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Top Four Contenders or Top Four Pretenders

Can the Toffees mount a substantial Champions League challenge?

Chris Brunskill

It has been almost a decade since Everton managed to break the top four barrier but this season the Blues look very much in contention to secure a Champions League qualifying spot. Although in recent years David Moyes’ side have come close to challenging the usual contenders for a European place, Roberto Martinez’s inaugural season in charge seems prophesised for a European trip next year.

Martinez was only defeated for the first time at the start of the month away at Manchester City having made an unbeaten start to the Premier League season. With three draws out of the first three games, games that the Toffees were favourites for, the Blues’ faithful could have been forgiven for thinking this transitional season would provide little success. However the result that changed the outlook was transfer deadline day both in outgoing and incomings. The result on the field that changed the viewpoint of the start of the season was Chelsea at home in which the Toffees secured the three points with a Steven Naismith goal on the stroke of halftime. In the six league games since that fixture it has only been Man. City and more recently Tottenham who have taken points off the Blues.

In comparison, champions Manchester United who are also in a transitional season after David Moyes was handed the job at Old Trafford while in charge at Everton after Sir Alex Ferguson retired have not started the season well. Even though Moyes was under much scrutiny for the start of the season he actually had a better first five games than his predecessor. Having said that, a demoralising away defeat in the Manchester Derby, a loss to West Bromwich Albion and a draw against Southampton – both at home – have not installed the upmost confidence in Moyes from the United supporters.

Across Manchester, the ‘noisy neighbours’ have had an indifferent start to the season under new manager Manuel Pellegrini. With defeats away to Cardiff City and Aston Villa by the same 3-2 score line, a dull draw away to Stoke City and a last gasp defeat to Chelsea away thanks to a Fernando Torres goal; leaves City fifth and level on points with Everton.

Speaking of Chelsea, they have made an impressive start especially as they have not got out of second gear. While winning Jose Mourinho’s return has not sparked any blistering performances. The Londoners lie in second place five points behind leaders Arsenal and defeats away at Goodison and at home to Basel had Blues fans thinking about questioning the ‘Special One’. After a win against Man. City in the last minute it looked as though Mourinho’s men had attuned to their old boss. However a humbling defeat at St. James’ Park, 2-0 to Newcastle may have people rethinking their view on the return of the Portuguese.

Another factor hiding Mourinho’s second start as manager will have been the performances of league leaders Arsenal and their recent record signing Mesut Özil. From the humiliating opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa the Gunners have won every game in all competitions until the defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund and last week’s loss to Chelsea at the Emirates. Some might have thought the wheels were coming off the Arsenal bandwagon but wins against Liverpool at home on Saturday and away to Borussia Dortmund last night proves the Gunners are serious contenders on all fronts. Signing Özil on deadline day was an immense statement of intent by Arsene Wenger on a trophy assault that has been without a success in the past eight years.

After a summer of heavy transfer speculation and completion, Tottenham have predictably struggled to gel together after replacing Gareth Bale with several players following the £80+million they recouped for the Welsh international. A 1-0 defeat away at Arsenal wouldn’t have raised any alarm bells but it definitely left a bitter taste in Tottenham mouths. Andre Villas-Boas invested heavily in creativity with signings such as Christian Eriksen and Eric Lamela and the signing of Roberto Soldado would have had pundits and fans thinking goals, goals, goals at White Hart Lane however when Tottenham have won they have won with low scoring games and impressive defensive performances. Having said that Spurs currently lie in fourth place after Sunday’s 0-0 draw with the Toffees and if AVB can get his new signings to perform together and his team scoring goals could see them challenging not just for Europe, perhaps the title.

Across Stanley Park, Brendan Rodgers’ side have started well and lying in third place after the defeat at the Emirates at the weekend. Impressive performances from their new found strike partnership have fired the Reds to only two league defeats this season. However with speculation continuously surrounding the future of Luis Suarez, it could be easy to see how Liverpool’s good run of form could disappear. With the absence of Suarez at the start of the season it was Daniel Sturridge who has been the more impressive and keeping him in good form will be the vital to challenging the top four.

More closer to home and in regards to Everton, it is clear that the Toffees just need to stay consistent to finish in a European spot. It is more than obvious this season especially with the closeness of the league that the teams that win consistently will be the teams at the top end of the table. When Martinez was confirmed Everton manager he talked about getting Champions League football and with quality at both ends of the pitch there is no reason why that couldn’t happen in the Spaniard’s first season at the Goodison helm.