Everton FC: Could This Be the Toffees' Best Season Since 2004-05?
As long as Everton maintain their current challenge for a Champions League berth, comparisons are sure to be drawn to the club's remarkable campaign of 2004/05.
Back then, after a disappointing previous season, David Moyes took the Premier League by storm, inspiring an unfancied side to finish fourth despite originally starting out as a favourite for relegation.
That remains the club's best return under Moyes, and indeed, in the Premier League era. Those lowly initial expectations illustrate the supreme job he's done transforming the landscape around Everton in the following years, although that fourth-place finish has never been matched since.
Could the Toffees go on to equal—or even eclipse—those feats this season?
The obvious way for Everton to do this would clearly be to secure a coveted Champions League slot, and this time actually pass through the qualification phase. This is certainly the side's objective for the next few months.
Everton have been in possession of fourth for much of this season, but a recent trend of draws has left a mass pile-up of teams around them. Any side that suddenly sparks into form is capable of running away with qualification, given how congested the table is.
To make fourth in 2004/05, the Toffees amassed 61 points from their 38 games. At the moment they have 27 points from 17 games, a total they have only beaten once at this stage in the previous seven seasons, when they had 30 in 2007/08.
If Everton maintain their current form of roughly 1.5 points per game, they should end up with a similar haul around the 60 mark, although it's unlikely that would be enough to guarantee fourth spot.
Since 2004/05, 68 has been the lowest points total needed, meaning Moyes may still need to coax some late-season form from his side.
In recent years, the Toffees have managed other flirtations with fourth place, but have been unable to ever continue their form through to the end. They actually surpassed 61 points in 2007/08 (63) and 2008/09 (65), although both totals only resulted in fifth-place finishes.
Moyes' side matched the 61 points from their 2004/05 Champions League season in 2009/10, but it was only good enough for eighth, highlighting just how unpredictable this chase can often be.
For this campaign, there is always the chance the likes of Arsenal or Tottenham catch fire and surge forward out of sight, but for the moment, at least, the competition is bunched. Current form suggests a lower points tally may be enough to secure fourth (possibly somewhere in the region of 63-67 points), which remains within Everton's capability.
Of course, an alternative way of having a season to remember (and the best since 2004/05) would be to hoist a trophy and add to the club's illustrious history—something not done at Everton since 1995.
The FA Cup is the only option for that, and with a recent semifinal and final appearance in the books, it's a tournament the Toffees and Moyes have come agonisingly close to winning.
Where will Everton finish?
The nature of the competition makes progress a lottery, but FA Cup success would make this season the best since 2004/05 and potentially fire up the debate of whether a trophy or a Champions League slot is more important. Perhaps a theme for another day.
Few would doubt Everton have the potential to make this season special, but making that a reality is another matter.
The fact that Moyes has engineered fifth-place finishes and cup final appearances in the years after 2004/05 mean this season is unlikely stand up as the best since then, unless a Champions League spot or trophy was claimed.
The fact his side have made such a strong start for the first time in several seasons only boosts their hopes.
Recent finishes suggest Everton will still need to improve their form over the coming few months, but if draws can be converted to wins, this has all the makings of a season to remember at Goodison Park.
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