A six-pointer. In a nutshell, that's what we have this Sunday when Everton comes to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham Hotspur. The winner (if there is a winner) would take a huge step towards keeping up with Liverpool in the race for fourth. The loser (if there is a loser) might just fade out of the Champions League race entirely. I interviewed DarrinMelling of SB Nation's Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey at a posh ski resort in Austria, in between sessions on the black diamond slopes. He had an Italian espresso, I had four fingers of Pappy Van Winkle. We talked about the Toffees' season, the match vs. Spurs on Sunday, and just a bit about David Moyes. And in exchange, I answered some questions for him as well.
Uncle Menno: Roberto Martinez seems to be a perfect hire for Everton. Talk a little about the transition to Martinez and where he's taken the club. Do you think he can maintain this positive run of form at a club that doesn't usually have the financial wherewithal to stay with the big boys?
Darren Melling: I think you're right. Martinez has been a great appointment. There were some doubts about him when he was installed as favourite to take the hot seat here, after all he's only managed Swansea and Wigan, and he took Wigan down! However, there is absolutely no doubting his philosophy is the right one and his attention to detail is second to none. He schooled David Moyes in the FA Cup Quarter Final last season and we were well beaten. Personally, that did it for me. When Moyes said he wasn't signing a contract with us I wanted him gone and Martinez in.
Can we maintain our form? I don't see why not. You're spot on about our financial clout, and that means the only thing which will harm our chances of European football next season is injuries.
As far as the football goes, it's a joy to watch although we have been grinding results out ugly recently. I think you can put that down to the injuries we have had to key personnel to some extent. David Moyes seemed almost reluctant to step us up a gear. Roberto Martinez has no issue doing it and we all agree here that the football we are playing is far better now than at any point throughout David Moyes' reign. Again, I personally was interested to see how Martinez would do with a bigger club, bigger set up and better calibre of player and I've been very pleased with it. He said himself recently that it took his Wigan squad something like two years to grasp his philosophy. It took his Everton squad seven weeks.
UM: Let's be honest here, there's got to be just a little bit of schadenfreude going on in Toffee Nation after watching David Moyes struggle with United this season. Right? Just a little bit? Eensy-teensy bit?
DM: No, you couldn't be further from the mark here. There isn't a little bit, there's bloody loads! Neville Southall gave a talk recently where he said "this manager and the board have brainwashed you into thinking sixth is great. It isn't. It's crap." And he was right. We just didn't realise it until Moyes left and, like I said earlier, we've stepped up a level. Moyes plays not to lose, and that's a dangerous approach to take when you visit the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and the likes. We proved this when we beat United earlier in the season. We didn't go to limit damage, we went to win and we did. Every time United don't win, especially against the likes of Stoke City, we can't help but smile. And it stems from the disrespectful comments Moyes made before the summer transfer window shut. You reap what you sow.
UM: Everton are seriously banged up this weekend, which has to be concerning going into such an important match. With Lukaku and Kone both out and Jelavic gone to Hull, who's going to lead the line? Might we have an Apostolos Vellios sighting?
DM: I hope not, he's useless!! I think you'll see Steven Naismith up front, supported by either Kevin Mirallas or Ross Barkley. Naismith has done well recently in a central position, whereas he is very poor when played on the flanks. He works hard though, which goes in his favour wherever he plays, and against Villa he came on and changed the game our way with his movement off the ball.
UM: Who are the Spurs players that you're most worried about in this match? Are there any match-ups that you're particularly interested in seeing?
DM: The game will most definitely be won in the midfield. Gareth Barry and James McCarthy hold it together really well and allow the likes of Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas to do their stuff. It will be interesting to see how Kyle Walker deals with Pienaar and Leighton Baines down our left.
As far as Spurs players go, I'm not in the least bit worried about Roberto Soldado as he only scores penalties, so I hope he plays! Emmanuel Adebayor is bang in form, and I've liked Christian Eriksen for a few years now so I'm looking forward to seeing that battle in midfield. It's a shame Romelu Lukaku isn't fit, as a battle with Michael Dawson would have been interesting too.
UM: Are there any players of note in the Everton youth setup that show promise of breaking into the first team in the near to mid future? Who's the next Wayne Rooney?
DM: Not at the minute no. We have some lads in the Academy set up who we are very excited about. George Green is one name who springs to mind, and Ryan Ledson is an England international but he is younger than Green. I think Ross Barkley is the closest thing we will come to a Wayne Rooney, but I think Rooney is Rooney and Barkley is Barkley, if you get my meaning?
UM: What does the average Everton fan think of Tottenham Hotspur?
DM: I think we are very similar in terms of standing in the game, grounds, support and expectations. However, your bank balance is much bigger than ours is and so there could be an argument to say you should be achieving more. Personally, I always enjoy going to White Hart Lane, it's one of my favourite grounds in the league and we've done OK there in recent years.
UM: Why will Everton be relegated this season? Please be thorough.
DM: Because we have an extremely negative manager who goes to away grounds to try and come out alive, puts 11 men behind the football and deploys a long, direct style of play but puts a 5' 6" player up front. He plays central defenders in the middle of midfield, at full back and at centerback. At home he likes to grind out 1-0 wins and often gets caught out. So, I worry for us under him. We're just like Wigan.
UM: Finally, let's have some predictions: the score of this weekend's match, and Everton's final position at the end of the season.
DM: I think this will be a tight game, but I fancy us to nick a 2-1 win. I also think we will finish 5th and have backed us to win the FA Cup.
Thanks to Darren for a great interview! Keep the Pappy flowing, mate. Be sure to check out Royal Blue Mersey for all your Everton needs, and to troll Brixton17's hubby.