OXFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Liam Davis of Oxford United moves away with the ball watched by Vellios of Everton during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Oxford United and Everton on July 29, 2011 in Oxford, England. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Continuing on from where I left off yesterday where I profiled the Playmakers today I am going to discuss the various attributes of the front line - the men who are supposed to put the final ball in the net. Everton are without doubt blessed with two exceptionally talented strikers in 'King' Louis Saha and Yakubu. However the biggest problem for Everton in recent times has been their ability to get both these players off the treatment table, via the psychiatrist's sofa (I jest) and onto the pitch in one piece..
The problem Everton face with both these top class players is to both get them on the pitch fit and find a way to accommodate their undisputed skills. Louis Saha has a tremendous touch and is a great finisher - Yakubu is a phenomenal finisher with great strength in the box. However, whilst Moyes has had to tinker with the various needs of the team, the strength of the opposition and the availability of appropriate starters to play with either of these players their form (particularly Yakubu's) has suffered badly from being sometimes being asked to plough a lone furrow at the top of the pitch. Certainly Yakubu does not like being asked to do all the spade work - he'd much prefer to be given a chance on a plate which - before sustaining a terrible injury at White Hart Lane - he was more than capable of accepting. Louis Saha on the other hand showed little aptitude for the workaday aspects of his job and has always been prone to injury. So, can Everton afford to sacrifice a midfielder and go 4-4-2 to play both? That's highly doubtful and also a high risk strategy given the probability of both being fit and available. The dynamic definitely shifted last season when, with Yakubu having overcome his injury, his appearances in the side were punctuated with minimal contribution - save for a tremendous effort in the Goodison Derby - and even less end product (just the one goal against Stoke). Consequently Moyes loaned him out to Leicester where he started to reproduce the scoring touch that was missing in the Premiership. Some might argue that this was typical of Yakubu who, it would seem, has a happy knack of producing the goods for a year or two and then needing a new challenge elsewhere to rediscover his scoring touch. Whilst Everton appeared close to agreeing a fee with Leicester City (after rejecting an earlier, derisory offer from West Ham) talks broke down to the point that the smiling assassin is now back in the Goodison fold.
Louis Saha meanwhile was going through a dreadful patch in his form. He took till the New Year to find his goalscoring touch, went through a golden patch and promptly returned to the familiar surroundings of the treatment room following another on-field breakdown. The big question for Moyes is whether either are part of the future of Everton and whether both can star in the side. The most likely scenario is a starting role for a fit-again Saha and a place on the bench for Yakubu,
In the absence of any serious funding for the manager Saha and Jermaine Beckford remain the most likely to start in the Premier League. Beckford was snapped up from Leeds United on a Bosman Transfer after his contract lapsed. The return he produced last season was most encouraging given his lack of experience at the top level. Initially he was prone to shoot on sight often with little end product. The well worn saying that you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket certainly applies to Beckford and, after presumably more encouragement to improve on his shooting skills, he finally started to find the net with some excellent goals. His movement also improved considerably throughout the season although there still remains an attitude issue which manifested itself at Wolves at the back of the season. Top marks however for the solo goal in the final game against Chelsea and he is a highly likeable person.
The same probably can't be said for Victor Anichebe. What an enigma! When he first burst onto the scene as a teenager he showed purpose and drive and a great turn of foot which looked set to give defenders nightmares. One wonders whether the injury sustained at St. James Park, courtesy of Mr. Nolan, has killed his enthusiasm. Mores the pity because, when the mood takes him he can be a very difficult customer. The problem is that the appetite for the game, manifested in his lone role at Manchester City (before the foolish and unfortunate 2nd yellow card), needs to be on show more often. The very best players maintain that desire game after game as well as finding a few goals - something else missing from Victor's game - occasionally.
So, apart from the four players above what other options do Everton have - apart from the hoped for arrival of a new 20 goal a season striker (most unlikely)? There's the obvious choice in playing Tim Cahill - or even Marouane Fellaini or Leon Osman - as an auxiliary striker and I will deal with both Cahill and Fellaini in a later article. Or perhaps there's another, hitherto unmentioned player lurking in the shadows, waiting to emerge and show himself. There are youngsters with plenty of potential in the Everton squad such as Conor McAleny and Jose Baxter but the one player who has caught my eye is Apostolos Vellios. For my money Everton have unearthed another diamond at a bargain price in the young Greek striker. The brief appearances he has made in the first team - both at the back of last season and in the pre-season - have been most encouraging. This youngster seems to show no fear and has a most pleasing set of attributes. It certainly is very early to judge him accurately but the initial impression is very positive. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that his movement is redolent of Dimitar Berbatov and his physique that of Ibrahimovic. He shows a tremendous eye for goal and is not afraid to have a go from almost anywhere inside the box - with his feet or his head. I really am expecting great things from him in the near future - so, as the saying goes - watch this space!