Everton's win on Monday night came as no great surprise to me. No, I'm no better judge of the game than you, it was fairly obvious. David Moyes has added two or three players to a side that finished last season like a train. He does it every year, and is one of the reasons why Bill Kenwright gets more bang for his buck out of Moyes than any other Premier League chairman.
The sense of team is palpable at Goodison Park - no focus on superstars is evident. That's not to say they don't have some very good players in their squad. Baines, Jagielka, Fellaini, Jelavic and Pienaar all fall into the category just below the Rooneys, Lampards, Ferdinands and Tevezs of this day and age in terms of media attention but are more consistent in their contribution and therefore arguably more valuable at a club where Moyes demands that no weak link exists in the unit he puts out on the pitch.
The highly acclaimed Glaswegian - in a clear sign that he is still yearning to better both his personal performance and that of his team - had the players in a few days earlier than most other Premier League clubs this summer, and had a gruelling fitness programme completed well before those other clubs so that he could focus on futher developing the team and the momentum gained during the now annual charge up the table after last Christmas.
This might not work at every club - it's a strategy that works at clubs with limited resources, at least in comparison to the likes of the two Manchester clubs. I think that means that most clubs outside the top four or five should learn from it. This approach develops a more cohesive unit, players have a deeper understanding of their roles and how they support their team mates around them, and the defensive unit in particular gives very little away as a result. Most managers will tell you the defensive work is the easier part of the game to get working, but scoring goals and creating a pattern that creates chances is not so easy - and if you had a criticism of Moyes it would be that Everton don't score enough goals.
Rather like Dave Brailsford's focus on marginal gains in team cycling, Moyes makes sure that whilst he may not have a Ronaldo or a Messi to call upon when attacking inspiration is required, the meticulous planning and execution of set pieces means he has at least one very effective method of creating and scoring goals if all else fails. Being able to score goals when you're not at your most fluent as an attacking force is critically important at all levels of football.
In addition, Moyes continues to prove himself an astute judge when assessing potential recruits in the transfer market. Jelavic's acquisition last season was a great example of this - he's a player who can contribute to the team's performance on and off the ball and is also an instinctive finisher who will get at least 15 goals a season, and will soon be joined by Moyes' latest recruit, Kevin Miralles.
I get the feeling that's the last piece of business Moyes will do this year. His squad is a little light but that reflects financial conditions he has to work under at Goodison Park. Moyes seems to relish the challenge of working to a tight budget.
Everton can finish in the top 4 this year but only if Everton do not suffer too many injuries. Either way, Everton fans can rest assured that Moyes will deliver a final league position above many teams who have spent condierably more money than will. In Moyes they most certainly do trust.
If Everton are settled, focussed and already operating as a well drilled unit, QPR look like a mad house to me at the moment. They appear content to continue buying players to add to what is already a large and expensively assembled squad. Their bench for the 5-0 defeat at home to Swansea included the likes of Zamora, Johnson and Wright-Phillips. They have just agreed a deal to take Michael Dawson to Loftus Road and are also reported to be interested in picking up Ricardo Carvalho on loan from Real Madrid. I like Dawson and think Carvalho might be a good partner for him as I think their styles compliment each other - Dawson can be likened to Carvalho's former central defensive partner John Terry and may prove to be the leader that QPR need. Regardless of that, Mark Hughes seems to have a large squad, full of relatively ordinary and inconsistent players. Their collective understanding as a team unit is conspicuous by its absence and even if Hughes gets Carvalho to partner Dawson, it will take time him to work out what his best 11 is and even longer for those players to develop the kind of understanding Moyes has nurtured at Everton.
Hughes as a manager fails to impress me. He should be under a lot of pressure to get QPR performing as he has received considerable financial backing from his chairman, Tony Fernandes. Though we're only one game into the season and I usually prefer to reserve judgement until I've seen teams settle a bit, I'm not sure QPR have the right mix. There appears to be too much focus on getting players into the club rather than getting the ones they already have on the books performing. Every club is different but I get the feeling that QPR's constant state of flux will be there undoing this year.
Unlike Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool and Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham - they both have big budgets at big clubs and appear to have been given carte blanche to re-develop their squads in order to achieve more, even if that doesn't happen this season - sides currently viewed as mid table or below have to be realistic about their aspirations in what is an incredibly competitive league. They also can't afford to take 10 games of the season to work out the right mix in terms of players and style of play. Consolidation and a lengthy tenure in the Premier League appears more likely if sides tweak their playing squad and establish a playing style or DNA that works for them over more than just one season. Stoke, Swansea and West Brom are great examples of of this, despite their vastly contrasting styles.
Moyes and the culture he has created at Everton remains the benchmark for clubs outside the usual Champions' League contenders - his continued pursuit of improvement may even deliver Champions' League football to Goodison Park next season, which, given the constraints under which he operates, would be some achievement.
NB I feel the need to communicate my disgust at Blackburn Rovers as a football club at the moment. Shebby Singh's comments Steve Kean's prospects in a fans' forum were laughable and incredibly unprofessional, proving to me that the people in charge of the club are clueless. Kean may not be the best manager out there and fans are entitled to their opinion but football clubs, like businesses, need strong leadership from people who understand their product - it's sadly lacking at Ewood Park.
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