Despite the occasional trend of Saturday morning encounters tending to display slightly boring affairs, Swansea and Everton subverted the stereotype in a massive way when they clashed.
As the floods of Swans fans headed for the Liberty Stadium exit before the 75th minute was up, the Welsh valleys resonated with the songs of thousands of sports fanatics, but it wasn’t the natives in full voice.
Instead, Saturday’s early kickoff yielded a rabble of Everton fans belting out chorus after chorus of “We’re going to win the league, and no one’s gonna believe us.”
The Merseysiders are quite right too, as just about all of the English football community would find the mere thought of Everton winning the title quite preposterous. A top-four finish, however, is a different matter altogether.
Last season, David Moyes’ side made it their business to capitalise upon every chance they got , converting the humble ground of Goodison Park into a fortress capable of repelling even the staunchest of attacks.
In the 2011-12 campaign, Everton had the second-best home defence in the Premier League, second only to Manchester City and keeping clean sheets in 37 percent of their fixtures there.
However, a win at the Liberty suggests the club’s away form could be taking a dramatic turn for the better, and their assault on the top four is beginning to carry some weight.
It’s been no secret that Marouane Fellaini has been one of, if not the man to watch on Merseyside this season, and the Belgian was in some of his best form yet as he led his side to a 3-0 win over Swansea City.
Despite a controversially hand-balled assist, the lanky utility finished the game in man-of-the-match style and managed to nod his way onto the scoresheet himself.
With Nikica Jelavic out through injury, Fellaini took up his throne behind Victor Anichebe and Kevin Mirallas, who rotated the striking duties in an effective manner.
Fellaini wasted little, rising above the competition time and time again to take possession in dangerous areas, either with the use of his chest, head or surprisingly nimble feet.
However, no man is an island, and it’s the balance that Everton have found this season that makes them genuine contenders to break the mould amongst England’s top flight.
In typically economical fashion, Everton funded just about their whole summer transfer window with the sale of just a few players, the main of which being Jack Rodwell.
The £12 million departure of their former starlet pretty much covered the major acquisitions of Mirallas, Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar and Bryan Oviedo, who cost a sum total of around £13.5 million.
Since the Manchester City cash injection of 2008, the archetypal “Top Four” platform of the Premier League has been opened up considerably, inviting others to challenge for Europe in each and every campaign.
Regardless of their upbeat start, it’s hard to believe in the chances of a club like Everton. A club that can’t challenge financially, after all, is a club that can’t challenge completely. Or at least that’s the mentality we’ve become used to.
In a recent interview with talkSPORT, former Reading owner and current club chairman, Sir John Madejksi, stated that club ownership in this sport “was for billionaires; millionaires need not apply.” (h/t GetSurrey.co.uk)
However, Bill Kenwright has slowly and surgically sought to subvert that stereotype, refusing to rise to the demand for spending in modern-day football, regardless of his team’s long standing amongst England’s elite clubs.
If Arsenal are looked upon as the penny-scroungers amongst the Top Four, then Everton deserve similar, if not more praise for doing as well as they have in the last decade, surviving on a shoestring budget for most seasons.
Despite interest from numerous European parties, the likes of Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Ross Barkley and others have all remained at Goodison Park.
While losing Rodwell will have been a sore loss for the club, his departure is preferable to seeing four or five other fan favourites leave instead.
By no means will you see nor hear the likes of Pienaar, Jagielka and Tim Howard being spoken of as the Premier League’s best, but together, the players have formed a cohesive unit under Moyes. A unit capable of the more than occasional toppling of giants.
As QPR have shown, money is only well spent when it’s done properly, and the introduction of too many players in too short a space of time can be detrimental to a squad.
Although their league finishes in recent seasons haven’t been of the best pedigree, most of Everton’s squad have spent the last three or four years at the club, showing the benefit of holding on to your stars.
By fending off prying eyes, Moyes has built a roster of players capable of beating some of England’s best, and victories over Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle United in the last year back that all up.
With Financial Fair Play (FFP) set to come in next year, Everton are in a supreme position to succeed under the new guidelines.
There are fears amongst some in the football fraternity that despite the best intentions of FFP, the movement will only be detrimental to smaller clubs, furthering the gap between those who succeed now and those who would hope to (i.e. Everton, Newcastle, Fulham and so on).
While the odds may seem to play against them, the Toffees have coped fantastically well in recent years, given their financial restrictions and other limitations.
In David Moyes’ 10-year reign, the club have bided their time, making the occasional foray into the UEFA Cup/Europa League.
However, now may be the time for the blue half of Liverpool to assume its role on the bigger stage, and it’s quite possible that 2012-13 could be the year of “the little guy.”
Everton fans can keep singing that no one will believe the prospect of them winning the league, but if they keep playing as they are, they’ll be doing an awful lot of convincing for some time to come.
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