Why Everton's Strong Start Should Put the Rest of the EPL on Notice

Matt Cheetham@@Matt_CheethamCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2012

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Everton player Leighton Baines celebrates the first goal during the Premier League match between Everton and Newcastle United at Goodison Park on September 17, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Seven games in, fourth in the table—surely Everton's unusually proficient start to the season will begin to peter out soon, right? 

It's possible, yet for anyone assuming David Moyes' side have only just found the formula for such impressive consistency need to look back further, specifically to January, and examine the developments the Toffees have made.

Since the start of this year, Everton have maintained Champions League form throughout the past 28 games—three-quarters of a season—with only Manchester City and Manchester United winning more points during that time than the Toffees' 49.

Beyond that, once the club's January purchases began to acclimatise, 44 points and 42 goals have come in the past 23 matches and the Toffees have only tasted defeat three times since February.

In short, this season's imperious momentum has been building throughout the calendar year, and it's not as if it's been forged over an easy stretch of games. 

Five of the six teams who finished above Everton last season—Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle—have all been defeated in 2012 and the dominant manner in which the Toffees have dismissed so many sides has been particularly striking.

In fact, this season Everton have had more shots and created more chances than every side they've faced and could very easily be sitting in an even higher position right now.

So what exactly has changed?

One of the keys to this newly found consistency has been two prosperous transfer windows where Moyes has finally had the chance to rejuvenate his ageing roster.

2012 has been distinguished in that several new additions have been brought in, no loss has been made by the club and, crucially, no certain starter has had to be sold off. An unfamiliar equation in recent years at Everton.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Louis Saha were essentially swapped for Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson in the winter, whilst the summer window saw Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas come in for Jack Rodwell and Tim Cahill.

Most will instantly recognise this personnel upgrade, but it has been particularly relevant to Everton's style in the attacking third. These additions have enabled a more expansive, penetrative approach to be enforced, through a fluent, attractive brand of football.

For so long, Moyes' sides would simply look to thwart their opponents and grind out hard-fought 1-0 wins. However, with his new acquisitions adding an extra dimension, for the first time in a long time Moyes has the confidence in his attackers to play with flair and attacking freedom. 

This transformation is reflected by the impressive statistic that Everton currently average more shots per game (20.1) than any other side across Europe's major leagues—according to WhoScored

Having stuttered through to Christmas last year, averaging around one goal per-game, the Toffees have almost doubled that figure now and are involved in far more entertaining battles with the emphasis firmly shifted on attack.

Marouane Fellaini, Pienaar and Mirallas have all made strong contributions so far, but Jelavic's clinical finishing has been especially central in redefining Everton's image. 

Only once in Moyes' tenure has a striker managed 15 Premier League goals in a season, when Yakubu reached that tally in 2008 as the Toffees finished fifth. 13 goals in just 19 league games suggest Jelavic should easily pass this, which will make a considerable difference in the long run.

Feeding the Croatian, and perhaps the final component in this year's revamped unit has been the elite level Leighton Baines has reached, especially now he's once again reunited with Pienaar down Everton's left.

Many will argue Baines has been this consistent for years, and maybe so, but with better players involved in the creative stakes and more potent forwards there to finish chances off, he is being given much more of a platform to excel on, and is flourishing.

According to Opta Stats on EPLIndex, Baines has currently created 30 chances this season, more than anyone else in the top flight. Pienaar is behind him in joint fifth, with 20, creating the second-most chances from open play this season.

WhoScored also show Baines to average more key passes per game so far than any other player in Europe's major leagues—a startling return for a full-back.

Alongside Pienaar, the Toffees' left-sided duo have been almost unplayable this year and the fact a top side has never seriously courted the 27-year-old is a bizarre fact Evertonians revel in. 

As this season progresses, most fans will admit challenging Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea is realistically not on the agenda. However, the likes of Liverpool, Newcastle and even Arsenal and Tottenham are now very much on the radar.

An obvious acid test in gauging Everton's progress and credentials for a Champions League berth will come with the Merseyside derby, at the end of this month.

The form book would point to a Toffees victory, but Liverpool have triumphed in so many recent clashes that several of Moyes' squad may find it physiologically difficult to take the points. A win is simply imperative. 

Moyes has already admitted he's targeting the top four this season and whilst many will not take those comments too seriously just yet, this year's form alone suggests it's not such an outlandish remark.

If their revamped squad and prolonged consistency does not yet convince the masses, a win against their bitter rivals would provide a clear indication of how this revitalised side very much mean business.


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