Marouane Fellaini returns to action after his three-game-suspension for headbutting Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross in the tie with Newcastle United tonight. What did Everton learn from their star players absence?
"I apologise completely to Ryan Shawcross, my team-mates and to our fans at the game. I lost my temper and it was unprofessional."
Those were the words of Marouane Fellaini after he received a retrospective three-game suspension for head-butting Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross in the 1-1 draw at the Britannia on the 15th December.
At first David Moyes side looked to be dealing with the loss of their star-man with relative ease. Squeezing out two impressive wins over West Ham United and Wigan Athletic either side of Christmas left them in good stead however when they faced Chelsea in the last game of 2012 at Goodison Park it became extremely clear how much they missed his presence.
Everton played extremely well in the game and at the end of the day were very unlucky to end up with nothing from the fixture. Chelsea’s very own goal-scoring midfield operator Frank Lampard proved the difference with a couple of talismanic strikes to earn a hard fought victory at fortress Goodison.
But considering all of the good play that Everton put in across the pitch the immediate reaction post game was that Everton simply lacked that little bit of class to earn at least a point in the fixture. While the likes of Leighton Baines, Sylvain Distin and Steven Pienaar were their usual imperious best others struggled. Thomas Hitzlsperger is a decent squad player but as an out-and-out midfield operator against the quality of Chelsea he looked out of his depth.
With Fellaini in the side Everton just look a far more threatening force and it is far from presumptive to believe that considering the pressure often put on the goal of Petr Cech throughout the game that the Belgian may have been the class operator to make the difference in the favour of The Toffees rather than Lampard of Chelsea.
As it happens he returns for the fixture with Newcastle United tonight and will surely feature as weary legs begin to feature heavily for an Everton side that has barely changed over the Christmas period.
Newcastle are currently struggling as Everton embroil themselves in a European battle of Magpies 2011-12 proportion this campaign but keeping Fellaini in January must be the priority after witnessing the Chelsea fixture.
Victory for Everton can take them above Arsenal into fifth spot and just three points behind Tottenham in third but it all may prove irrelevant if they cannot hold on to their prize asset this transfer window.
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