David Moyes looks to work his alchemy against Manchester City
It says much about tonight's combatants at Goodison Park that, as the transfer window deadline approaches, David Moyes will be sweating on a bid of no more than £5m for Rangers' Croatia striker Nikica Jelavic, while Roberto Mancini's angst will centre on whether a player who earns that in seven weeks can be shipped out of the club.
The move for 26-year-old Jelavic is by no means sealed, despite Rangers' parlous financial state, which means a certain weight of responsibility may yet be taken on Everton's onward journey by a far lesser-known striker, who was the source of identical deadline day agitation last September. It went to the wire then before Denis Stracqualursi was signed from Tigre on a season's loan, having failed to impress Sven Goran Eriksson at Leicester.
The omens did not look promising when the Argentine arrived at the end of a summer in which the £2m sale of Ayegbeni Yakubu to Blackburn Rovers, the initial £2.5m paid out by Leicester for Jermaine Beckford and Arsenal's £10m for Mikel Arteta contributed to revenues of £30m, of which Everton's bank saw more than Moyes. But in Stracqualursi's goal and his contribution in Friday night's 2-1 FA Cup win over Fulham – a side with vastly greater attacking options than Everton – there was evidence of that old Moyes power of alchemy.
Stracqualursi had been top scorer in Argentina last season. "So we thought, 'There's a bit of something there, we're not paying anything for him, why not have a go?'," Moyes related yesterday. "We'd just sold Becks [Beckford] and Yak [Yakubu], he just came on [the market] last minute, when we needed. We thought, 'That makes a bit of sense, let's take the gamble'."
Moyes had a feeling that the 24-year-old might begin to make his mark in the busy Christmas period. "In training he looks like someone who can nick a goal," he said, and it is the effort he puts in on the field of Finch Farm that makes the manager so effusive. "What he has got is great heart, great effort. He has worked like a Trojan and never looked sideways once at anyone. I could not complain if the boy had been unhappy at never being given a chance."
That is the way Moyes moulds players, of course – the work put in by Joleon Lescott to become one of Everton's finest, having advanced with the Everton manager after seven years at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Moyes appears finally to have forgiven City the pursuit of the player which so damaged the club, though his desire to remain an obdurate impediment to their journey towards world domination is evident. The foe he has proved to be, summed up in the "handbags" he had with Mancini in the technical area at City nearly two years ago, is manifest in City's one-in-five record against him.
Moyes does not regard City as such a daunting challenge as in September, when he described the prospect of facing them as akin to going into "a gunfight armed with a knife": a little of the initial lustre has gone from the Premier League leaders, he said.
"I think their form at the start of the season was scintillating, breathtaking, when you went to watch them," Moyes said. "They still are, in a lot of ways. The craft and some of the play they have is fantastic. There was a period when it was really hard and they were blowing teams out of the water regularly, but they are probably not quite in that [form] now and we have to see if we can take advantage, if we can capitalise on that."
The contribution against Fulham of Tim Cahill – another of Moyes' alchemy men, and he looked fresher than at any time in this indifferent season – hinted at the potential to continue his good record against City, which began with the goal against them in September 2004 (which he enjoyed so much he was dismissed for his celebration).
Moyes also restated yesterday the challenge that he has laid down for Marouane Fellaini to establish himself as the genuine force in the game which Moyes believes he can be. "I think he is a big player, in ways other than his size, and he has a big future. He is a modern midfielder, he can do a bit of everything. He is crucial in both boxes with his size."
The outlook was remarkably positive from the manager with less to delight in. Mancini has the greater assets – and they include Vincent Kompany, back after a four-game suspension which has left City defensively exposed with the Montenegrin understudy Stefan Savic – but he can somehow not shake off his deep indignation over Kompany's ban. The captain's second dismissal of the campaign, put together with Mario Balotelli's two and further red cards for Gaël Clichy and Gareth Barry gives City a poor disciplinary record, at which Mancini smarted.
"We are like Wimbledon," he said – bitterly, not jovially. "My players are good players, they never want to hurt other players, that is not in their minds. But we have had two very unlucky months." His stand-in captain, Micah Richards, said 10 days ago that Kompany's dismissal would force him to rethink how he tackles and Kompany may feel the same. "For us it was a red card, for other people it would not have been, and it is difficult to understand this," his manager said. "I hope Vinny can play all the games right up to the end."
Everton's display in their rather unfortunate 2-0 defeat in Manchester owed much to Jack Rodwell, who will be missing tonight, marking David Silva man-to-man and Moyes' paean to the Spaniard as "the best player in the Premier League, the one who makes the key passes for them" hinted at something similar tonight.
"We must try and stop their strengths if we can," Moyes said. After that, the few hours up to midnight will probably entail the relentlessly imaginative task of adding strengths of his own.
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