David Moyes ready to give Roberto Mancini another bloody nose as Everton punch above weight
The last Premier League visitors to win at the Etihad head there again today challenging for a Champions League place
There was a lot of managerial talk in that rather retro midweek Premier League football programme but none of it finer than that of David Moyes reflecting, in defence of Arsène Wenger and in appreciation of Rafael Benitez's plight, that people get "bored" of longevity and get paid to put the boot in.
"There's a lot of people employed now in this business to talk about football managers, football players and the football business," the Everton manager said on Tuesday. "I know what it's like because I've been there in difficult times of different types. That's football."
It was generous, because Benitez has not always been entirely generous about him, but it reflected the turbulence of the past few seasons. There have been plenty of whispers wondering whether Moyes has reached the end of his tenure at Goodison in that time.
That he should today be travelling to Manchester City, a team for whom he represents a bête noire, believing he can achieve the finest accomplishment of his 10-year Goodison career – a Champions League place in the division's billionaire owner era – poses the question of why the Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Martinez types are more fashionable than Moyes, all over again.
City are one of the clubs who represent everything Everton are not, taking some of Moyes's best possessions, Joleon Lescott and Jack Rodwell, and arming themselves so completely that the last time the Scot took a team to east Manchester he said he felt like he was going into a gunfight with a knife. They have given City a bloody nose back for good measure.
Everton's win at the Etihad almost two years ago – on the night Roberto Mancini was unwise enough to go nose-to-nose with the Glaswegian – was the last inflicted on the champions by Premier League opposition there. But even before today's encounter Moyes can carry the satisfaction that he got most out of the £34m received for Lescott and Rodwell – using the money to equip a side which suddenly and unexpectedly resembles top-four material, while Lescott is a player Mancini has always harboured some doubt about and Rodwell is yet to make a mark.
How deeply satisfying it must have been for Moyes to say at yesterday's press conference that he had not given any thought to the idea of taking back Lescott, who moved heaven and earth to leave Goodison in 2009 and is now dislodged from the team by Matija Nastasic. "If Joleon wanted to come back, if I thought we needed him, I'd be delighted to have him back," he said. "I'd have no problem having Joleon back. I've not thought about it but if he was available then yes, I think he'd be someone I would maybe show an interest in."
Lescott might care to look at the way Steven Pienaar – safely and joyfully restored from Tottenham Hotspur – played in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal on Wednesday. It was the best we have seen of the midfielder in many a month and it allows Moyes, who a year or so ago had no room for manoeuvre, to think where he might relocate him in the side. "I don't want to be predictable. I will move Steven now and again so people can't plan for it."
Rodwell's sale helped Moyes buy winger Kevin Mirallas, who has prospered as much as Nikica Jelavic – a player who Moyes feels might have had more than his six goals had he only been given the service he was getting earlier in the season. The manager can also reflect on the way that Leon Osman, a player he has always considered to be more intelligent than some of the big spending clubs realised, showed in his excellent England debut against Sweden what Everton have always known: that he can play like Mikel Arteta.
"I can't say it's gone under the radar because he's been selected for England but maybe he hasn't had the plaudits he's deserved. He's definitely made us play," Moyes said. "He is our Arteta.
"I said [when Roy Hodgson picked him] that I thought Ossie would help make England play; that he would take the ball, turn with the ball and change the direction of the play. He has got a goal in him if required. England have got a very good team but sometimes you just need that cog to make it work. Maybe Ossie helped get them on the ball and get things started for them."
Moyes knows that no sense of security can last long in football but with Everton on the edges of the Champions League places again he does feel he might be reaching the time when his players are his own, not simply there for richer clubs to plunder.
"It's taken a long time to get to this sort of point," the manager said. "But what we're looking to do at Everton is see if we can get to the point where it's easy to keep all your good players."
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