By James Johnson
Whilst our glorious team has been in sunny climes and enjoys a break from the English winter the rest of us with nothing better to do can moan about how cold it is and of course take stock of the season so far. With 25 games gone and two-thirds of the season over it is a good place to park the proverbial and was lyrical or otherwise on progress so far.
41 points therefore equates to 1.64 points a game, which if carried on would give an end of season total of 62 point – well 62.32 to be exact and using statistics following the sad death recently of the wonderful Hans Rosling is asking for trouble (do look him up) and no he didn’t play for Man City in the 90’s that was Uwe Rosler!). Anyway back to football, seeing that Arsenal in fourth place already have 50 points and are on target to reach 76 points it truly is time to put to bed any idea of Champions League football not that many actually believed it possible. Even sixth place is looking highly unlikely with United seven points in front and not having been beaten since October do we honestly think it possible to overhaul them? Sadly that leaves 13 games to ruminate on what might happen next season and to worry that WBA might catch us! The sight of the giant baggies stealing three points from another cosh job at Goodison and slipping into seventh place might well keep some awake at night.
Let’s face it seventh place is progress, there is no maverick Leicester City this season and the top six has been very competitive.
Indeed before we embark on another round of mud-slinging in the direction of Mr Martinez let’s not forget that the game back in November 2016 at Stamford Bridge was a low point for Evertonian of any age – well okay – as bad as some of the games under Martinez towards the end of his last season. At this time last season we had just been robbed by the said baggies if you recall, prior to that we had started the New Year with a point each from City, Tottenham and Chelsea, indeed that should have been five points rather than three the difference between success and failure can be so slim. The problem of course was Bournemouth away, Leicester, Stoke, Swansea and West Ham home, games that could and should have earned at least 11 points and quite possible 15 but instead a meagre 1 point. Martinez’ failure to close games down cost him his job and left Evertonians bewildered. Factor in the above and Everton could well have been challenging for a Champions League place but then again that is why we changed manager to someone rooted and not a dreamer.
This time last year we had accrued 35 points and Leicester were on 53 points so those games where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory really did count. Presuming it cost around £10m (staggering if true) to pay-off Martinez and maybe £5m to pay off The Saints plus whatever deal was reached to bring in Steve Walsh then it’s a lot of spare change to gain six points! However, that would be narrow thinking as clearly Ronald Koeman has made big changes and indeed so has the club structurally as has been commented on elsewhere. There is a much more steely resolve about the defence, although old habits die hard as could be seen against Bournemouth. There is far too much reliance on Lukaku and away form is still more of snatching a win if we can but avoiding defeat as being the prime aim. However, the improvement post Watford has led to much optimism even if it does get a little hyperbolic at times. Danny Murphy’s recent comment about inconsistency is not borne out by the latest run of unbeaten games, true we need to be winning at Middlesbrough and Stoke but neither are easy places to play and Koeman’s team is definitely an improving work in progress.
Given the resources available the next transfer window is massive and Koeman will need to bring in at least one top quality central defender and a proven goal-scorer at the very minimum. Let’s also not forget the contract issues surrounding Barclay and Lukaku they must be resolved and quickly to keep the sense of momentum. It is frightening to think how Everton would manage should Lukaku pick up a long-term injury no doubt a factor in him not travelling to Dubiai. Working on fitness has been a major positive but that ability when playing away to snatch a goal late on is currently missing. The fitter and stronger physically and mentally Everton become the more likely those away draws will turn to wins. The England rugby team is currently winning games it should lose but the coach Eddie Jones has instilled in the players a ‘refuse to lose mentality’ backed-up by a fitness regime that allows them to outlast their opponents. Compare Everton under Martinez where so often the team were physically and mentally weak.
Allied to this is the need for an increased strike force. Bolassie will be back next season, hopefully fit but he is not a prolific goal-scorer and what exactly does Valencia bring even if he was signed permanently? Then there is the problem of Mirallas, how does Koeman solve that one, a player who never seems to fulfill his undoubted talents. Successful teams usually spread the goals around, Vardy had a great season last year scoring 25 league goals but Marez also scored 17. Harry Kane scored 25 goals last season for Tottenham but next best was Deli Ali with 10 perhaps a few more goals from elsewhere might have allowed Tottenham to challenge Leicester to the end. This season Chelsea are strong favourites to win the title and it’s no coincidence that Costa with 15 so far and Hazard with 10 are driving them forward, their next best being Pedro on 6. No wonder they have apparently offered Costa a new five-year contract. Even Arsenal in fourth place have managed 25 goals split between Sanchez on 17, Giroud and Walcott on 8 each. Liverpool like Arsenal spread their goals around with Mane on 11, Firmino on 8 and Lallana on 7. However, when it comes to Everton Lukaku has 16 but next best are Barclay on 4 and Coleman on 4 that is dismal and worrying hence the need to bring in a goal-scorer and someone who can compete with Lukaku.
The midfield is also a little unbalanced with only Barclay seemingly a box to box player who can (in theory) also score goals but enough has been said in umpteen fan and MSM articles on him to fill a library. An example of this type of player is Mkhitaryan at United who possesses much of what we lack but a player of similar quality will be difficult to entice to a team not even playing in the Europa League never mind the Champions League. Even so a midfield player that scores 10 goals is worth their weight in gold and at the minute Everton are falling well short in that department.
Turning to the defence whether Funes-Mori can ever become a top class defender is another matter but look at how Chelsea under Conte have turned David Luiz around so maybe Koeman thinks he can do the same with FM. Nevertheless given Williams is a short-term fix we need a dominant central defender and one who can organise, lead and read the game.
If the strategy is to sign players of high promise who are young but likely to mature quickly then Walsh will need to earn his crust. Meanwhile no doubt Koeman will continue with the salvage sale to move on Kone, McGeady and Cleverley. Finally has Joel has done enough to be considered a number one keeper? Koeman will have to decide but his recent record is promising and he certainly deserves a run to the end of the season and maybe he will convince Koeman and save £20m plus.
For next season fourth place must be a minimum target so let’s look at the recent past:
Fourth Place Finishers
2015/16 Man City 66 pts
2014/15 Man Utd 70 pts
2013/14 Arsenal 79 pts
2012/13 Arsenal 73 pts
2011/12 Spurs 69 pts
2010/11 Arsenal 68 pts
Therefore a median points tally of 70.83 is needed for fourth place, although Man City managed it with 66 points. Without delving too much into statistical meaning taking more points off your rivals than they do off you will give you a big advantage.
Tottenham are currently an example of a side that gets close but fails to beat its rivals. Next season Everton will have to step up to the mark by improving its performance against the top six as well as converting the Middlesbrough type performances into scruffy wins.
A good start would be beating Liverpool at Anfield it’s almost 18 years since Kevin Campbell scored that winning goal and 6 since the Blues won 2 – 0 at Goodison. It would surely be a massive boost to win at Anfield and lay down a marker for next season but are they ready? Nevertheless the gap between success and failure is very slim Koeman gives the impression that he will maximise the potential of every player to bridge that gap because until we start to beat Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham on a regular basis, until we turn those boring days at the Riverside into three pointers, until we make Goodison a fortress (and sign’s are promising) we won’t be in with a shout of the Champions League.
In some ways we have come full circle back to Moyes’ days heading for around 60 points not enough for Champions League and just outside a Europa League spot. As long as there is no mid-season break the Europa League is probably not where a club like Everton want to be but given the dismal cup record this season fans should expect something better in the cups next season. Hopefully the money that was always lacking in Moyes time will come to fruition this summer to give Koeman the resources that he demands to take the Blues onwards and hopefully upwards past that 70 point mark to where they belong.