Ahead of our Premier League campaign kicking-off tonight against Everton, we’ve grabbed a word with EPL Index writer and Everton fan Matt Cheetham. As well as speak about tonight’s game, we spoke about Leighton Baines, the importance of ex-Red Phil Neville and the suitability of David Moyes taking over from Sir Alex.
1. It’s been an interesting summer for you; you’ve only bought in two players, but a fair few have left. Are you happy with the business you’ve done, and are you expecting any more before the window shuts? The squad does look a little thin at present – highlighted by the fact we have no player wearing numbers 8, 9, 10 or 11 – but most fans are happy overall. Including January, where we essentially swapped Saha and Bilyaletdinov for Jelavic and Gibson, it’s been a good year so far. No player has left who would have been a certainty to start, though life without Cahill does feel a little strange. Naismith, and particularly Pienaar are very good buys, and two more should be coming in. Hopefully a striker to help Jelavic up front, and someone to play right midfield. Kevin Mirallas seems as though he could sign over the weekend, but wouldn’t make Monday.
2. United were heavily linked with Leighton Baines at the start of the window but seemingly that deal isn’t going to happen anymore. Are you happy that you’ve held on to him, or would you have liked to see Everton pocket the hefty 15 million quid he would reportedly cost? I’m absolutely delighted he is still with us, and hope he is come September. He and Fellaini have been our most important players for a fair while now, and it is vital he stays. Rodwell’s departure hopefully means we can stick a very lofty asking price on him, as he is integral to how we play.
3. You’ve already sold one of your players to a Manchester club, Jack Rodwell heading to City last week. Are you happy with him going considering it was for such a good fee? I’ve heard that many Everton fans prefer ex-United lad Darron Gibson to Rodwell – what do you think of this? It’s never nice offloading an academy product, but given the club’s financial constraints, it made a lot of sense. Darron Gibson has been excellent for us since joining – a player I, like a lot of fans, were slightly sceptical of at first. We are unbeaten in the league with him in the side and he was very much ahead of Rodwell in the pecking order. Gibson’s work is almost unnoticed, but very vital. Statistically we spray the ball around far more, and at a higher tempo, with him in the heart of midfield. Possibly his most valuable quality is how Fellaini seems at his very best when playing alongside him. Gibson’s positional sense, and general on-field nous allows Fellaini to develop more of a carefree attitude. He can harass and harry ball carriers all over the pitch, as Gibson mops up, and covers behind him.
4. While we’re talking transfers, you took Phil Neville off our hands a few years ago for a fairly cheap fee. He’s been a great player for you, hasn’t he? He has been a very good signing. As well as on the field, off it he sets great standards. He has installed a professional aura in the dressing room and must be a great example to have around the club. Probably in the very winter of his career, I’m not sure how much he will play this season, but certainly another bargain from Moyes.
5. David Moyes is the 3rd longest serving manager in the Premier League, obviously behind Sir Alex in 1st place. How much of a positive effect do you think it’s had on your club over the last few years? Personally I absolutely cherish the consistency and when Moyes does eventually move on, I hope it is something we maintain, and stick to a man. I’m pretty sure 90% of managers would have been sacked when we finished 17th, but to follow that up with seven out of eight seasons in the top eight, and three of those in the top five, says it all considering the limited funds he has had.
6. As a result of his consistency, many have Moyes down as a possible successor to Sir Alex. Obviously you wouldn’t want this to happen but do you think it could work? I think there are some similarities between the two that may help. Moyes would not easily settle for a role at Chelsea or Tottenham, where you are essentially just a coach, as he likes having a say in pretty much everything around the club. However, it’s going to be a bit of a poisoned chalice for Ferguson ’s successor, so whoever takes it is going to be up against it. I hope it’s not Moyes, but given time – which media pressure may not afford him – I think he could do well.
7. The 4-4 draw at Old Trafford last season was, from a United fan’s point of view, arguably the most painful result of our season – did you get a kick out of it or would you have rather seen us win the league instead of City? Solely focussing on Everton, the result delighted me for the drama and as the point increased the likelihood of us finishing above Liverpool, which I enjoyed. I would have personally preferred to see United take the league. It may be a generational thing, as I started watching football in the early 90s, but Chelsea and Manchester City are two of my least favourite sides now. I have to say, I used to not mind City. I want investment at Everton, the chance to spend 10-20 million per season without feeling like we have to always offload our best talent, but I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy having a team full of excessively over-paid stars just pieced together, with little connection to the roots of the club.
8. You’re statistically slow starters in the Premier League, how do you fancy your chances on Monday night? I can assure you we all know it’s not an easy game for us to win! We have been awful until Christmas for a number of seasons, and then tend to sprint for the finish line. 20 points by 19 games and then 40 from the final 19 seem to be the way for us. Since January we have been third in the form table, so if we can start as we finished for once, I’d be confident. However, I’d see a point as a decent result, and considering how we have defeated City the last three times they’ve visited Goodison, and five times out of our last six clashes, perhaps it wouldn’t be the end of the world for you guys too!
9. Are there any players we should watch out for? Our left-hand side is our main threat. Baines and Pienaar link up very well together. I’m interested to see Naismith’s role. He scored a 45-min hat-trick for us pre-season v AEK Athens, coming in off the right – which has tended to be our weakest area. Interesting to see where Fellaini plays too, which is a topic of debate for Evertonians at the moment. I passionately believe he is far more adept as a destroyer in midfield, and then throw him up behind the striker late on if we are behind. His effectiveness against you in that 4-4, where he was top class playing off Jelavic, has lead to many feeling this should be his permanent role. As it was on Sky, many non-Everton fans, that don’t watch the side every week, also write this. I would not be surprised if he spends a lot of Monday night in advanced positions, to see if he can give you similar trouble to April’s game. However, I hope it’s not a permanent move. Without him in midfield at Old Trafford, you sliced through us pretty easily and had a fair few chances to finish us off.
10. Over the years we’ve had quite a good relationship, shown by the many ex-United players you currently have like Tim Howard, Phil Neville and Darron Gibson. Finances aside, which two current United players would you take in your team? I have always been a big admirer of Valencia. His end product is so consistent – when I’ve seen him – and he is the kind of professional who seems to knuckle down and get on with it, which I appreciate in modern day players. For very similar reasons, Paul Scholes is another player I love to watch. Then there’s a Scouse striker of yours who’s quite handy too…
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