling newspapers.
There might be worse opponents to face after a week like that than reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, but not many. City have lost only twice on the road in the league this season and have conceded just 13 goals in their 14 games, the joint-best away defence record in the top flight, level with Arsenal.
Everton have though made a habit of upstaging City, beating them fairly regularly at Goodison and occasionally picking up points at the Etihad Stadium. Last season it was a Darron Gibson goal that gave the Toffees the points, and the former Manchester United midfielder is likely to be among a host of changes made by Moyes in the wake of the Wigan debacle.
Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka are both still missing so Moyes has the same group of players from which to select an XI, and it seems a fairly safe bet that it will be much-changed from the one that took to the field against the Latics.
The places of John Heitinga, Phil Neville and Leon Osman are all among those under threat, but to drop Marouane Fellaini, despite his shoddy display and outburst as he was substituted, would be a surprise considering how the Belgian often raises his game against more glamorous opponents.
Fellaini was borderline unplayable at the Etihad earlier this season, although the bad side of his game reared its head again when he gave away a penalty late in the first-half, too pre-occupied with fighting his opponent than actually defending the set-piece. But Fellaini is one of a number of players with much to prove – to himself, to Evertonians and, in truth, to any potential suitors.
Before they lost to Wigan few neutrals would have backed Everton to beat City, and afterwards that number might be even lower, and it’s tempting to think a defeat will unleash even more hand-wringing, angst and anger. Yet that’s not necessarily the case. Evertonians are well aware of their position in the grand scheme of the Premier League, if not particularly happy about it, and the money thrown around by City means they really should triumph, on paper. It’s hard to argue otherwise.
What the Goodison faithful do demand, though, and what was so sorely lacking against Wigan, is effort and endeavour, two qualities that have defined the Moyes years and two qualities needed in abundance however much longer they last.
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