Everton: Our Starting XI Is Great, But It's Our Thin Squad That Lets Us Down
For every club that doesn’t possess an endless supply of money, creating the kind of squad able to compete at the highest levels of the Premiership will always be a challenge.
Assuming injuries, suspension and loss of form didn’t occur, there are a host of smaller clubs, those who continually finish between tenth and sixth each season, who could probably give the big-four a run for their money. But the problem is that the loss of key players, whether via their physical absence from the pitch or through their inability to capture the form that usually makes them so effective, is a reality in football.
For the big clubs, and Liverpool, this is less of a problem. Look at a team like Manchester United. If Robin van Persie is out or bereft of form then they have any number of effective replacements, and Danny Welbeck, to take his place. Across the team, more-than-competent players can be employed should a regular first-teamer find himself injured, suspended or temporarily ineffective.
Everton, like many other similar sized clubs, are currently able to put together a first-eleven that on its day can probably take most teams in the league, as was illustrated in the early weeks of the season.
But too often of late, David Moyes has been unable to field his preferred full-strength, starting eleven. Long-term injuries (Gibson, Hibbbert, Neville), short-term injuries (Mirallas) occasional suspensions (Fellaini, Pienaar) and Jelavic’s loss of form has meant the Everton sides that have taken to the field in recent weeks have been staffed by less able squad men and overly reliant on a goalscorer who seems to have lost his knack for scoring goals.
In Saturday’s game against Norwich, injuries to Gibson and Neville, combined with a Fellaini suspension, meant that recently arrived loanee, Thomas Hitzlsperger and the relatively untested Costa-Rican, Bryan Oviedo deputised in midfield. While neither did a bad job, with Oviedo in particular showing some nice touches, this is not the beating heart of the Everton midfield that most of us want to see. The pair of them were competent rather than exceptional and it was evident just how much the team missed Fellaini and Gibson.
At the back, an area where Everton have shown surprising vulnerability this season, the team was also without a first, second, or third choice right back. It meant that Phil Jagielka was compelled to occupy this unfamiliar position, hardly an ideal move for a defence that has recently lost some of its previous invincibility.
Everton, understandably, have tried to put as much of the club’s budget as possible into its first-choice eleven. This has left little cash to build a wider squad capable of sustaining the team through a run of injuries and suspensions, such as we have suffered lately. Just a casual glance at the bench in recent weeks has been a thoroughly depressing sight, an indication of how stretched the team is at the moment.
What Moyes would give for the kind of money enjoyed by his opposite numbers across Stanley Park over the last ten years? Imagine what a manager of his undoubted quality could have done with the millions that Liverpool have been able to spend. By now the club could have in place the kind of squad capable of sustaining a push on the top four, rather than one filled with the likes of Apostolos Vellios.
A few months ago there was a sense of hope amongst Evertonians, a real belief that this could be a great season for us. Clubs were being swept aside and the team was playing with the kind of attacking fluidity that has been absent from Goodison for some time.
In the excitement some of us seemed to forget the reality of Everton’s position; that we are a team that punch above our weight financially and who were always going to struggle to maintain an effective assault on the top-four, if injuries, suspension and form went against us.
That said, Evertonians should still look on the club’s progress this season with some satisfaction. Yes, on successive occasions, including today, the team has squandered periods of dominance, periods when the opposition should have been brushed aside. And yes, our once invulnerable defence has started to show a worrying capacity for leaking goals. But if back in August someone had offered us twenty-one points at this time in the season then we would have bitten their hands off. For a club with Everton’s propensity to start the campaign so poorly, the team has done remarkably well, even if it could have done much better.
And it’s just as well. Compared to a lot of other clubs in the league, Everton have had a relatively easy time of things so far. We’ve played a lot of the teams that traditionally finish beneath us, sides that Everton would be expected to beat. What tougher fixtures we have faced, such as those against United, Newcastle and Liverpool, have taken place at home, giving us, theoretically at least, a slight advantage.
In the next six weeks, we face tough games against most of the big clubs, including Spurs, Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Newcastle. When it comes to facing the lesser lights of the Premiership, our upcoming fixtures also include tricky away visits to the likes of Stoke and West Ham. In short, December does not look good for Everton.
Our success in dealing with this upcoming cluster-f**k of fixtures will in some way depend upon Moyes’ ability to field his natural first choice starting eleven. If the club manages to avoid further injuries and long-sidelined players make their return, then Everton will have a fighting chance. If not, then all that big-talk of a top-four finish might soon come back to bite us on the arse.