Everton: It Might Not Be Europe's Elite, But It's Europe Nonetheless
What a difference six days makes.
Following the symphony of errors which was 90 minutes against Palace, the United game had the air of a team pushing past a poor result and getting back on track. Palace looked to be a blip on a near faultless couple of months. It wasn’t the possession football which we’d grown accustomed to this season but it was cutting, incisive and efficient. It seemed like the Champions league was still on, albeit in slightly tougher circumstances than the week before. An Arsenal slip up wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility, but once again, we Everton’d that.
Southampton are a strong team, as was reflected in the pre-match comments, but you’d have still expected three points considering the number of goals they’ve shipped recently, and their poor home record of late. Three points would have kept pressure on Arsenal and left us a foothold with two fixtures left. The side was slightly depleted with two unaccustomed centre halves - and it showed. I don’t want to go into details, but the chants of “Who needs Rodriguez when we’ve got your back four” before half time said it all.
Away from home, an early own goal is about as welcome as a half-and-half scarf. Two early own goals; well, as welcome as a certain PR guru at, well, anywhere other than his current 6x4 accommodation. The mountain Everton were left to climb was possible, but ultimately proved insurmountable. Arsenal then proceeded to extend the gap to four points going into the final two games, leaving it mathematically possible but realistically unlikely for us to qualify for the Champions league. Nice one, lads. Appreciated.
So now we find ourselves here. With Champions League as good as gone, the Europa League would be secured with a point from any of our final two games, or United dropping any points. They have two tough games against Sunderland and Southampton. Games which, under David Moyes, you could view with a decent likelihood of a draw or a loss. However, Giggs, in his managerial capacity is an unknown quantity. Their quick turnaround, bagging 4 against Norwich, makes United a real prospect in the final sprint. Everton need to take the impetus and make sure they shoulder the responsibility and take points.
This, however, comes ahead of a fixture which could decide which end of the M62 the Premier League trophy resides over the summer. It's been a confusing season - and it's getting even weirder, like a parallel universe. Liverpool fans cheering for Newcastle on Monday so that Everton still have a chance of catching Arsenal in fourth, so that further importance is added to the Everton-Manchester City fixture, so that if Everton beat City, Liverpool are back in the driving seat. Meanwhile, United and City fans both take the opposing view, hoping an Arsenal victory leads to a meek Everton surrender, keeping Manchester City top in the final game ahead of Liverpool on goal difference, while maintaining the minute possibility of United competing in Europe during the 2014/15 season. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. If these Machiavellian manoeuvres are making your head hurt, try being a Blue and deciding what you want out of Saturday. Crikey!
Everyone has different views, but it looks likely (after two losses from three) that Everton will be competing in the Europa League next season. Great, I say. Who wants to be competing against Monaco or AC Milan, drinking steins in Dortmund or sampling curated hams (and imported beers) in Madrid? Not me. Give me a team where you need to get 2 connecting flights, a train and a ferry to get to the ground for your fixture against 11 tradesmen from just outside of/2000 miles from Dubrovnik any day. Trust me, that’s what we’d get. Outside of the EU too, so get your visas ready. Anyway, not to complain, Europe is better than no Europe. Let United fans tell you that.
Follow Ben on Twitter at @BenWilliams92