Everton defeated Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in the home leg of their Europa League Round of 32 matchup on Tuesday, but also learned on that day that it had lost towering (6′ 5″) center midfielder Marouane Fellaini for the season. And even the Europa League win was dampened near the end by a potentially huge mistake from defender Sylvain Distin, who decked Sporting’s Da Silva Muniz Liedson in the box in the 87th minute, getting red-carded and giving the visitors a crucial away goal via penalty in the dying moments.
Distin will miss the return leg, and Everton’s John Heitinga is also out, meaning the Toffees will play at Lisbon without their first-choice central defense. Getting to the Round of 16 looks a lot tougher now than it did in the 86th minute at Goodison Park on Tuesday.
U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan started, went the distance, and by all accounts had a decent game. (Ditto Yank keeper Tim Howard.) Will David Moyes employ Donovan in the center of the midfield at all, following the season-ending injury to Fellaini?
It turns out the Belgian midfielder was not embellishing, at all, after his crunching 50-50 challenge with Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the Merseyside derby on Feb 6 (see photo above).
Not that we, or anyone else (outside of the odd Scouser: see Fellaini’s vandalized Wikipedia page here*) were suggesting he was, but Fellaini did go over the ball into the challenge—while Kyrgiakos went two-footed, studs-up—and it’s not uncommon for a player to camouflage a bookable offense by feigning grievous bodily harm. (One match announcer suggested both players deserved red cards on the play).
But Fellaini has come out worse for the wear, as Everton announced Tuesday that he will require surgery to repair ligament damage in his ankle, and will be out of action for six months.
It’s a tough blow for Everton, as the lanky Belgian international had been key to the team’s resurgence in the past two months, pulling strings and providing bite in the Toffees’ midfield.
*UPDATE: Fellaini’s Wikipedia page has been corrected. Yesterday, it listed him as “Screech” Fellaini, and suggested that he had injured himself in the challenge with Kyrgiakos. Clearly the work of a Liverpool fan—and we had no idea that Saved by the Bell had been exported to the UK.