With our first real chance of Champions League qualification for some time, it’s heartening that Everton have done so much to invest in the squad during the transfer window. With our lack of a genuine attacking threat and gaps elsewhere in the squad, the legion of new signings that have arrived at Goodison Park this week should do much to improve our chances.
Well, I can dream anyway. Like many other past transfer windows, Everton have emerged from this one relatively unchanged. Despite rumoured links with several players and the nearly-purchase of Leroy Fer, the only addition to the club’s squad is the relatively unknown John Stones, Barnsley’s eighteen-year-old right back. With Moyes’ past record at picking up cheap talent from the lower leagues, Evertonians can be confident that Stones must have potential, even if it might be a few years before this comes to fruition.
Everton were never going to be the kind of club to go mad in the transfer window, largely because we’re properly skint (at least by Premiership standards). Brendan Rodgers warned fans about Liverpool’s limited budget in December, only to then find £20, down the back of one of the Anfield sofas. When David Moyes issued a similar warning before the window opened you know he meant exactly what he was saying and that all he was going to find down the back of Goodison’s sofas was 10p, an old tissue and the decayed corpse of the agent who brokered the sale of Ibrahima Bakayoko.
Despite this, it would have made a pleasant change had we emerged with a few more players to strengthen the squad. As was made evident via the thwarted Fer deal, there was some cash knocking around, enough to splash on a few much needed arrivals. If the first half of the season has proven anything to Evertonians it’s that the squad is dangerously thin. If our Champions League dreams are to turn into reality then now we have to pray that no-one else gets injured and that key players, such as Mirallas, Fellaini and Baines maintain their form.
Aside from the acquisition of Stones, the only other real highlight of the transfer window was the farming-out of our calamitous midfielder, the unfortunately named Magaye Gueye to Brest on loan until the end of the season. How damaging must it be to that player’s confidence that he was judged surplus to requirements at a club that is in desperate need of players?
So Everton enter the run-in to the end of the season pretty much as we began it. And the first hurdle the club faces is a visit from Aston Villa.
Although separated by more than a hundred miles, I think there’s an affinity between both sets of fans. Thirty years ago, both clubs could justifiably claim to be English giants. Domestic and European success was not unknown at both Villa Park and Goodison, and along with United, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal, together we represented the cream of English football. As the years have rolled-on it’s fair to say that neither Villa or Everton have enjoyed the levels of success that we thought was once our right. Both sets of fans therefore know the bitter taste of disappointment. We know what it’s like to have success, come to expect it and then have that sense of expectation cruelly undermined.
At the moment our midlands ‘comrades in disappointment’ are certainly having a tougher time of it. Poor buys, injuries and a managerial merry-go-round have created a situation where Villa now look like serious relegation candidates. The club is currently second-from-bottom, without a win in seven games and possessed of the worst form in the league. Even those clubs around them, the likes of Wigan and QPR are doing better of late, something that must represent a real worry for Villa fans.
Everton by contrast, seem to have recovered from our pre-Christmas dip in form. Aside from the disastrous performance against Southampton, which must rate as our worst this campaign, of late we seen to be rediscovering some of the fizz and spark that enabled us to do so well at the beginning of the season. While still some way from completely capturing that early season form, where it seemed possible that we could beat anyone, there are glimpses of it again, times when once again the side looks unbeatable.
On paper then, it looks like an Everton win should be a given. But as Paul Lambert’s young side proved when they played Liverpool a while back, Villa are still capable of producing a surprise. Their win at Anfield was a comprehensive one, a performance that belied the gulf in league positions that separated both sides at the time.
And during this campaign, as we have done in years past, Everton have often proven unable to win the games we should. Games against Fulham, Norwich and QPR should have gone our way and yet we ended up with a mere point. So although an Everton win would be a good bet, it’s far from guaranteed.
A lot will depend upon how well Everton’s midfield performs. At the moment, this is the most likely source of goals. The absence of the former-goal-scoring-machine known as Jelavic and the presence of two players, Mirallas and Anichebe, who are each irregular contributors to the score sheet means a reliance on the likes of Osman, Fellaini and Pienaar to chip in with goals. If they can, then Everton should be ok. If not, then a disappointing afternoon awaits.