With a 2-1 over Wolves under their belts, Everton has escaped the edge of regulation for a time, but is there a way to make that permanent?
Evertonians regularly dream of the days when the Toffees competed for Europe, but with the team financially in gutter, there seems little hope of improving the side. The People’s Club currently resides in 12th place in the Premiership with 13 points, nine behind the teams currently in place for a European showing.
With the season not yet halfway old, there is still plenty of time for Everton to make a run at the top six. While they will need a fair amount of help, there is no reason why the Toffees can’t aim for such a finishing position, especially with these four factors in their favor.
Through Everton’s next eight league fixtures, six of them will be against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Starting with Bolton this coming weekend, the Toffees will face Stoke City, Arsenal, Norwich City, Swansea City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Bolton again in consecutive matches. While they’ve already proven they can lose to teams they should beat (i.e. QPR 1, Everton 0), most of these fixtures should be three-pointers.
Piling up the wins as the calendar turns to 2012 is a great way for Everton to maneuver themselves into top-six contention. The schedule won’t always be this forgiving, so to take advantage of it now should be the Toffee’s main concern.
Likewise, a few losses could spell doom to their European hopes. Everton got back on the right track against Wolverhampton, now they just need to stay on it.
The North’s Toon Army has been playing out of their minds to start the season, taking 25 out of 36 points for fourth place in the Premiership. However, they might not stay at that high level, opening the door for a team like Everton to slide into the top six.
Demba Ba has been fantastic for Newcastle to start the campaign, scoring eight times in 11 appearances. With Leon Best and Shola Ameobi continuing to menace the net, and Tim Krul having another solid year between the posts, Newcastle is one of the most complete teams in the league.
However, their immediate schedule does them no favors. After losing 3-1 to league-leading Manchester City, the Magpies host Manchester United and pay a visit to Stamford Bridge in the next two weeks. Their fixture at Chelsea seems particularly ominous, with the Blues needing a win to keep the pace with other top sides. Liverpool and another meeting with Man U lie on the not so distant horizon, so expect Newcastle to have some trouble keeping its high standing.
If Alan Pardew’s men can keep their quality form until season’s end, Everton might be out of luck. But Newcastle has struggled against the top teams so far, so that door for the Toffees might still hinge open.
With Sylvain Distin injured, Everton’s backline took a bit of a hit, but overall they still have enough to challenge most Premiership attacks.
Recently named to the England national team, Phil Jagielka has been a rock in the center of defense. His pairing with Distin was one of the best in the league, but now he’ll have to make due with others. Apart from his silly penalty giveaway against Liverpool, Jagielka has had a relatively error-free stint this season, and Everton will surely need more of the same.
Johnny Heitinga has finally got time on the field with Distin out, and he didn’t fully embarrass himself against Wolves. Now that his own-goal days are presumably behind him, the “Mad Dog” of Goodison Park should slowly achieve the form that earns him a spot in the Dutch national side year after year.
Listed as a defender, Leighton Baines ventures up field so often that he could be mistaken for a midfielder. His touch and distribution are world class, and are one of the few constants David Moyes can rely on.
Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert have done nothing to distinguish themselves, but neither have they played particularly poorly either. Essentially, they’re there to fill out holes in the backline, and having been asked to do only that, they succeed.
With attacking troubles that have few solutions apparent in the incoming transfer window, Everton will need a sterling backline if they hope to compete for Europe. So far, they have the makings of such a defense.
While at times it has been inconsistent and flat, Everton’s midfield has massive potential for greatness. If they can continue to show creativity and the ability to manufacture chances, the Toffees will compete for a top six spot.
Young Jack Rodwell is the most fascinating of the bunch, with an enormity of talent but no real way of harnessing it yet. Rodwell, another Everton call-up to the England national team, has had his moments this year, scoring goals against Newcastle and Fulham, but at other times he’s been a real non-factor.
Still on 20 years old, Rodwell’s play in the center of midfield will be key in controlling whatever tempo Everton aims to their attacks.
Leon Osman had a good match against Wolves, and Marouane Fellaini has been a realative constant, but the real excitement for Everton comes in form of Royston Drenthe. The acrobatic Dutchman on loan from Real Madrid provides the spark and flair an often-straightforward Everton attack needs to score.
Along with Rodwell, Drenthe’s improving play is a huge key to future success, especially if he continues to score goals like this.
Everton’s top six aspirations rely on the production of wins, and to get them they need to score goals. An ever-improving midfield will do wonders for their side, but only if they can produce chances in key games. Otherwise, it looks to be another mediocre mid-table finish in 2011-12.