It was poetic.
It was classy.
It was a game-winner.
Wayne Rooney’s goal against Stoke to open the Premier League season was so cliche if you read it in a script you’d laugh it off as too unbelievable.
Come back after over a decade away and win the first league match of the season on a vintage Rooney header?
It was just too perfect, and yet it happened.
The performance wasn’t without it’s flaws (Rooney oddly got stronger as the game went on....explain that), but there is a lot to be said for momentum and right now Everton are starting to accumulate it in large sums.
Sure, you could say that three goals in three competitive games is reason to worry once we stop playing the Ruzomberok’s of the world and (starting Monday) face the Manchester City types instead.
Or you could look at the fact that the Toffees have yet to give up a goal in over four hours of competitive soccer, and Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane appear to be two of the signings of the season already.
Their combined £55 million pricetag will seem like the bargain of the season too (behind Sandro) assuming they continue to perform at and above their current levels.
I don’t know about you, but Pickford’s presence is already helping me sleep better at night.
Yes, that save on Shaqiri in stoppage time protected the three points, but just as important as that stop was Pickford’s presence on every ball into the box.
It’s not only that he comes out for the ball, it’s that when he does it is with total confidence that nothing will stop him from getting his hands on the ball.
Now when the ball goes into the box I don’t hold my breath to see if Joel Robles or Maarten Stekelenburg will decide (late) to come after it or just wave at it like a pinata he doesn’t want to offend.
Instead, Pickford OWNS his box, and if he think he CAN get there, he WILL.
It’s been a while since vintage Tim Howard roamed the 18 yard line at Goodison Park, but with Jordan between the sticks I think Everton fans are hoping at least one position will be locked down for a long time.
Speaking of a long time, I would be remiss if I did not take a few words to talk about the one, the only.... Gareth Barry
How do you sum up Barry though?
When you first watch the midfielder play, his style of play simplifies the game to the point it almost appears easy, lazy, in fact, if you didn’t know for sure he was so slow.
His uncanny movement, ability to create enough space for the right pass, and organizational skills in midfield CAN’T be overstated. There is a reason he has been around since the 90’s.
The English midfielder has had an illustrious career for a number of sides including Aston Villa and Manchester City, but the Barry I know and love is the (even more) physically limited one who has used every bit of experience and guile to stay a major contributing member of a (usually) top half English Premier League side.
Every time you thought he was done, he rose from the dead to put in just one more key performance for the team.
“Surely that’s the last time we can rely upon Barry, right?” said every Toffees fan after the now 36-year old put in another stellar performance.
However, Barry’s ability to act as the metronome of a team has never subsided, even as his ability to stop counter attacks (without getting a yellow) has.
Gareth adjusted, gave responsibilities to teammates when he couldn’t do it himself, and always worked his butt off for his side.
In the future, when people reflect back on the last two seasons of Roberto Martinez’s era I would be willing to bet they will do so with frustration and anger.
However, they will also fondly remember Barry for his unwavering professionalism and consistent performances during such a tumultuous time.
You always knew what you were going to get when Gareth Barry strapped on his black boots and took up position in midfield.
Sure, he was exposed by younger, quicker players, but you never found yourself bemoaning Barry’s effort, hustle or leadership.
Barry was a port in a stormy time for the club, time and time again operating at the outer-most limits of his abilities.
We often find ourselves VEHEMENTLY complaining about the lack of respect shown by young players, especially as more find financial success early in life, who then begin to use ‘persuasive’ techniques to play where they want to, WHEN they want to.
So when someone like Barry plays for your club, true fans appreciate what they are getting:
A man who has continually shown respect for himself, his teammates, the fans and the club by providing an steady, calming hand no matter the situation and has played to the best of his abilities every single game he has played.
When Barry returns to Goodison as a visitor, there is no doubt he will receive the warm reception he has do undoubtedly earned.
I know wherever I am, I’ll be standing and applauding.
(Stick around until the end of the mailbag for one more little ode to Gareth.)
To your questions!!!
A striker— simon davies (@SimonMidi9790) August 14, 2017
Ok...so it’s not a question, but it is a question MARK.
The pursuit of a front line striker has been an aimless one since the departure of Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian’s departure created a hole in the Everton attack that just has not been filled.
Sure, Rooney scores, but he’s not going to hold up the ball and alleviate pressure like an Olivier Giroud or a Nicola Kalinic, neither of whom Everton will sign BTW.
Heading into Thursday’s MASSIVE home match in the first leg of the series with Hajduk Split, there is no doubt the Everton front line is missing a big man.
Sandro is a willing and capable striker, but he plays much better when he can combine quickly and is running AT the goal, not facing away from it.
The young Spaniard is much better starting wide and working his way in, navigating traffic to get off his devastating shot, something Everton fans have not seen enough of yet.
To be honest, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is currently our player best suited to fill the #9 role, but this is not the season fans want to see a young player cutting his teeth in the league.
I think he has the potential to be a true 20 goal scorer, but unless he matures physically and tactically at a super human rate he is still a good 2 years from that.
Without a front line striker (and another winger to play off of him) Everton will find themselves playing much as they did against Stoke: laterally.
I do have hope though that Everton will find another striker to lead the line before the window shuts at the end of the month.
Why has there been such a gap between the initial signings and any more players come in. Purely the market or poor management/planning— L_E Toffee (@L_EToffee) August 14, 2017
Speaking of delayed signings, @L_EToffee asks the question that is on every Toffee fans mind...or said another way:
After signing Davy Klaassen and Jordan Pickford OVER TWO MONTHS AGO, and picking up Wayne Rooney and Sandro a month or so later, it seems like the well has run dry.
It looked like we were going to scoop up Gylfi Sigurdsson without a hitch, but that dream didn’t become a reality until today!
Confirmed!: Gylfi Sigurdsson an @Everton player subject to medical. Source tells me fee £40m + £2.5m add-ons. 5-year deal.— Jim White (@JimWhite) August 15, 2017
Yes, this saga dragged on, but in reality we are still a full two weeks away from the close of the window, not waiting for a last second deal to work itself out in the last minutes of the window.
Once teams know you WANT a player, and have made a pretty penny in the off season (Lukaku), they are going to tend to be more likely to stall and try and drain everything they can out of the interested club, even if it is just so they can get their subsequent business in order.
Just like any team at the end of the window, we will have holes in our side (striker, center back) that other teams know we NEED to fill, and will make us squirm in order to get what we want.
On that front the signs of the Toffees board being willing to stick to a deal, no matter how frustrating it got, bodes well as the window slowly shuts and everyone is scrambling.
Persistance is key.
If Everton end up getting Gylfi for £40 million plus add ons, we would have gotten the player we desired AND didn’t budge from the amount they were willing to spend (if that matters to you).
Hopefully now that the Gylfi is in the side, the board can focus on the last two pieces of business and strengthen up the side to Koeman’s liking.
I may be crazy, but I think come September 1st Everton fans will be VERY pleased with the business that the club has done, and the side will be set up to challenge forEuropa League and Top 4 spot.
They are the same size but Williams plays 5 times bigger on the pitch.
I'm absolutely terrified of the next two weeks. 2 big away matches in the league and we have an incomplete squad. Scary.— Chief (@AUChief) August 14, 2017
Question for you soccer fans: If you could somehow bite and grab hold of a soccer ball with your mouth and run with it, is that illegal??— corm (@cormacorourke19) August 13, 2017
Of course it is!! Air Bud said so!!
Ok, so to ACTUALLY answer your question:
Unfortunately, no you can not.
- Holding it in your mouth would make the ball unplayable, just like running with the ball stuck between your legs.
- It is unsportsmanlike conduct, which is a catch-all for stuff like this.
There have been numerous attempts to use ones mouth to gain an advantage in a match.
For example, Luis Suarez attempted to move an entire defender out of the way of the goal using his mouth. I will say though, I think he would have struggled to lift him all the way off the ground and out of the way.
Suarez also once attempted to create room for a free kick using this same tactic, but was again foiled by the body weight to bite-strength ratio.
He eventually moved onto limbs, giving new meaning to ‘dragging your defender out of position’, but found the same limited success.
(Seriously though, how is he still allowed to play organized sports???)
One last note on the topic of questionable practices:
During my research I discovered one more tactic that is illegal for the same reasons as running with the ball in your mouth:
Running with the ball in your hair.
So don’t get any ideas Marouane...or else
Remarkable stat: Rooney's 16 PL goals for Everton have been worth as many points (24) as Lukaku's 53 were in three full seasons #efc— Nicholas Godden (@nicholasgodden) August 14, 2017
Speaking of Rooney’s goal....
After the Stoke match I saw a lot of negative press about Davy Klaassen’s performance, and while I can understand that he didn’t shine on Saturday, I think his influence was stifled largely by the lack of wide play available to him.
When he had chances to play runners in, however, he was generally positive and many turnovers came in effort to push the team forward.
I’m not discrediting the fact that there is plenty of room for improvement for Klaassen, but when he had an chance to help the team, he did so at the most crucial time.
Watch Rooney’s goal again, except watch Klaassen bide his time before making a perfectly timed run to clear the box of defenders and open up the middle of the 18 for Rooney to find space, and after a BEAUTIFUL cross by Calvert-Lewin, score the game-winner.
Sure, it may seem like a simple thing, but it never is.
Klaassen makes the run to early the defenders recycle and Rooney finds himself being contested.
Klaassen holds off and sits in the middle of the box and Rooney doesn’t get clean, if any, contact on the ball because the box is so congested.
Klaassen, however, makes the right run at the right time and in doing so gives Rooney the chance for his heroics.
Davy Klaassen will be a major part of the squad, and once ALL the pieces are HOPEFULLY in place, his skill set will shine and the £25 million price tag will seem like a bargain.
To finish off this mailbag I thought I would go back into the archives and share this Gareth Barry question from March that shows off some of my finest photo-shopping skills.
Less serious question: what would the plot of a Terminator movie starring Barry (who is clearly an ageless robot) look like?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) March 12, 2017
This is exactly the type of question I got into soccer writing for!
I do love soccer, and fancy myself somewhat knowledgeable on the topic, but it is NOTHING in comparison to my movie and pop culture knowledge. While it won’t be on display here, it is always fun to blend the two worlds!
So without further ado.....
The basic premise:
It is Summer 2038.
Aston Villa have just won their 10th straight treble.
Owner Robert Kraft is seen on TV, waving as he holds up another Champions League trophy, a site not unknown to soccer fans around the world.
The camera scans the faces of the fans in attendance and at home, their interest obviously waning as the Villans dominance has deprived them of all joy.
(Cut to a boardroom deep in a cave.)
“Gentleman we must act!” a shadowy faceless executive screams to a murmuring group of harried billionaires.
“We’ve tried everything, but if we don’t do something soon Aston Villa will continue to win every trophy and we will have nothing to play for but Champions League spots!”
“What’s the problem, again?” says Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke
“Well, STAN, some of us aren’t happy finishing 4th every season!” screams Farhad Moshiri, owner of Everton, the last team to win before Villa was taken over by the Krafts.
“We have played our hand gentlemen, and we have only one card left up our sleeve.....”
“A yellow card.”
(Cut to 1996.)
Gareth Barry walks into a busy board room in Villa Park.
“Gentlemen, this club would best be served to offer itself in an initial IPO” says the mid-40’s looking teenager (?)
“Should on the field performances improve steadily over the next decade you all will stand to make a great windfall when you eventually do sell the team”.
The group of wealthy business people look around inquisitively at the youthfulish stranger, then proceed to unanimously nod eagerly in agreement with his proposal.
MONTAGE SCENE OF GARETH BARRY TEARING UP THE FIELD FOR VILLA AS THEY MAKE FA CUP FINALS, FLIRT WITH THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND BRING JOY TO MILLIONS OF FANS WORLDWIDE.
(It was the best I could do)
PS: Notice the opponent...