With the Socceroos facing their busiest calendar year, the decision to postpone World Cup qualifiers due to the coronavirus outbreak creates a fixture headache.
Few players are more loved by fans of the clubs they’ve represented than Tim Cahill. A combination of hard work, innate goal scoring ability and commitment to the cause of whichever team he is playing for makes him easy for fans to identify with.
It was at Millwall where Cahill first made his name in English football and these days a massive image of the Australian attacking midfielder adorns the side of one stand at The New Den.
Evertonians feel a similar reverence for the Socceroos star and his departure in July to MLS side the New York Red Bulls was another bitter pill for Toffee fans to swallow following on from Mikel Arteta’s sale to Arsenal 12-months earlier.
Yet, despite Cahill having scored 68 goals across eight seasons for the blue half of Merseyside, the surprising truth of the matter is Everton are now a better side without him.
Heading into this morning’s home match against Arsenal, David Moyes’ side were sitting in fifth spot ahead of a list of teams that included Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle.
While supporters are feeling frustrated at the moment thanks to Everton having conceded two last gasp equalisers in recent weeks, the team’s start to the season has largely been a success.
The reason for this, at least in part, has to do with Cahill’s departure.
This is not because the Australian wasn’t a fantastic servant for the club, but instead the player who’s replaced him in the role behind the striker, Marouane Fellaini, is now playing in a position he’s more accustomed to.
A more rounded footballer, Fellaini is thriving now he’s no longer being pushed back by Cahill’s presence in the team. This change of affairs has benefited Everton to the form of six goals and three assists so far this season.
Cahill’s ability in the air (for what it’s worth, I remember referee Howard Webb telling myself and fellow journalist Matthew Hall back in 2010 he thought the Australian was the best header of the ball in the Premier League) and knack at finding space inside the penalty area have also been replaced.
Fellaini wins an impressive 3.9 aerial duels a game – in terms of forwards in the Premier League only Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and Steven Fletcher fair better – and in Nikica Jelavic Everton have a deadly finisher to enjoy the service Cahill used to thrive on.
After last weekend’s disappointing draw at Norwich, Moyes admitted his team has struggled in recent weeks not due to the loss of players like Cahill, but instead because they haven’t been taking advantage of what they already have – in particular their Croatian striker.
“(Jelavic)’s looking to try to find a bit of form and we could look to get him better service,” the 49-year-old said.
“He likes crosses and passes into the box for him to feed on, and we haven’t really given that sort of service for a few games now.”
Despite the blip in form they’ve been going through, Moyes should be applauded for having managed the feat of not just absorbing the loss of a corner stone player like Cahill, but in fact making his team better for it.