Kevin Mirallas, the source of the ‘lack’ in Everton’s attack

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For all the rave reviews the Everton attack received over the first eight weeks of the season the well has suddenly gone dry, having went goal-less in the last two matches.

It’s a predicament that has the blue side of Liverpool justifiably nervous ahead of the November 23rd derby.

The holding pair of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy is rock-solid defensively but the rest of the attack has hardly posed a threat of late.

The Leighton Baines-Steven Pienaar linkup that was so devastating last season has gone silent.

Baines was impressive early on, most notably on his two free-kicks against West Ham, but the danger he presented was almost always a one-man effort. Lately his exploits have tailed off, perhaps due to his growing defensive responsibilities although continuing to hear the rumors of Manchester United’s interest can’t help the situation.

While Baines will inevitably kick-on the bigger issue is with Pienaar, whose timidity and indecisiveness is crushing their partnership. The South African is a player who tends to wax and wane throughout the season but if Everton are to press on and compete with top clubs he needs to begin asserting himself, and fast.

The skill and lateral movement that Leon Osman used to dominate opponents last year and earn himself a call-up to the England squad has faded yet still, Roberto Martinez prefers him over Ross Barkley. The decision is one that bewilders, especially considering the dominance and big-play ability that Barkley displayed as a starter early on in the season. Martinez is likely trying to ensure Barkley avoids burning out but the time off seems to hurt the Englishman rather than help. He may be 19-years-old but he is so physically mature and influential that Everton need him starting every league match.

Without a doubt the biggest punch in the Toffee attack is Romelu Lukaku, but after five goals in his first five games he’s put up two blanks. It’s not a major worry for the Belgian as much as it for the team, who need to work harder at becoming less dependent on Lukaku’s scoring prowess. If the club is going to compete for the Champions League – the goal set out by Martinez in the summer – they must find different, more creative ways of putting the ball into the back of the net and not rely so heavily on the Chelsea loanee.

Without a doubt the biggest offensive blight of the season has been Kevin Mirallas, who looks a shadow of his former self. Along with Marouane Fellaini, Mirallas was the Toffees biggest offensive weapon last year, earning admirers from Old Trafford to the Emirates. Everton did well to hold onto the silky-skilled attacker this summer, keen on maintaining one of the biggest hopes in Belgium’s golden generation.

Mirallas’ darting runs and ferocious appetite earned him widespread admiration among Evertonians last year but eleven weeks into the current season and that love is starting to wane. He frequently cuts a frustrated figure, with both himself and others, and too often drops his head after making mistakes. His devastating pace and bottomless stamina also seems to be on short order, not to mention his inability to unlock defenses with trickery and link-up play.

It’s possible that Mirallas is suffering from the sophomore slump where recent transplants to the Premier League get ‘figured out’ by their opponents. But I think there’s something deeper at work here. Mirallas is no flash in the pan or one-trick pony. He has the talent to be a dominant force in England and the prospect of what he and Lukaku could pull off remains mouthwatering.

For a player who led the Greek League in scoring with 20 goals in 2011-12, the former Olympiacos man’s drop in form is a massive worry on Merseyside. Perhaps it’s time to hand him some time off to straighten his head. Steven Naismith is by no means the answer, but the Scot’s infectious energy can fill the gap while Mirallas (re)convinces himself that he can dominate at the highest level.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.