Everton FC: 5 Targets for David Moyes over the Final 4 Games of the Season
While many will view missing out on the club's primary objective as a failure—seeing the season further tarnished by the FA Cup loss to Wigan—it has still been a relatively successful year for the Toffees, regardless of their finish.
David Moyes' side have remained relevant in the race for the Champions League right up until April, and only an unlikely sequence of cup results has denied them European football.
With little to play for in the remaining four games, here's a look at what the Toffees should strive to achieve before the end of the season.
Record an Overdue Win at Anfield
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There is, of course, a lot of speculation about David Moyes' future with the Toffees, given his rapidly expiring contract.
One thing he's never achieved during 11 years with the club is a win at Anfield, with five losses and five draws to show from his 10 Premier League visits.
Everton haven't won on their rival's turf since 1999, and whether Moyes leaves or not, a win over Liverpool would see the Toffees' season end in style and bolster the manager's overall record in charge.
Many will envisage Moyes looking to preserve the points gap between the sides and approach the game looking to take a draw, although hopefully this won't be the case.
Considering Liverpool's recent decline, the fact Everton have remained above their rivals for over a year now and how the influential Luis Suarez will be missing, this may be the optimum time to strike.
Find a Prominent Role for Ross Barkley
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Ross Barkley has long been hyped as the next great talent to emerge from Everton's prized academy.
However, in fleeting cameos, the youngster's appeared surprisingly fragile this season, seemingly lacking in confidence and possibly unsure of his role.
Moyes has recently ushered Barkley in for key games against Arsenal and Tottenham, and while he was quiet against Spurs, facing Arsenal the youngster produced his best display in 18 months at the club.
With little left to play for, these final four games are now important for Barkley's development. Everton should take this opportunity to use him where he feels most comfortable, in an attacking role, and let him express himself and slowly acclimatise to the Premier League.
Given the fact he's still just 19, inconsistency is inevitable, but Everton may as well use this quartet of fixtures to try to let him establish himself and restore his confidence.
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As well as Ross Barkley, it would be sensible to give 20 minutes here and there to the likes of Shane Duffy, John Stones and possibly one or two other youngsters.
Stones arrived from Barnsley in January and has received encouraging reviews from the Toffees' second string. While he's often made the first team's bench, he's yet to earn a debut, which will hopefully change before the end of the season.
Shane Duffy has been a perennial substitute throughout the past year, receiving precious little action with the first team. Everton could well add to their options at centre-back over the summer, with Sylvain Distin approaching the end of his career and John Heitinga potentially looking for a move, but should first check on Duffy's first team credentials.
Money is of course precious at Everton, so assessing Duffy's ability to compete against Premier League forwards and determining whether he's ready to be called upon more often could be hugely beneficial.
If he is ready, the club would not need to invest as much in his position.
Adjust the Style
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Marouane Fellaini's impressive early-season attacking form has caused the Toffees to become increasingly reliant on an overly direct brand of football.
When the Belgian's on form, his side have looked strong, although an out-of-rhythm Fellaini can quickly see his side's approach turn ugly and almost counter-productive.
It's an unusual stylistic approach, with Fellaini playing behind a striker but as a target man, and—with the Belgian possibly moving on in the summer—it's perhaps time for Everton to rediscover alternatives.
Fellaini has dropped deeper in a few recent games, and the Toffees looked especially fluent and more attractive on the eye without him involved against Tottenham.
With a view to next season, Moyes should perhaps enforce a less direct method across the final few games and use Fellaini in a deeper berth until the summer.
Play Nikica Jelavic
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There's no denying Nikica Jelavic has suffered this season. Whether it be a bout of second-season syndrome or whether the Croatian is simply not cut out for the Premier League, his form's certainly been disappointing.
With Fellaini generally behind him, he has clearly suffered from his side's direct approach. The Toffees play to the Belgian who in turn looks to the flanks, while Jelavic thrives on a midfielder behind him, looking to play through balls.
Fellaini has rarely done this, instead playing with his back to the striker, meaning the Croatian's main strength has been nullified and he's had to look for scraps in the penalty area. As a result, he's lost his starting place to the more industrious Victor Anichebe.
This has caused Jelavic's timing, anticipation and confidence to suffer, but instead of festering on the bench, Everton should now play the Croatian in the final four games in an effort to revive him.
If the Toffees adopt a less direct approach, lining up with Ross Barkley or Steven Pienaar behind Jelavic, it's far more likely he'll start finding his rhythm, while that's also the most likely way for the new approach to work.
Moyes won't want to go into the summer still worrying about Jelavic's form.