Everton FC: European Qualification a Vital but Fading Ambition for the Toffees
Following Everton's dismal exit from the FA Cup, thanks to Saturday's debacle against Wigan, there was something of an inevitability about the way Liverpool beat Tottenham on Sunday, and the ensuing FA Cup draw.
All three instances further reduced the chances of the Toffees playing in Europe next season, something that looked a forgone conclusion for so much of the season.
Situated in and around the Champions League places, their recent dip in form—which now sees the Toffees lie seventh—has come at the worst possible time, with their current European aspirations very much in the balance.
As painful as this weekend has been for all connected to the club, this remains an important aim, and David Moyes must ensure his side regroup and strive to reach it over the coming games.
This may be a less supported statement in light of the past few days, but Moyes remains the club's best option going forward.
He's proven himself over a long period of time and, while he certainly erred in judgement a number of times on Saturday, the overriding issue preventing the club progressing is the lack of funds available, not the manager himself.
After a three-year absence from Europe, an overdue return would delight supporters. It would enthuse and rejuvenate Moyes and would give a tired squad a sense of accomplishment after an impressive two-thirds of a season.
It would also make the club more attractive to sponsors and potential new signings, would provide a little more income and would allow some younger players with some extra playing time, in certain group stage games.
There are certainly those who would argue the Toffees' threadbare squad could not handle the extra workload. Indeed, Saturday's defeat to Wigan certainly suggested many first-team players are currently on their last legs, which is a common theme in fan assessments.
However, two of Everton's most successful recent seasons, 2007/08 and 2008/09, saw the club finish fifth, go on prolonged domestic cup runs and challenge in Europe. They were both seasons that Moyes kept the core of his side together for the majority of the year.
Tottenham's consistent form this season should also highlight what's achievable.
Despite having used 23 different Premier League starters to the Toffees' 19, Spurs only have one less outfield player clocking up over 2000 minutes. Tottenham have five, to Everton's six, which includes integral performers such as Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen.
Perhaps it's more a case of Moyes' team going stale, void of new ideas, new signings and fresh impetus, instead of individuals simply tiring. The lack of fluidity in their style seems more of an issue.
Therefore, in order to galvanise both the club and supporters alike, while giving the playing staff a new challenge—and possibly to ease looming contract disputes—Europe must be targeted over the next 10 games.
Of course, while this is important and could prove crucial to the Toffees' immediate future, unfortunately it's very much a diminishing possibility after the weekend's trio of setbacks.
Had Everton beaten Wigan they would have been one game away from a guaranteed place, which a final berth would have secured. Saturday's comprehensive defeat put paid to those hopes.
Sunday's FA Cup draw now means one of Wigan, Blackburn and Millwall will take that place, meaning sixth in the league is no longer rewarded with European football.
On top of all that, an in-form Liverpool side are suddenly on a three-match winning streak and have surged above the Toffees in the Premier League standings for the first time since April last year.
Will Everton make Europe this season?
In short, Everton now need to beat Arsenal and Liverpool to fifth. There is a slim hope of sixth once again being good enough, if either Tottenham or Chelsea lift the Europa League trophy, although clinging onto that seems slightly desperate at this stage.
While fifth isn't an impossible task on paper—Everton currently sit on the same number of points as Liverpool with a game in hand, and just two behind Arsenal—an especially gruelling run-in will leave few confident of achieving it.
Moyes' side still have to travel to both the Emirates and Anfield, two grounds where they hold particularly dire records, as well as visiting Chelsea and Tottenham after hosting Manchester City this coming weekend.
This daunting run, coupled with Saturday's deflating defeat, has left even the most optimistic supporter struggling for confidence at their prospects.
David Moyes has repeatedly mentioned how European football's the aim for this season, and securing it may well determine his future at the club. However, after such an emphatic start, it looks as though Everton will once again fall agonisingly short; leaving a potentially transitional summer on the horizon.
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