Everton must improve on below-par Blackburn display to recapture preseason optimism
After all the build-up, hype and optimism surrounding Everton's potential success this season, we should have known that there was only ever going to be one result on Saturday, this is Everton after all.
The performance against Sam Allardyce's well drilled Blackburn side took us all by surprise, as Everton, playing in the new pink away kit which is simply ghastly, produced an attacking performance devoid of any quality or cutting edge and were easily nullified out by the resolute Rovers defence.
Of course it is only the first game of the season and the Blues have plenty of time to recover from this early setback, but this was a chance to make a real statement about our intentions for this campaign, and visits to places like Ewood Park will have to be converted into three points if we are to genuinely compete for a Champions League place this season.
The eagerly anticipated starting lineup up for Everton saw Marouane Fellaini return to partner Mikel Arteta in the middle, Tim Cahill just ahead of them behind the lone striker Louis Saha, with Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman on the flanks, and a back four of Neville, Jagielka, Distin and Baines.
Johnny Heitinga was left on the bench, presumably due to his lack of match fitness after returning late from the World Cup, to be joined by Mucha, Hibbert, Rodwell, Gueye and Beckford, leaving noticeable absentees such as Seamus Coleman, Yakubu and Joseph Yobo not even in the squad, but more on that later.
The defining moment of the game will be remembered as the gaff made by Tim Howard, inexplicably dropping the ball at Nikola Kalinic's feet, who promptly swiveled and fired in the only goal of the game in the 14th minute.
This was an uncharacteristic and costly mistake from Howard but there is no doubt that he will remain Everton's number one keeper, although the summer arrival of Jan Mucha will mean that further mistakes of this ilk should see Howard really pushed for his position in the team this season.
The more pressing concern for David Moyes will be that for all the neat possession and control that Everton had in the game, there was little or no end product and a glaring lack of cutting edge in the final third.
Too many times Everton laboured in possession and were too slow showing their attacking intent, with too many side ways balls slowing the play down in the opposition half and making it easy for Blackburn to get man behind the ball and defend with two banks of four.
Moyes did try to freshen his side up with Beckford, Bilyaletdinov and Rodwell coming on at different intervals for Osman, Saha and the tiring Fellaini, but their impact was again stifled by the Blackburn defence and Everton only managed to create one chance of real note which fell to Phil Jagielka, who's well struck effort was saved by Paul Robinson in the final moments.
Having a fully fit squad of this quality is a luxury that Moyes has not had in his time at Everton and there will be times this season when some previous first team regulars will not even be on the bench, as Yakubu and Yobo witnessed on Saturday.
However, without wanting to be overly critical, there is a chance that Moyes' loyalty to some players may end up hampering the side this season.
Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert have both been fantastic servants to Everton over recent years and both should still have a role to play in the squad this season, yet their inclusions on Saturday seem questionable compared to the other options that were available to Moyes.
Osman's best performances in a Blue shirt have always been in the central midfield position, yet he was accommodated on the right hand side of midfield and was ineffectual before being substituted. The enigmatic Diniyar Bilyaletdinov or Jack Rodwell's natural ability as a footballer may have served us better in this position.
Hibbert was named on the substitutes bench in preference to Seamus Coleman, which was a particularly baffling decision considering that, as good as a defender as Tony Hibbert is, he is never going to change a game or provide the same attacking threat from the right back position that Coleman does, something that the side definitely could have benefited from on Saturday.
Moyes also has a great tendency to accommodate Phil Neville, whether it be in the right back or defensive midfield role, and although Neville is a great captain for this team, his qualities to a side chasing a game away from home are limited and Moyes could have looked at this and found further reasons to include Coleman in the squad.
It maybe unfair to single out the above players, especially Hibbert given that he didn't even play, but the expectation level of this squad has been raised and the players will have to cope with this level of expectation if they are to maintain a place in the starting line up.
In conclusion it was a desperately disappointing display by Everton considering the quality of the players we now possess; perhaps it was just an off day which can happen at any point during the season, but David Moyes and his squad must be aware that there is strong competition for places and certain players will lose their place in the team if they perform like this again.