Nikica Jelavic Needs Quick Return to Form for Champions League Chasing Everton

Brian CaneverCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2013

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07:  Nikica Jelavic of Everton celebrates as he scores their first goal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third Round match between Cheltenham Town and Everton at Abbey Business Stadium on January 7, 2013 in Cheltenham, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Last January, Nikica Jelavic arrived to Everton from Rangers in Scotland with a ton of expectation on his shoulders.

At £5 million, the Croatian striker was a huge investment for the cash-strapped Merseyside club and would slot into the spot left by Louis Saha after months of decline.

He did not disappoint.

Despite not scoring in his first two appearances as a substitute, Jelavic hit form quickly and managed nine league goals and 11 in all competitions after only 16 appearances for his new club. A ton of these strikes were crucial to Everton rising up the table and finishing in seventh place, with a game-winning effort against Tottenham Hotspur as well as braces against Norwich City, Fulham and Manchester United.

So, it is entirely sensible that Toffees supporters would feel frustrated at Jelavic’s dreadful loss of scoring form this season.

In 21 league appearances, the Croatian hitman has only scored six times, contributing another in the FA Cup. Although his last league goal was decisive, it came against Spurs in a 2-1 victory at Goodison Park over a month ago on Dec. 9.

Since then, Jelavic has fired blanks. Despite his work rate, hold-up play and assists, both the player and manager, David Moyes, will be wondering what has to give in order for the formerly lethal striker to find his form again.

Earlier today, teammate Phil Jagielka suggested that Jelavic has to seek ways to score that may be different from the one-touch, penalty-box finishing that brought him fame at Rangers and in his first seasons with the club.

While there has been tighter competition throughout the table than in prior seasons, Premier League centre-backs are still some of the best in the world, and Jagielka believes they will have a poacher like the Croatian figured out. He told the Liverpool Echo, "They’ll have a rough idea of where he stands and where he wants to receive the ball, which makes Jela’s job harder," but assured that he has confidence the striker will start scoring again soon.

Fortunately for Everton, Marouane Fellaini has stepped up into a more attacking role this campaign and contributed the goals that have been missing for the side. His tally of eight in the league leads the team, while Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe have both added four of their own.

Still, much like with Saha before him, the central striking role is Jelavic's to lose. The club do not have the funds to recruit another top striker of the quality to replace the Croatian in the squad in order to show he does not have a guaranteed place every week. The only other two first-team strikers on the books are Anichebe and Apostolos Vellios, who have contributed off the bench, but are not well-rounded enough to lead the line in a 4-4-1-1 system.

There is prior history that proposes Jelavic still has some goals left in him before the season ends. The last time he managed less than 10 league goals in a full campaign was with Rapid Vienna in 2009-10, when he finished with seven. The Croatian still has over a dozen games to add four more goals and unless injury strikes, he will have more than his fair share of opportunities.

There will need to be a bit of luck on Jelavic's side. So far, he has struck the post on three occasions from free-kicks and has both missed and had countless shots denied by opposing goalkeepers.

For Everton, those chances will need to start hitting the back of the net. The club currently sit in fifth place, only three points off the Champions League positions for the first time in five seasons and with a realistic possibility for European football in the upcoming campaign.

Along with achieving the coveted top-four finish would come an injection of funds into the club and perhaps enough to not have to sell star players Fellaini and Leighton Baines to remain competitive in the top-flight.

Right now, they still have Arsenal hot on their tails and an in-form Tottenham Hotspur not looking to give up their place after finishing fourth and missing out on UCL football last season.

A goal-scoring contribution from Jelavic, starting with the visit to Southampton on Sunday, could be just what Everton need if they are to leapfrog their way into England's elite by May.