These are exciting times in the Premier League and for the football-mad folk of Merseyside, in particular. I was at my old stomping ground, Goodison Park, last night to see Everton produce a scintillating first-half display that enabled them to beat Newcastle, maintain their unbeaten start and join arch rivals Liverpool in the top four. And I’m not sure how many years ago the two Mersey giants shared that distinction! Long may it continue, for it is starting to look as though we might actually have a four, five or even six-club title challenge, which would be wonderful for the game in general. Manchester United’s failings and Manchester City’s inconsistency have given the nod to the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham, teams that, suddenly, have reason to believe that they can compete for the big prize.
I am impressed by the job Roberto Martinez has done at Everton, who are playing a brand of exciting, possession football that has ignited the passion of the loyal Goodison crowd. “Everton fans are born, not made” read a banner in the stand and you could feel the joy of the blue half of the city as their new-look team tore Newcastle apart in that thrilling, first 45 minutes, when they took a 3-0 lead. Two-goal centre-forward Romelu Lukaku produced more compelling evidence that he can be the loan signing of the season in the top flight, leaving us to wonder afresh why Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho allowed him to leave on a season-long loan deal. Right now, there is no doubt that Chelsea’s loss is Everton’s gain. Lukaku also made a goal for Ross Barkley, the young midfielder whose emergence this season is good news not only for Everton but for England, too. Everton now face their biggest challenge to date, at Manchester City on Saturday. They did well at The Etihad Stadium under David Moyes’s management, but the difference this time is that Martinez’s team will be playing the way City play. City’s first half display in the derby defeat of United was arguably the best 45 minutes played by any team so far, but Everton’s performance last night wasn’t far behind. So, it should prove to be an entertaining match and one that will show whether Everton can be genuine challengers for the big prizes.
United have an even more pressing date, at Shakhtar Donetsk tomorrow in the Champions League, as they bid to re-establish their credentials. Moyes is finding life tough as he tries to fill the shoes of the incomparable Sir Alex Ferguson. Moyes has inherited a battle-hardened group of winners, but a group that is showing signs of wear and tear. United need a big result and a big performance following their stuttering start and, in particular, that stunning home defeat to West Brom last Saturday. By now, Moyes should have a good idea of what is his best team – and he needs to play it. Reports this week suggest he will have £50million available in the next transfer window, money that must be invested in at least one world class midfielder. There aren’t many of those who might be available, but Wesley Sneider, Luka Modric and, again, Cesc Fabregas are men who could do the job done for so long for United by now-retired Paul Scholes, who is becoming more conspicuous by his absence with each passing week. I wonder if United regret not getting involved in the chase for Mesut Ozil, Arsenal’s £40million deadline-day capture, for he is the type of player they need, a blender, a man who can link the back four and the midfield, who can start and finish moves. Ironically, Arsenal have the only Englishman capable of such a job, Jack Wilshere, so United are going to have to continue the “go foreign” trend to get their man – or men.
While Arsenal deservedly top the pile after a run of five straight victories and Tottenham increasingly look as though they will do very nicely, thankyou, without the special talent of £86million Gareth Bale, Chelsea are quickly assuming their previous persona under Mourinho…formidably functional if rarely inspirational. Mourinho has restored John Terry and Frank Lampard, his former stalwarts, and is already displaying his eccentric behaviour in front of the media. He walked out of his Champions League Press conference this week, claiming the reporters were always asking about players who were not in his team, as opposed to those who are. Perhaps it was his way of deliberately drawing attention to himself while taking it off his players. Or perhaps he was fearing follow up questions about why he has let Lukaku go to Everton! Mourinho has signed veteran star striker Samuel Eto’o but I suspect there may be similarities between him and another former World Player of the Year, George Weah, who I signed for Manchester City…namely great players who still know what to do but who have lost that vital split-second’s speed that enables them to do it. Who can say what the “special one” was up to. There is one thing for sure, he does tend to play a major part in his own dramas!