Off the Mark: Pienaar’s return gives Everton competition and confidence
Substitutes were responsible for four Premier League goals last Saturday, with Everton’s Steven Pienaar beating Paul Dummett, Aaron Ramsey and Oscar to make the biggest impact of the lot.
It took the South African just 10 seconds to find the net after he replaced Leon Osman in the Blues’ home game against Hull City, a match in which the hosts weren’t at their best and were somewhat fortunate to keep 11 men on the field due to a couple of rash challenges from midfielder Gareth Barry.
Yet Roberto Martinez’s men still picked up the three points, something that was made possible thanks to their ability to introduce a player of the quality of Pienaar at such a crucial moment of the game.
Not even Martinez would have expected such instant validity of his decision of course, but it highlighted the importance of having a strong squad in the Premier League, something that is more important now than ever.
Take Chelsea’s recent 3-1 win at Norwich, a match in which Jose Mourinho’s side had been pegged back and were facing the possibility of dropping points until the Portuguese turned to his bench.
Sitting there, along with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Gary Cahill and Michael Essien, were over £60million worth of footballers in Eden Hazard and Willian. The pair both came on, both scored and both played a huge part in Chelsea earning their win.
Their presence on the bench underlined the strength of Chelsea’s squad, a squad which is so strong that players of the quality of Romelu Lukaku and Victor Moses have been allowed out on loan this season, whilst Daniel Sturridge left the club permanently in January.
You can debate the whys and wherefores of those decisions of course, but ultimately they underline the competition for places at Stamford Bridge, a competition that all other teams must aspire to.
Of course the likes of Everton don’t have the funds to match Chelsea’s vast riches, but Pienaar’s goalscoring return at the weekend showed that the Blues from Merseyside have surely got their best squad of the Premier League era right now.
Across midfield alone they can boast Pienaar, Barry, Osman, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley, with their presences ensuring that the blow of losing Darron Gibson to a long-term knee injury has been softened somewhat.
On the flanks, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith and Gerard Deulofeu compete for places, and whilst Lukaku will be the undisputed star man up top, Arouna Kone and Nikica Jelavic represent pretty decent backup.
Pienaar played the full 90 minutes in the three league games before he was struck down with injury, and so the South African will expect to come straight back into the starting XI now that he has returned to action so spectacularly, but with all of those other options available he might have to be a little more patient.
Martinez now has to juggle his resources and keep all the members of his strong squad happy, a tough job and perhaps the first such test he’s encountered in his managerial career.
His side’s trip to Aston Villa this weekend represents a good test of that squad, particularly as Liverpool and Tottenham – two teams who Everton want to keep up with – have already won there this season.
Manchester City lost at Villa Park though, proof that a strong squad doesn’t always guarantee success, but at least Everton have now become part of a group of Premier League clubs who can legitimately claim to have one.
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Townsend proves that confidence is key
What’s better, a confident footballer or a good footballer?
The two are usually one at the same, and no-one else in the Premier League is demonstrating that better than Tottenham’s Andros Townsend right now.
Perhaps feeling freer to express himself following the sale of Gareth Bale, the winger is rewarding Andre Villas-Boas and Roy Hodgson for consistently picking him, and when you’re at the peak of your confidence then freakish goals such as the one he scored at Villa Park on Sunday tend to just happen for you.
Maintain that confidence, and Townsend can become a special player for club and country.
Hammers need Andy Carroll back
West Ham’s strikerless formation was rightly lauded at Tottenham, but against Manchester City the deficiencies within it were shown up.
Playing up against makeshift centre-back Javi Garcia the Hammers didn’t have a forward to trouble the Spaniard, with the recently re-signed Carlton Cole not quite up to scratch just yet.
If only Sam Allardyce had another forward to call, maybe a Geordie one with a ponytail and few England caps to his name?