LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Everton manager David Moyes shouts orders to his team during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on March 13, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
It’s the story that just won’t die. Last week I wrote about how I whole heartedly supported David Moyes resting key players against Liverpool ahead of the FA cup. It was my opinion despite the fact they got trounced by Liverpool and it remains my opinion even though they only managed a draw with Sunderland. Of course, their results, combined with Liverpool’s success have placed me in the growing minority. In his Monday rant fellow writer at the site Darren, speaking for what seems to be the majority, absolutely crushed Moyes’s decision. If you haven’t read that yet, you should. It’s a good well reasoned piece that I enjoyed quite a bit. When you’re done with that go ahead and take the jump so I can tell you why it’s absolutely wrong.
Since I’m about to spend more words than you are probably going to read disagreeing with Darren and his rant, I’ll start by buttering him up. There is no question that Darren forgets more about managing between ordering his first and second pint than I will ever know. He’s incredibly plugged into the feel, and mood and mindset of his club, and it shows whenever he writes/tweets/emails or just generally makes his opinion heard. On this issue though I think his passion for the team, and the players, (and the hatred for Liverpool that accompanies that) is overriding his good sense. And he’s not alone. It’s a fan’s right to get overly worked up about a given, game, or week, or even moment. It’s the manager’s job to keep all those things in perspective.
Ok, onto the actual disagreement. The biggest thing I want to take issue with is Darren’s assertion that Liverpool didn’t feel the need to rotate players. While it’s true that they started the same eleven against Everton as they did the following weekend in their FA Cup match, that’s really only 2/3 of the story. Both teams had three games in a week span. Everton faced Spurs, Liverpool and then Sunderland in the Cup. And Liverpool faced Sunderland, Everton and Stoke in the Cup. And while Darren makes sure to harp on all the subs Everton made for their midweek game he neglects to mention that over at Anfield King Kenny rested five of his starters against Sunderland (in a game that they lost 1-0). Both managers rested players, recognizing that many of them could only go hard for two of the three games, and both made sure to field their strongest team for the FA Cup. So, the argument shouldn’t be about whether or not players needed to be rested, but given that players at some point do need to get their legs back, which game should Moyes have picked.
The Liverpool game is such an ugly loss that it obscures the fact that three days before it was Moyes’s team of starters who pulled off a gutty tough victory while Dagliesh’s team lost. Really though, both teams headed into their FA Cup match with more or less rested teams having won their last game at home, and lost their last game on the road. As we sit here now, the only difference between the sides is that Liverpool beat Stoke while Everton only drew against Sunderland which, for me at least, is due in no small part to the fact that Sunderland is a significantly better team than Stoke is. I completely reject the notion that somehow Everton and Liverpool took wildly different approaches to their current run of matches. They both played their strongest team at home to attempt to ensure the three points, and rotated their squad on the road. Fans though are blinded to the fact because Everton’s road game was against Liverpool.
That brings me to Darren’s second major point. His major belief seems to be that by deciding to rest so many players Moyes in effect killed the team’s momentum. He envisions a scenario where Moyes starts all of his best players against Liverpool, they win, and then riding high on that confidence they dispatch Sunderland with ease. It’s an appealing world to think about, and I think it’s the vision that all Everton fans have floating in their heads when they condemn Moyes’s selection. But as appealing as it is, it’s certainly no guarantee. Even had Jelavic, Cahill, Drenthe, and Osman all started that doesn’t guarantee a victory. While we can know that starting the normal squad would have led to a better performance that is not the same thing as a victory. We can’t know what the outcome would have been,
What we can know is what it would have done to those players’ legs going into the FA Cup match. As Darren said, against Sunderland Cahill had his best match in ages. Would that have been remotely possible for the 32 year old midfielder playing in third game in a week? Not likely. It was apparent to everybody how much Fellaini, one of the handful of players who did play all three matches, tired at the end against Sunderland. He’s a 24 year old beast, who under most circumstances seems like he could go 200 minutes without so much as breathing hard. The idea that not only would a win against Liverpool be guaranteed, but that the good vibes from that win would override the extra exhaustion against Sunderland seems like a fairy tale to me. And I understand that the players wanted to play anyway. I know that they went to Moyes and to a man said that they were ready to go. That’s great, it’s their job to do that, and it’s a credit to them that they were willing. But, it’s also a credit to Moyes that he turned them down. It’s the players’ job to say he can go, and sometimes it’s the manager’s job to tell them, not today.
I understand that everybody feels like last week was really rough, and they want somebody to blame. But all that happened was Everton lost an away match. That’s it. And now everybody wants to look at the team selection and play the what-if game. Fans want to assume that if Osman, Drenthe, Jelavic and Cahill had all started Everton definitely would have won and then coasted to victory against Sunderland. Here’s another scenario. Maybe, on the road, in a hostile environment even the normal starters wouldn’t have been enough. Maybe they would have lost anyway (after all they haven’t actually won a league match at Anfield this century), and then an exhausted downtrodden team wouldn’t have had anything left in the tank to combat the physical and in form Sunderland. Maybe in the process Osman asks too much of his body and picks up another knock which ends his season. I don’t know what would have happened if Moyes had changed his team selection at Anfield. Nobody knows.
Maybe fielding a better team at Anfield would have resulted in a win. Maybe it would have just resulted in two losses instead of one. I won’t condemn Moyes on those odds. But, it increasingly seems like I’m the only one.