Sunday, April 29, 2007

The big five re-emerge - Margin

When the Premiership was created it was a stitch up. The big five were warping the league to serve their own aims. Papers complained, fans despaired, and the league threw its hands up in resignation.

Those big five were United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton. They were the five clubs always tipped to win something and each had a million fans or more. Other clubs would rise for a while, but these five were the giants that always came back.

Of course looking at old predictions shows the trouble with predicting. No one expected a Liverpool title drought. Spurs failed to recover from bankruptcy. And Everton just faded. Meanwhile Blackburn spent a fortune and rose to the top. Newcastle spent a fortune and rose to second. And Chelsea raised the bar for both spending a fortune and rising to the top.

But as the league starts to settle into its final shape again, there are signs the ‘big five’ is re-emerging, with Chelsea as long-term interlopers.

Two years ago Everton finished fourth. Their manager David Moyes publicly pushed to finish higher - and that gave them the edge to hold on to the end. Last year Spurs nearly did likewise, but manager Martin Jol did things different. He sheltered his players and played down expectations all season.

Spurs now look a natural fifth. Still not as good as the dominant four, they are better than the rest across all competitions. And they did that after losing their most influential player to ManU last summer.

But the more interesting story is Everton.

Everton’s overconfidence two years ago got results, but at a price. Raised expectations followed by early failures triggered a confidence crisis. At one stage they looked a certainty for relegation, and that prompted a change in attitude.

Well run for the first time in years, Everton did the unusual nd kept their good manager when times got tough. They spent money wisely to build a solid team rather than paper over cracks with aging stars.

Tactically sound and with an eye for good signings, Moyes learned an important lesson. He still exudes confidence, but protects players from expectations instead of hyping them up himself. That may sound less glorious but if it avoids collapses that last for months it will serve the club well.

Few people have noticed Everton’s revival because of that bad season last year. The resulting lack of European football drew attention away from the side. The blip was portrayed as a return to mediocre form. And no one noticed the side improve and learned from experience.

Of course eventually the old Moyes will return. Both Spurs and Everton have a big barrier to face in the next couple of years. Both sides can outplay and beat the modern ‘big four’ over 90 minutes. But their capacity to throw away commanding leads shows that neither side yet believes they are worthy.

Spurs lost leads in cup exits to Arsenal, Chelsea and Seville this season. In each game they showed a lack of belief that they were really good enough to win. They talked in terms of ‘could win’ not ‘should win’ and seemed grateful for cup runs instead of angry at defeat.

When Everton step up to match Spurs, Moyes’ instincts may serve him better. His aggressive belief and will to win backfired before, but might be fit the bill when better players have a chance to win trophies.

So with Spurs improved and Everton rising, those long wrong predictions may finally prove true. Sort of.

21 comments:

MotM said...

Everton have been very lucky to have had Moyes in charge. There have been times when he has infuriated me, but the he has done a fine job.

But I can't agree with the Big Four re-emerging, at least not with Everton amongst them.

The long-term boardroom mismanagement and debt is still too recent not to be impacting on decisions, with the Stadium issue still not settled.

I expect James Vaughan to get a cap soon and if it's in the Summer, the pressure of a £15M bid for "the new Drogba" will be enormous. Cahill's fitness is also critical and he has played a lot of football for a 28 year old.

And there just isn't much between fifth and fifteenth - I look at the goal difference as an indicator of where clubs are and most are a very long way behind the top four, but not far from each other.

guitougoal said...

I couldn't agree more, 30 pts goal difference with manutd, there is still a long way to go.

Ebren said...

Mouth - woud you want to move into Stanley Park?

I always thought that just made sense. Both teams have the fans to fill it, why should both teams spend twice as much as they need to for a stadium that is empty every other week?

I think [dirty] Leeds have to be among England's biggest teams. From the 60s to the mid 70s they were probably England's best side. And then under Graham and O'Leary (who never finished outside the top 5, and got the the CL semis - let's not forget).

Not going great for them now - but they are bigger than almost anyone (only team in a 700,000 town. The biggest city with only one team in England).

Margin said...

Firstly I should point out that this was not meant as a trigger for a debate on what makes a club 'big'.

It was just the coincidence that with Spurs having risen to a strange 'fifth' club status of "the usual suspects will win all the trophies, and maybe spurs" that over the same three years spurs got their act together, so have everton, who were part of the big five the premiership was supposed to be dominated by.

It was also not meant to suggest that each of these teams will win the league every year - not least since only one team can do that each year unless one of them is Juve and the other Inter. And neither of those will win the prem.

It was just that Everton show a lot of similarities to Spurs in their recent development - like having a good and trusted manager for the first time in years - a squad that works well together rather than two or three stars who gloss over the dross - and a general rise back into the top half and european qualification positions.

And yet everyone dismisses Everton as part of the rest - while spurs can barely be mentioned in the papers without being labelled 'best of the rest'.

and I wanted to put a counter case.

Margin said...

ps

Everton have a far better goal difference than those outside the top four - and are closer on every count to arsenal and liverpool than liverpool are arsenal are to ManU.

BlueinBetis said...

Margin,

I agree with the ideas about Spurs and Everton getting better, and I agree that it seems to be a lack of confidence that makes them shoot themselves in the foot. Personally I know Spurs better, since my best mate is a Spurs fan. I can see both of them improving, and in Spurs' case this has been a very long term improvement. The loss of Sol Campbell really put them back four or five years, imagine how good they would have been three years ago with an emerging King and Campbell a centre back. I think this will be the problem for both teams, will the hang on to good players now? Is a fourth or fifth finish good enough to keep their good players and attract new ones?

By comparison remember Serie A about ten years ago, when the were, theoretically at least, seven sides that were considered among the title challengers for a couple of years. That is a sign of a healthy league.

Spain is held up to be a strong league, but basically there are three contenders, joined this year by a side that have made some incredible signings, and have taken advantage of poor performances generally of everybody else.

In England, there are two. Possibly Liverpool will challenge next year, if Chelsea and that other team drop the standard. Arsenal, I can see dropping into the fight for WAFFA cup places if they have another season like this year, and Everton and Spurs continue to improve, A much healthier situation than has been the case for the past three years.

Next year (in my dreams)

1. The Mighty Chelsea.
2. Liverpuddle.
3. The other red lot.
4. Spurs.
5. Everton.
6. Arse.

After that, God only knows. Could still even be West Ham, but probably Blackeye rovers or Bolton

MotM said...

I would love Everton to share a 75000 seater stadium in Stanley Park, but it ain't going to happen. Next best would be Kirkby as the finance aseems there with a capacity = to Liverpool's new ground +1. I like Goodison, but the best before date expired 15 years ago.

bluedaddy said...

Nice piece margin. As befits his moniker, it's the margin that is important. Can Everton improve by a dozen points, while maintaining their good record versus the big four, and at the same time will the gap from the four to the rest remain the same?

On this season's evidence I would say Arsenal are well placed to have a much better season in 07/08, esp if Van Persie stays fit. They have dropped crazy points to teams like Sheff Utd/West Ham/Fulham at regular intervals, but it was not unreasonable for them to have a transition season in 06/07.

Liverpool have lost away to every top 7 team. So their task to add to their 06/07 points total may be harder to achieve. Rafa's natural caution will have to loosen a little away from home, but it is hard to see them earning less points than this season, especially as the players coming in should be of higher quality than those they replace.

Everton have a good squad emerging, are hard to beat, but need to add an extra 15 goals to turn those draws into victories. It looks like there may be genuine competition for a starting place up front, so that should help, as would a full season from Cahill.
They may need to replace Stubbs, and secure a good goalie (is Howard good enough/can they afford him?), and this is where their real problem emerges. Financially can they bring in the players to add those dozen points, or will they replace like with like?

If I was Paul Allen I'd look to buy an Everton over a Southampton any day, but where would I play with my yacht?

bluedaddy said...

Of course you think about it a bit more and the question arises whether there really is a big four.

Winning the league (if that happens... you have to dream, don't you Betis?) should restore Man Utd's self belief and it would be a surprise if they did anything but challenge Chelsea again next season. Fergie appears happy to keep going, although you do wonder what he will do if he wins Big Cup again, or heaven forbid repeats the treble (which will be followed by a long absence from the outside world by Bluedaddy as I grow my nails, hair and beard and start chuntering to nobody in particular even more than usual).

So while Pool and Arse may get closer they have a long way to go to actually be in with a shout.

offside said...

bluedaddy,

Paul Allen's yacht is in the bay of Pao Pao most of the time (or in Papeete for servicing). No word yet that he might be putting in a bid for Pihaena FC (part of Moorea's big four), but you never know.

Some locals are complaining about the racket the helicopter makes early in the morning on the baguettes and croissants run. Tough life.

Margin said...

some interesting views expressed here.

I think the specific needs of the everton team are possibly less significant now than the flaws they have already fixed in the last few years. They may need a better goalie and better cover in key positions - but they have over the last three or four years shown an ability to improve their squad by getting players that compliment those around them.

and as for sharing stanley park - could everton not just move back home to anfield for a while and really twist the knive on the reds?


on the Serie A analogy - I think hoping that six teams could all compete for the league is some way off - although if three or four changing teams could compete from that top six each season - then that would open things up a lot and really improve depth to the league.


and on the predictions for next season - if liverpoool don't disrupt their squad again by buying lots more players - they could challenge next year.

chelsea will be much improved with a fully integrated Schevo - although that depends on jose staying. And ManU are looking back to something like their best this season, which probably won't fade.

I'm torn on Arsenal - their young players will have more experience to start with which should help - but their thin squad has been exposed by injuries this year and henry ain't getting any younger so can expect more time in the treatment room.

Spurs should have learned a lot from this season - and if king stays fit they will concede fewer goals - but if they sell another top star and buy five new players in they will start badly and blow their chances again before november.

and everton should mostly focus on getting the squad used to more games. With the right couple of new players they could face a sixty game season - and that will be quite a learning curve.

Margin said...

ps - I know Paul Allen won the FA cup and all that - but can he really afford a football team?

pipita said...

Must admit, as an Everton fan, that Im grateful to Moyes for having transformed a relegation-doomed team into a regular top ten or above team in the prem. Having said this, I sincerly think that with the current dull and negative style of play adopted, it will take a long time for them to be considered a big club again. Its a catch 22 really, only by getting rid of Moyes will they ever have a chance to revive the attractive style they have always associated with. Off course this can prove a costly risk. Im all in favor of the latter, in spite of the costs implicit in such a move

Margin said...

pipita

but that rather suggests that you have written off any chance that Moyes can develop things further and go beyond the rigid system used so far.

And I'm not convinced that is a fair assessment. yet.

pipita said...

Margin

Absolutely. I have no faith whatsoever in Moyes's capacity to transform Everton's style of play and make them "think big" instead of this excessively "British" and pragmatic approach to the game. He's been in charge long enough for me to have expectations regarding chances of improvements in the current style of play. I think the ease with which Man U eventually got the better of them last saturday says a lot about the limitations of this current approach.

Margin said...

pipita

Fair enough. I'm not an Everton fan and have probably watched them play less than you. But I don't think Moyes plays that way through dogma. More because the players he has don't yet offer the option to play the way Spurs presently do at a similar level. (He has no Berbatov for example).

duncan said...

It's all about the factors that make up consistency and I think you (margin) do point out one of them - belief. I am a United fan and during that long wait for the League that was lacking, translating Cup wins into regular League wins just didn't happen. It was frustrating. What am I on about...?.. well, good point. If I had to choose a manager from the two you mention for my team I'd take Jol over Moyes. I think he's a better psychologist.

Nice that you mention Carrick as Spurs most influential player. Many people thought he was overpriced, and had already been replaced by whatsisname...from Ghana.

pipita said...

Okay, its true he doesnt have too much money or general resources to dare a more adventurous style. However, I think he would always be inclined to adopt that kind of style, regardless of the players made available to him. Why the Everton board havent been able to sign up a top class player in the last years beats me...

Margin said...

Duncan

that ghanaian was in fact Ivorian Didier Zokora - who is world class too although a different sort of player to carrick. (more a battling energetic midfielder than a defensive playmaker).

And you might be right that Jol can create that all important winning mentality - though Moyes already did just that two seasons ago and needs the team to go with it.

pipita

You raise a good point there - Spurs might have spent £11mil on berbatov. But £1mil for Lennon, £6mil for Keane, and £4mil for carrick should not have been out of Everton's price range.

and yet they have few equivelents.

bluedaddy said...

Margin, Paul Allen sued Willie Young for that tackle under Human Rights legislation and the EU awarded him a zillion Euros. If he buys Southampton they will want it back, unless he pays for Le Tiss to shed six stone and ten years.

Margin said...

was young sent off for that? I can't remember any more. It was a shocker.

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