Can Everton Really Be Top Four Contenders? The Case For And Against

We held our own against Arsenal, and we're still in a strong position to challenge for a European spot. But are we really capable of beating Spurs and Arsenal to claim a top four spot?
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We held our own against Arsenal, and we're still in a strong position to challenge for a European spot. But are we really capable of beating Spurs and Arsenal to claim a top four spot?

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The season to date has been a bit weird for Evertonians. Traditionally we’ve been conditioned to poor starts, limited horizons and combative football. In light of this, you can see why our early form, the exciting way in which we have played and talk of a potential top-four finish would confuse us a little.

So, what does it all mean? Are Everton really set to become part of the Premiership elite? Is this the start of a new chapter in the club’s fortunes? Can we really finish in the top-four this season?

Or, has our bright start run out of steam? Will we end up finishing eighth again? Is the squad really capable of taking on the big boys?

Here’s the case for and against the Everton renaissance:

Top Four Still Possible

There is little doubt that the style of the football that Everton have produced this season is a huge improvement on that which we fans have endured in recent years. And, as last night’s game against Arsenal illustrated, it’s one that’s effective. In the past few seasons, Goodison has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal, with the Gunners often beating and outplaying us. But not so on Wednesday. Everton both held their own and (for a change) matched Arsenal in terms of skill and creativity.

Our new, attacking style of play has this season proven at times almost impossible for our opponents to play against. From Utd at the top to QPR at the bottom, Everton have dominated most teams that we have come up against this season, putting together performances that equal the best that the top club’s in the league have illustrated so far.

Admittedly, these periods of dominance haven’t always yielded results but that’s what you would expect of a team undergoing such a dramatic transformation. Much is made and written about what Brendan Rodgers is doing over at Anfield, his gradual introduction of his own personal footballing philosophy. The fact that Liverpool have been worse this season than last, is in part excused because the team is thought to be undergoing a period of ‘transition’.

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By contrast, what David Moyes is doing at Everton rarely seems to be appreciated. Everton have gone from being one of the most combative, tactically organised units in the Premiership to a team that is arguably one of the league’s most flamboyantly attacking.

Such a transformation was never going to be flawless. Setbacks, such as our inability to kill games off, a potential vulnerability at the back because of the team’s new emphasis on attacking and the possibility that our new style of play won’t initially suit all players were always likely.

But despite these setbacks, Everton have still played well enough to only lose twice this season. What’s more, with the exception of West Brom, there isn’t a single team that has so far really looked better than Everton over the course of ninety minutes.

In contrast to what is happening over at Anfield, we are managing our transition well. Evertonians should take heart from the past few months. We finally have a side that is capable of taking the game to the opposition, one that (as illustrated against Arsenal last night) is a match for the big-guns in the league and a team that, assuming David Moyes can manage this transition effectively, has the right blend of guile and strength to compete effectively across the league. Top-four remains a real possibility.

Top-Four? Dream-On

Draws don’t get you a Champions League spot. Wednesday night’s result against Arsenal represented our sixth draw from the last eight games. If you extrapolated the team’s recent form over the course of what remains of the season, then Everton would be lucky to finish mid-table, let alone in the top-four.

The problem is that Everton simply don’t have a squad filled with enough quality to seriously challenge the higher echelons of the league. If the entire first-eleven remained free from injuries and suspensions, which is hugely unlikely, then its possible Everton could give the top-four a decent crack. But that won’t happen. Players will be sidelined, which means more ‘average’ squad men taking to the pitch, something that undermines the strength and rhythm of the team.

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The lack of financial muscle is the central cause of this problem. Everton don’t have enough cash to buy quality cover. But our financial limitations cause other problems too. How likely is it that the club will be able to keep hold of its best players? Both Baines and Fellaini have been outstanding this season, arguably the club’s stand-out performers. With the January transfer window looming can Everton resist potential offers for these two? The club’s stretched finances suggest not. With even one of these players gone, the team would struggle to maintain the serious assault on the Champions League places.

Everton also continue to suffer a problem in the final third. For the past ‘god-knows-how-many’ seasons, we have been without the regular presence of a proven goal-scorer. This long-standing problem seemed to have been solved with the acquisition of Jelavic, who towards the end of last season was arguably one of the most effective forwards in the league.

While certainly not suffering from ‘second-season-syndrome’ there is little doubt that Jelavic’s potency has been curtailed this season. A large part of this is attributable to Everton’s new style of play. Jelavic thrives on crosses and balls played into the box. The club’s adoption of a more ‘passing-orientated’ style has nullified Jelavic’s threat. Until this issue is resolved, via either a return to our old-way of playing or through the addition of another forward, it’s likely that Everton will be without that most vital of components for a top-four finish, a lethal goal-scorer.

So, which perspective is the most plausible? Pessimism runs deep within Evertonians. We’ve suffered too many disappointments and witnessed too many false dawns to ever truly embrace hope or become overly excited about the possibility of future success.

But despite this, and the fact that the second perspective touches on some genuine problems facing the club, I’m still inclined to go with the first view. Everton just seem different this season. There is something there in the side, a level of creativity and flair that I haven’t seen since the Kendall sides of the 1980s. Yes, it might all go tits-up and the potential displayed in the early months of the season come to nothing. But despite the perils that lie ahead, this is the first Everton side in a long-time to give me real confidence, a sense that no game has to end in defeat. It might go against my nature as a Blue, but for once I’m embracing optimism and keeping my faith in a top-four finish.