Lovely, Sweet Toffees

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48So, I have very quickly reached the end of September in the Everton save – I am really enjoying this save – so it’s time to update you all once again on how things are going, and whether we’ve been able to keep up our good start.

In the last instalment of the Evertonia story, we went unbeaten through the month of August, comfortably defeating Stoke City, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace in the Premier League on our way to 2nd in the table. The only thing even resembling a blip in the month was having to go to penalties to defeat Peterborough in the League Cup after a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes. We had also made a tactical switch, quickly ditching our 4-3-3 system we’d used in pre-season and moving to a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, and continued our odd obsession with Italy by signing talented Croatian midfield playmaker Andrija Balic from Udinese for £11M.

So, have we managed to keep this up? Have we continued to be fighting at the top of the table, or like so often with Everton, has reality set in and pushed us back down into mid-table obscurity?

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Well, no. Not at all. Reality is quickly changing at Goodison Park, at least for now.

We opened the month travelling to the North East – Everton great Howard Kendall was from the North East as well you know? Just saying – to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside. We continued with the 4-3-1-2, but were forced into a fairly heavy rotation, with Lukaku and Valencia injured, so the front two was Arouna Kone and Leandro Rodriguez and Gareth Barry came in for the suspended Idrissa Gueye. My selection ‘policy’ was backed up in the 34th minute when Rodriguez fired past Victor Valdes – a shot that the former Barca keeper should really have saved. However, I was brought straight back to Earth when Daniele Baselli idiotically brought down Gaston Ramirez in the box. Penalty. Negredo then tucked the penalty away, and when a shot deflected in off Gareth Barry after half time, we were in trouble. I then ramped up the mentality to attacking, and within minutes we were back to 2-2 through Barkley. I then calmed things back down to control – whilst still higher than our normal ‘standard’ – and in the 84th minute Ashley Williams headed in from a flicked on corner to give us an incredibly hard fought comeback win.

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Ashley Williams heads in from Edoardo Goldaniga’s flick on to complete our comeback in the North East.

Next up was tricky Southampton – with Yannick Bolasie – at Goodison Park and well…we lost, somehow. We were by far the better team in what wasn’t a great game, but one that we definitely didn’t deserve to lose. We had the lions share of possession, and more shots than they had, but in the 92nd minute, Ashley Williams decided it was a good idea to foul a Southampton player in the box at a corner, and Charlie Austin tucked away the penalty in what must be the FM definition of daylight robbery. To say I was disgusted would be a slight understatement. We in no way deserved to win, but that hurt.

Fortunately, we then had a less important fixture to deal with in West Brom in the League Cup. I heavily rotated the side again – more than Tony Pulis – and we laboured for most of the match, having chances but failing to actually tuck them away.  Finally in the 75th minute after I had brought on Baselli, Goldaniga and Lukaku – who returned from injury against Southampton – we took the lead, as Baselli laid on a pass for Seamus Coleman – making his first start since returning from injury himself – to smash in. That part of the move was actually quite like Carlos Alberto’s goal from the 1970 final. Another goal followed in the 81st minute from Deulofeu as he fired in at the near post after a lovely through ball from Lukaku, and we secured a comfortable – in the end – 2-0 win, sending us through to the next round. Lovely. Next up, Chelsea, and yes they play 3-4-3.

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Prior to the game with Chelsea, I received this. Kevin Mirallas is not content with being a backup to Ross Barkley at Number 10. I tried to tell Mirallas that if he worked hard in training I’d give him a shot, but he wasn’t having it, and therefore I – perhaps weakly – told him that I would start him over the next few games. However, I’m not about to drop Barkley (who I’m quickly becoming quite fond of ) and he can’t play upfront, so I made the brave – probably stupid – decision to switch to a 4-3-2-1 formation, and play Barkley alongside Mirallas, with Barkley as an AP-S and Mirallas as a Shadow Striker. Lukaku then moved to a CF-A, and everything behind remained exactly the same. Barkley and Mirallas were also told to move into channels in order to give us width and create movement.

NOTE: I know I said that Barkley wouldn’t have a controlling role in midfield, but Balic and Baselli are the real controllers, Barkley just needs a creative role next to Mirallas.

So, how did things work out?

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Yeah, quite well.

2-0 doesn’t really do justice to how good a performance it was. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 didn’t cause us any problems at all, and our control of the centre of the pitch was quite outstanding. I was brave in the second half and moved the mentality up to attacking, and the speed of our attacking movement was breathtaking, and Chelsea (with a Back 3 and 2 DMC’s) simply couldn’t handle us. Mirallas more than repaid my faith in him by opening the scoring after a through ball from Lukaku, and Coleman completed his fantastic return to the side, scoring his second in the month, tucking in at the back post after a wonderful move involving Lukaku, Barkley (playing DLP-S at this point), Oviedo and Mirallas. A fantastic end to a good month for the Toffees.

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So, we end the Month 3rd in the league, three points behind an already rampant Manchester City under the maestro Pep Guardiola. At this point to still be in the position we’re in is fantastic, and the Chelsea game has given us a bit of a litmus test to see where we’re really at in comparison to the top clubs in the country. Right now, I’m chuffed to be 3rd, but I’m still being very cautious with my expectations. We’re a top half team who finished 11th last season, and we’ve only played 6 games, there’s 32 still to go. Until mid-season, I won’t even begin to start changing my aims for the season. Call me Cautious Charlie, but I always find things work out better if I don’t start expecting too much. I am delighted with the way things are working tactically, and I’m getting good performances out of every member of the first team.

Next month, we face Swansea at the Liberty, before the big test of Pep’s City at the Etihad. We then welcome champions Leicester to Goodison, and take on Palace in the League Cup 4th Round. After that, we’ve got the first Merseyside Derby of the season, and I feel like I want to do something special for that – I’ll at least be doing a tactical preview – rather than just adding it into the normal monthly update, so I’m not 100% sure whether I’ll do an update before or after the derby. Either way, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions or queries about this save, of FM17 in general, please leave them either in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). See you next month!

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