Leon Osman
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Leon Osman on Moyes, Arteta, Lampard, Rooney and more

| 29.01.2021

Everton’s next step in their pursuit of a top-four finish sees them host Newcastle at Goodison Park on Saturday lunch-time.

The Toffees have looked a much-improved outfit under Carlo Ancelotti this term, and a Champions League spot looks a real possibility for the blue half of Merseyside.

Ahead of his Everton v Newcastle Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection, we grabbed a few words from former Toffees skipper Leon Osman…

On Moyes’ success after Man United

I’m absolutely made up for David Moyes. He never became a bad manager after leaving Everton – he just came up against tricky situations. He deserved longer at Manchester United. Because he didn’t reach the standards of Sir Alex Ferguson he was moved on – but Fergie was always going to be a difficult act to follow.

His confidence was hit, and he went out to Spain where he didn’t do too badly out there in a different country with a different culture. He’d have learned a lot from that job.

The bad choice he made was going to manage Sunderland. Sunderland were on such a downward spiral at that point, it was going to be near impossible for him to stop it. Obviously that’s on your CV then, you’ve been in charge of a side that’s been relegated.

But he’s back now, and he showed during his first spell in charge of West Ham what he’s capable of. I was disappointed that he didn’t get the job permanently the first time around, but I’m pleased that he was given a second chance there, and look at them now.

You always felt that West Ham on their day could turn up and beat anyone, but when it wasn’t their day, they were a pushover. West Ham are not a pushover anymore. They’re very difficult to beat whether they’re playing well or not, and that’s a trait he built at Everton as well.

David Moyes was my manager but we worked together for so long that he became my friend. So once he left Everton I wanted him to succeed, obviously. I was a bit disappointed that he left Everton because I still thought we were progressing and improving even after all those years, but when an opportunity came up like it did, it’s difficult to turn it down.

I’m just pleased he’s recovered now and is showing what he can do again. He builds character within a team; he toughens things up and they’re now starting to express themselves on the pitch.

It was always easy for United to give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a chance and a little bit more leeway when things aren’t going well because he’s a club legend. When David Moyes went in, there was some objection to him being there to start with, and when that’s the case, you’re going to come under a lot of pressure as soon as things start to go wrong.

On Mikel Arteta

You can’t be anything but impressed with the job Mikel Arteta has done at Arsenal. He went into the club, starting off very well. He put his stamp on things, got his players to believe in him and they went on to win the FA Cup.

You’re not going to have 12/18 months without having a tricky patch – especially at a club like Arsenal where big changes did need to be made. He’s had his tricky patch and it looks like he’s come out of the other side and learned a lot from it.

It’s the first time he’ll have experienced that as a manager as well with his back to the wall. That in itself will serve him well for the rest of his career because he now knows he has the ability to get himself out of that kind of situation in the future. The team believe in him and they actually look quite strong at the moment.

Players need to have belief in their manager. They need to feel that the manager believes in them, he knows what he’s doing and he has a solid plan for the future and I think Mikel has that.

Once you’ve expressed yourself as a manager and your players have bought in to your philosophies, that’s when your players can start expressing themselves on the pitch. That’s what we’re starting to see with Arsenal now. They’re expressing themselves but they’re also aware of the minimum jobs that are expected of them.

I hoped they’d stick with him despite the poor run of form earlier on in the season. You got the feeling that when he was given the job, it wasn’t going to be all plain-sailing and he’d instantly turn the club around. You knew there were going to be some tricky situations and this was the first of them.

Yes, there were poor results and yes, they were in the bottom half of the table, but I also felt that they were hit with a few injuries so they were unfortunate in that regard. He was still also developing the younger players and was trying to deal with things in the background like the situation with Mesut Ozil.

He was always a driven character at Everton, he knew his daily goals and he was always striving to win games and improve himself. He’s a student of the game. You could see he was obsessed with all aspects of the game, especially tactically.

He didn’t just come in, train and go home. You could see he was intelligent very early on. I always felt that he’d at least end up being a coach, if not a manager. As he was developing you just seemed to sense it was something he was going to do after his career as a player.

If someone said the name ‘Mikel Arteta’ do me, the immediate memory that springs to mind would be a free-kick in the top corner against Fiorentina in a game where we really needed him to perform. He had the ability to make things happen when you really needed him most.

That’s the kind of thing that I remember about him more than anything. It wasn’t like he was a laugh or anything; he was a fun guy, a nice guy, but I always think about him and those huge moments in games where he delivered for us.

We don’t speak regularly but he’s a good friend of mine and I’ve no doubt we’d have a great conversation if we were to bump into each other.

I’m delighted for him. You want to see you ex-teammates, your friends in football, achieving things. I was really pleased for him, even as a player after Everton, he went on to Arsenal where he won the cup, and he’s done it again as a manager. It’s so nice to see one of your friends in the game doing things like that. I hope he continues to have many more successes as a manager.

You felt that the plan was to give him time at Arsenal but you never know in football. He was given the time, while Frank Lampard wasn’t at Chelsea which was sad. As good as a servant as he’d been for the club, you just felt he deserved a little more time to get things right. Despite how loyal he’d been to the club over the years, he wasn’t given that time and it’s a shame.

Arsenal v Man United prediction (Arsenal 1-2 Man United)

With the way the league is, it’s just so hard to call games at the moment. You look at Burnley going to Anfield and getting a result, and Sheffield United doing something similar at Old Trafford – all of these results make it very difficult to predict.

But we’re talking about an Arsenal team that are starting to look a little bit more like themselves, gathering momentum. Man United were in a similar position a couple of weeks ago where you thought they were picking up speed, winning games and you expected them to keep up that good run, but a draw and a defeat in their last two league games suddenly means things have been brought crashing back down to earth.

But I expect a good game on Saturday night. It’ll probably be a tactical battle for the first half of the game and then maybe goals in the second half. I don’t think either side will be able to stop the other from scoring, but if I had to stick my neck out I’d probably have to say United will just edge it.

I think it’ll probably be 2-1 to Man United. They’ve got so much ability going forward, and they’re so strong away from home – if you’re asking me to stick my neck on the line I’d say they’ll win the game but both teams will score.

On Everton’s season so far

Everton under Carlo Ancelotti defend really well these days. Even though it was a bit of a backs to the wall job for much of that second half, it still took a mistake from Jordan Pickford – a shot he should have saved – for them to draw the game. So as defensive as they were against Leicester, barring a mistake they would’ve won the game.

You look at Everton at the start of the season; they were so good to watch. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was the league’s top scorer and they were creating chances going forward left, right and centre, particularly from crosses going into the box from out wide.

On the flip side of that, Everton’s full-backs were so high up the pitch, it meant that quite often their centre-halves were exposed and they were averaging something like two goals a game conceded for the first seven or eight games which culminated in a three or four game losing streak.

Carlo Ancelotti – being the experienced manager he is – took a step back and thought about how they could stop conceding so many goals. That then in turn means you’re keeping your full-backs defensive which means you’re limiting your chances at the top end.

That’s where Everton are at the moment; they’re trying to make it more difficult for opponents to score against them. It’s limiting them to some extent in an attacking sense in comparison to where they were in the first half of the season, but look at where they are in the league and look at how many points they’ve accumulated.

It would be amazing if they could just find that perfect balance of keeping clean sheets while still playing really attacking, entertaining football.

It’s a weird season, and I think Everton have put themselves into a wonderful position. If you’d have told us we’d be in this position at this point in January back at the start of the season we’d have been very pleased.

Are Everton title contenders? Stranger things have happened. But you look at Manchester City, already on 41 points with a game in hand over the teams around them – they’re looking so strong, they’ve got real depth within their squad – it’s going to be very difficult to compete with them for the title.

But considering the journey Everton have been on over the past two or three seasons, you’ve got to say a top four challenge, European qualification and maybe even a cup win would be an absolutely amazing season. To do that, though, they just need to keep doing what they have been doing of late and that’s picking up points. You’ve got to go into each game expecting to win and come away with momentum.

It’s been a very good start to the season from Carlo Ancelotti ever since he started bringing players in. Suddenly the names that were arriving gave everyone a little lift and there was a genuine belief that moment was back at the club and things were moving in the right direction.

The pleasing aspect has been that when teams are doing well in the league, what tends to happen is that managers will rotate in the cups, playing weakened sides and you can find yourself tripping up. But Ancelotti hasn’t done that; he’s taken the cup competitions very seriously. For too many seasons squad rotation has cost Everton in the cups, so it’s been a real positive this time around that Ancelotti is playing strong sides in those competitions.

What I liked about James Rodriguez in that game against Leicester was just how much desire he had to be a part of the team ethic, putting a shift in. He made some crazy tackles, he took a booking for one and he got himself about the pitch, so that was really impressive to see.

I think when you’re thwarting the opposition as Everton have done over the past few weeks, you’ve got to look at who that’s going to impact, and the answer is simple; your forwards – in particular Dominic Calvert-Lewin and James Rodriguez. It’s going to affect the former’s goal return, which it has done, and it’s going to affect the amount of times the latter is going to get on the ball and be able to create something.

But against Leicester he was played a little bit further up the field, and OK, he didn’t get the ball as much as he’d have liked, but when he did get it, he was in a position to affect the game.

That’s something I would expect Carlo Ancelotti to look at over the next few days; how can we see more of that? How can we get James Rodriguez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin into more dangerous areas of the field on a more regular basis.

I still feel like Everton probably need another option at the top end of the field. The teams that have real aspirations to be challenging at the top of the table usually have at least three, possibly four top options up-front. Then you have the ability to rotate, so it’s something the manager might want to look at in the summer.

Ben Godfrey has been doing an amazing job as a left-back but he’s quite clearly not a left-back. So there will be positions on the pitch in which Everton will be looking to strengthen. Carlo Ancelotti identified that last summer and he did a terrific job bringing in the names that he did and I’d expect more of the same this summer. It seems the squad are growing in characters at the moment, and you’d probably expect that when playing under a manager like Ancelotti.

Everton have got great balance across the central midfield positions. Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure were both out against Leicester on Wednesday, as was Fabian Delph. Jean-Philippe Gbamin is still unavailable, and yet they’re still able to field Tom Davies and Andre Gomes, so that area of the team is strong.

You’ve got young players – as you should always have – trying to make their way like Tyler Onyango, combined with the experienced heads in the dressing room like Gylfi Sigurdsson – the strength of Everton’s squad is there. I’m just not sure the balance is exactly right at the moment. I always think you should try and look to your youth team first, and that’s something Everton seem to do quite a lot to be fair to them.

On Man City

When you think about Man City, you associate them with attacking football, goals left, right and centre – in fact in the past at this stage of the season they’ve had two or three players reach double figures in terms of league goals scored. They’ve scored a lot less goals this season and they’ve been much more spread out among the team.

But their defensive solidity has been borderline ridiculous. They’ve conceded 13 goals all season – and five of them came in the one game against Leicester. Since that game I think they’ve conceded seven goals in 17 league games. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

I’m absolutely delighted for John Stones. I know the character he is, and I know the type of player he is. I’ve been saying for years that I believe in him – not that he’ll be caring too much about me believing in him! But even through his times of troubles, I always fancied him to bounce back. He’s gone away, reassessed the situation and he’s come back so strong.

It’s helped having someone like Ruben Dias alongside him; someone who isn’t afraid of kicking the ball out if he has to – if it has to be tackled and dealt with it is. It’s not an embarrassing thing for a Man City player to kick the ball out if need be anymore.

And without cursing him, I can’t remember the last time John Stones got himself into trouble on the pitch. That was always his issue in the past – he was getting himself into bad situations, and he’s stopped doing that now.

To be fair to Pep Guardiola, it’s not just down to personnel. They’ve made a couple of slight tactical changes as well. If you look at the role Joao Cancelo operates in at the moment, when Man City attack, they always have real width, but one full-back tucks into central midfield and literally plays to make sure that if the ball comes out, they make sure there’s someone there to pick the ball up and start again.

At the same time, Man City don’t really play with one holding midfielder now. Because of the emergence of Ilkay Gundogan, they pretty much play with a flat two. For many years that wasn’t the case at City; they’d play with one holding player and David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as a two further up the pitch so they were always leaving themselves a little exposed on the counter-attack – but that’s all changed this season and it’s all down to Pep.

It’s so difficult for teams to defend against City at the moment because they’re playing without a recognised striker. One moment Raheem Sterling is playing up-front, then it’s Riyad Mahrez, then it’s Bernardo Silva, and they rotate their positions.

As a defender it’s hard to stay with them because you might find yourself marking one player up-front who drifts out of position and is replaced by another forward and all of a sudden you’re exposed.

The only team that might be able to cope with that tactic from Man City is Leeds, because they’re constantly tracking every player all over the pitch at all times.

On Liverpool

It’s surprising that things aren’t really going according to plan for Liverpool at the moment. There was a point in the season where you felt that Liverpool were really going to run away with things in the league. They had such a gap on Man City earlier on in the season, you sort of wondered what could go wrong.

The strange thing about it all is that the poor run they’re currently on started off the back of a 7-0 win against Crystal Palace. They scored seven there, did they then take their foot off the gas a little against West Brom? I don’t really think they did – I think it was more of an off night and from that moment, it’s like the momentum has gone and there’s a lack of confidence in front of goal right now.

During this season everybody felt that without Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk it would be defensively where they might struggle, but it’s actually at the other end of the pitch where they’re having problems. It means that all of a sudden they’re having to compete in multiple games every week instead of the standard 3-0/4-0 wins we’re used to seeing from them.

They brought in Diogo Jota who gave them a real kick up-front, he was a great burst of energy in that front three and suddenly nobody was guaranteed a starting place such was his impact, in fact there were times where Jurgen Klopp would play all four of his forwards. So it does seem like his injury has coincided with their lack of ability and options to score goals at the top end of the pitch.

I’m sure all it will take is a scruffy goal, scraping a 1-0 win which maybe they didn’t deserve on the day and they’ll be up and running again.

On the title race

It’s still too early to say anybody is out of the title race. You’ve already seen every team go through a sticky period this season; there’s nothing to say that won’t happen again. There is real opportunity to gather momentum for one team at the moment though.

If you think about it, it’s probably become more like a Championship season in many ways. You think about how much positions rotate in that league so regularly – it’s similar to what we’re seeing in the Premier League at the moment. Every couple of days teams are jumping up and sliding down the table.

When Everton last played they were fourth in the league. The game against Aston Villa got called off and by the time they played again they were down in seventh. The league is an exciting one for the neutral, although I do just feel like Man City have stolen a march of late. They’ve quietly gone about their business after a poor start and they’re in a position at the moment where they could run away with it if they keep this current form up.

On Lampard’s sacking

It’s disappointing when you see someone like Frank Lampard getting sacked. You can talk about the career he had as a player, but I think he’s had a decent start to his managerial career as well. He came into Chelsea when they needed him in a tricky period. They needed someone like Frank to take over the reins during a tough time and he did a good job for them. Since then he’s spent a lot of money and with that comes a lot of pressure. But I’m disappointed he wasn’t at least given the chance to see this season through.

With all that he’s done for that club, I felt like he deserved to have been given the opportunity to turn things around this season. But football isn’t a game where managers are overly given chances and at a club like Chelsea, if you’re not delivering on or off the field, they don’t hang around in making changes.

I’m very disappointed for him because I feel like he sees Chelsea the same way I see Everton. He went in before he was probably ready for it but he did such a good job, I’m just really disappointed for him.

I think he’ll probably want to take a little bit of time off to recharge the batteries. I think he’s shown us enough to prove he can still be a manager at a top Premier League club.

I’m trying to put myself in his situation. If I was ever in a position where I’m sacked as Everton manager, it’s going to hit me hard. It’s going to take Frank some time to get over, certainly.


On Wayne Rooney at Derby


I’m really pleased for Wayne Rooney. It’s great to see someone like him becoming a manager. He took an opportunity that presented itself to him at Derby County and it suits him.

He’s a man who absolutely loves football. He’s got to a point where he can’t play anymore so he’s thrown himself straight into the management side.

It’s a club that I’ve got a lot of love for – I spent a lot of time there. I know how passionate those fans are but it’s definitely not an easy job for Wayne. They were in the relegation zone when he took over and it’s never easy for a manager to come in at that stage but he’s slowly but surely getting results.