Everton FM 2

This is Part 2 (as you might have guessed from the title) – for Part 1, click here.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-17-19-58“The break went well etc etc”, but in truth it did. Of course, nothing tests you like the reigning champions away from home. I set match training to defensive positioning and pour myself a piping hot mint tea. Remembering that this is a sort of comparative exercise, I cast my eye back over Iain’s superb series and have a brief gander at his fixtures in the Premier League. They’re horrible.

Manchester City (H) – L

Bournemouth (A) – W

Arsenal (H) – L

Stoke (A) – L

Middlesbrough (H) – D

Southampton (H) – W

Burnley (A) – L

Sunderland (H) – W

Hull (A) – W

Watford (H) – L

Manchester United (A) – L

Liverpool (H) – L

West Ham (H) – L

Tottenham (A) – L

So 13 points is my first target. My first four games are Leicester away, City at home, Chelsea at home, and Spurs away, with some sort of cup competition in the mix too. It’s arguably a tougher set of four than that which set Iain off on his way, but the Premier League is a horrible place to be an Everton manager whatever fixtures you get.

Above are my tactics, for home games anyway. And so to the football. Leicester, away: the first half is a lesson in that odd mix of boredom and terror you only get when standing by for medical test results in an ugly waiting room with a shit magazine selection.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-18-34-39Our sole shot on target is a Deulofeu free kick and Bolasie and Gueye are booked for fouls. But the half finishes 0-0, which is encouraging given Leicester’s strength. I haul off Bolasie for Enner Valencia and then, on 55 minutes, given Duffus his debut. And, minutes later, Duffus gives a short pass to Deulofeu, who takes it forward a few strides and hammers a shot than strikes Schmeichel but goes in. We’re 1-0 up! Unfortunately, we are already playing with a defensive mentality, so there’s not really anywhere further back to drop until hitting ‘contain’ in the last five minutes or so. Leicester push their 4-4-2 into a 4-2-4, bringing on Musa. We are facing a juggernaut of pace. Mason Holgate against Ahmed Musa is a source of pure, blind panic and, indeed, it’s all of three minutes before Stekelenburg has to pull off a blinding save from Slimani after Musa left Holgate back-peddling and moronically out of position. And, on 73 minutes, Duffus gives away possession and the Foxes break, Slimani scoring after a swift counter-attack. We hold out for a draw and I tell the lads I am pleased. Half of them switch off. I am beginning to understand Iain’s Schopenhauer-like levels of misery. To compound matters, Valencia collapses with a calf strain during the game and is out for three to five weeks.

Seamus Coleman is two weeks from fitness, which is great news. Next up, though, are Manchester City at home, in Gareth Barry’s 100th game for the club. I’m feeling reasonably confident on the basis of my last game, even though City beat Chelsea 4-1 at the Etihad in their opener, and so I set my match training to attacking set pieces. I have some nifty corner scenarios, after all, and some quite tall players. Maybe I can be like Tony Pulis. And play Pulis-ball. It sounds divine. A betting firm says we are only “slight underdogs” against City, which seems like flirting to me.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-19-07-31City batter us for the first twenty minutes. I now know what Troy felt like, without the sense I’m taking this punishment for some sort of geo-political endgame that’ll make it all worthwhile. We finally get a shot off after 23 minutes, but it sails wide. Two minutes later City score a goal that more or less defines ineluctable. Otamendi adds a second from a corner minutes after that. We can’t pass, we can’t shoot, and we can’t score. And then, against all expectations and the run of play, we do just that: we break from a City corner and Barkley carries it up the pitch before squaring it to Gueye, who side-foots it past a diving Bravo. Are we back in the game? We get to half-time with the score still 2-1 to City and start the second half brightly, with Baines winning a corner. And then, joy of joys, shock of shocks: we equalise. Lovely interplay between Bolasie and Barkley releases the winger, who floats a cross in that Lukaku cannot fail to head past Bravo. It’s 2-2. Moments later, Bolasie sets up Lukaku again, but he blasts it at Bravo from all of a yard out; it’s what us stats geeks call a regression to the mean. Remember what I said about Holgate in the last match? I take it all back. The right-back sprints up the pitch and delivers a ball, this time to Barkley, that is on a plate and the attacking midfielder slots it home. We have come back from 2-0 down to be 3-2 up. There’s a nausea-inducing vertigo at play now; do we push for a fourth, or sit back and let them come at us? I genuinely don’t know, which is why I’m not a real football manager. I take off Holgate as he’s knackered and on a yellow, sending on Jonjoe Kenny. I also bring on Baye Oumar Niasse to close City down from the top, setting him as a defensive forward, and replace Williams with Funes Mori. Suddenly, we are playing with real swagger. Niasse adds a fourth on 77 minutes, tapping in after a Deulofeu cross. We have pulled a 2-0 deficit back to 4-2 ahead and it’s frankly just the most ridiculous thing. As the clock ticks down, Gueye hits the post from the edge of the area; the finishes 4-2. I want to dance and shout and shake them by the collars, shouting, “Where were you when Iain needed you, you ingrates?!” Of course, I do no such thing, and merely tell them, calmly, that it was a good win. Because I have maximum chill, despite what you might have inferred from .

Next up is Peterborough in the EFL Cup but before that, I learn via the dreaded inbox that Bolasie is out for a month having over-exerted himself weights training. I hate gyms. I move Mirallas into the starting line-up and promote Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the first team squad. Aaron Lennon, whose existence I am reminded of by deciding not to select him despite Bolasie’s crockage, marches to my office (my ‘office’?, seriously) and demands to play. I tell him I’m going to sell him and he says I’ve not heard the last of it, which I hope is true. I hope ‘the last of it’ is someone offering around £9m for him.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-18-35-48Against Peterborough, I rest Williams, Lukaku, and Gueye, handing starts to Funes Mori, Niasse, and Duffus (obviously). We are definitely the better side, though I lose track of how many times Barkley shoots high and wide, a sort of centrally placed Andros Townsend. Eventually Niasse scores, though, from a Barkley assist; he is definitely better at creating than finishing. Peterborough are no mugs, though, and Bostwick is playing superbly in central midfield, shuttling about and cutting off my attacks. Duffus is booked, so I bring on Gueye, as well as Calvert-Lewin for Mirallas and Cleverley for Barry. Bostwick sees red, which is a shame because he has been their best player, and we are now very comfortable; to be fair, we are playing a team from League One with 10 men, so we ought to be. The game finishes 1-0, but we have 55% possession and 16 shots, six on target, to their 10 and three. It’s a solid win.

Next up: Chelsea at home.

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