There are, of course, many ways to run a football club, as supporters of Leeds and Cardiff would no doubt attest. Everton and Swansea are fine examples of stable, well-run outfits, and this in itself should not be taken lightly. However, as Danny Blanchflower once said, the game is about glory. The Toffees have not won the league for 27 years, while Swansea are newly returned to the top echelons – this game, therefore, was an opportunity. Both sides would have had reasons before the game to be hopeful of going far in this competition – Swansea, of course, claimed the League Cup last spring, while Everton’s Roberto Martinez is an FA Cup holder after his triumph with Wigan in May. So did they do themselves justice? The initial signs certainly did not look overly promising from Swansea, with Garry Monk making eight changes and producing an entirely new starting back five from the midweek draw with Stoke. But the game got the start that it needed with the early goal from Traore, and the Swans responded with urgency and intent. In the end, Everton had too much, and with the quarter finals (and potentially a Merseyside derby) now in their sights, could the Goodison trophy cabinet soon see a new incumbent?
It is the time of year – on a day when the seemingly never-ending rain clouds and howling winds showed signs of perhaps finally starting to abate – when eyes are beginning to turn towards a summer in the limelight. Today was a fine chance for Ross Barkley to continue to press his case for a spot on the plane to Brazil, and he did his chances no harm with a robust performance, muscling past defenders on more than one occasion to make himself some shooting space. He was equally comfortable taking the ball on with either foot, and showed good strength around the box. He is not the finished article – there were a couple of opportunities in particular with the ball outside the box which called for a little more composure – but with Steven Gerrard’s game no longer as dynamic as it was, could Barkley be the next all-action Merseysider to make an international name for himself?
Monk has much to thank Martinez for. When the Spaniard returned to Swansea as manager in February 2007, he had an important decision to make about his centre-back, who had ruptured his cruciate ligament, and it was far from clear that the man from Bedford would earn himself a new contract. In the end, though, he stayed, and has remained with the club ever since, culminating in his recent elevation to the top job. And the early signs are that the philosophy of which Martinez was an instigator and which has taken them so far will be maintained. If today his team (in the first half in particular) did not demonstrate the degree of possession-based control to which Swansea have been accustomed, they could easily have crumbled after Everton’s early goal. However, they were alert to get straight back into the game, and for the rest of the first half, perhaps had the better chances on the counter-attack. On today’s evidence, Swansea will need Bony or Michu back in the side soon to make the most of their chances, but overall, it is difficult to legislate for errors like that of Neil Taylor for Naismith’s goal, and Monk should be pleased with his team’s efforts.
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