Tilting at Toffees

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After a couple of disappointing years in the league surely we’ll have learnt our lesson and won’t set our expectations too high this preseason?

Only once in the last six seasons has anyone other than the Moneybags League regulars finished in the top four when in 2004/05 Everton ended fourth, three points clear of Liverpool (and Bolton). Since then it’s been the cartel first, everyone else second. The advantages gained from prize money, media coverage, TV income, the ability to attract players and sponsorship mean that everyone else is playing catch up including us. As in other countries around Europe, qualification for UEFA’s flagship competition has become a self-perpetuating cycle.

So where should we be aiming and who are our rivals? Discount the big four and the league has been ‘won’ by only two clubs in the last five years, Everton and ourselves. As well as the fourth place in 2005 (which didn’t actually upset the status quo at the top too much as the rules were bent to allow Liverpool into the Champions League the following season anyway), the ‘People’s Club’ have finished fifth for the last two seasons, Martin Jol guided us to the ‘top’ during the two seasons before that. Everton are the team we should be aiming to finish above, they’re the big boys of this sub-league.

No team, not even that currently being assembled at Middle Eastlands, is going to be in a position this year to replace one of the top four unless one of them suffer a major implosion the like of which we’ve not seen for a long time. When Everton finished fourth they did so with 61 points. We finished fifth the following season with 65. 2005 was a case of a Red collapse rather than an unstoppable Blue force.

My point is that if there is such an implosion then the team we’ll need to make sure we’re ahead of to take full advantage is the Toffees. Moyes’s teams used to yo-yo season by season but the consistent performances of the core players like Cahill, Arteta, Howard, Lescott and others now mean that even the handicap of a ridiculously injury packed campaign like last year’s can be overcome. The system’s there and the players are plugged into it.

The emergence of Osman, Fellaini, Jagielka and Baines as above average players when added to those already mentioned means that not many changes are expected at Goodison over the summer and in that department at least we’re matching them at the moment. The sale of Zokora is the only event of note since the end of the season. It’s everyone’s personal choice what they take seriously of the mountains of transfer speculation that’s printed every day but if you believe there’s no smoke without fire then the signals from WHL indicate that sales are needed before any purchases are made. A risky policy but presumably one brought on by a combination of our overspending during the last 3 or 4 transfer windows together with the sensible desire to keep an eye on the purse strings in the current economic climate.

We’ll need to spend though. Our terrific form from Wembley onwards was due in no small part to the lack of injuries. Once we got to one game a week over the last couple of months there was no stopping a settled side but the moment that was disrupted with injuries to Lennon, Bent, Jenas, Woodgate and the enforced absence of Palacios, weaknesses quickly appeared. We finished the season at Anfield with Bale, Zokora, Bentley and Modric across the middle, as lightweight a combination as seen anywhere all season probably. So another midfielder at least is needed and probably more. Can we rely on King, Gomes or Robbie let alone Hutton, Bale, Pavlyuchenko or Bent? And these are first team players, not those on the fringes – Bentley, Chimbonda, O’Hara or Gunter for instance.

The majority of those Everton players mentioned above would get into our team. Saha, Jo, Yobo, Vaughan, Pienaar and Neville probably wouldn’t get near it and they’re first team players at Goodison. They’d be pleased with Lennon, Defoe, Modric, Palacios, Bent, Woodgate and Corluka at least so on paper it all looks very even. One striking thing about the draw at Everton in May was the size of their two youngsters playing in that game. Rodwell and Gosling looked anything but teenagers whereas, perhaps with the exception of Bostock, all of our promising kids have some growing still to do. Mason, Parrett and Smith for starters have a ton of talent but would look flimsy if played against men at the moment.

So our task for next season is to match and better a settled side with a highly admired manager that finished 12 points and 18 goals better than us despite having no fit strikers for much of the year. To me that sounds a tough enough goal without bringing the top four into it.

By MF

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is the first time ever that that I have seen a Spurs article that is basically realistic. Year on year Spurs fans dismiss Everton and at the start of every season just assume they will finish way above us. This article begins to narrow that gap between delusion and realism – but I’m afraid you still have a way to go. Your assumption seems to be that you are presently Sixth best team – and you are quite some way behind Villa and probably Fulham I’m afarid.
    But keep that realism up and you will make (limited) progress.

  2. Saha, Jo, Yobo, Vaughan first team players???
    I dont think so!!! They are bench players saha and jo only got a first team run last season because the yak was out!!! Other than that fairly good article!!

  3. It’s not just about the quality of players. In fact, the year we finished 4th I believe Spurs had a much better squad quality-wise than Everton, & for a few more seasons after that. But the truth is (& this gets overlooked by many teams who think they can just buy the best players & be successful), is that there are other very important ingredients needed. Everton’s fundamental foundations are hard work & commoradorie; these are more important factors than the quality of player you have because without these, even with the best players you will not be successful. But those ingredients aren’t easily forged, & fortunately Everton has always been renowned for having them (which is why we never went down in the dark days) & we take great, great pride in that.

  4. That’s a nicely balanced article (i’m an Evertonian) except for Pienaar not being able to get into a Spurs side. He was my player of the season last year – probably one of the most under-rated players in the league – but that’s the way we like them at Everton.

    I would also add that the two defenders you mentioned wouldn’t be Everton players – not because I don’t rate them, but because I wouldn’t change any of our best back 4 for anyone (Neville, Jags, Lescott, Baines), although if City put a big enough bid in, we might have to… I would love to have Robbie Keane (he is an idol of mine even though he played for that lot), Modric & Defoe if you lot are ever feeling generous enough.

    Good luck for this season. It’s going to be tight up were we’ll probably both finish this year with Everton, Spurs, City & Villa all fighting for what will probably be 2 Europa places.

    Harsh, eh?

  5. good article.your players do not have to be prima donnas,toachieve top 4 status.work for each other and have asound,understanding with the manager.your players have to be,of a good standard,but players who think they are bigger than the manager and the club,are definattely no nos.everton have home grown youngsters always coming through the ranks, watch out for rodwell next season the boy is so talented,know as a kid.he will be awsome,in the future. pf

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