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What if the Champions League meets Everton, again?

In the 9 years since the Toffees’ first experience of Champions League football, what’s changed should they qualify for a second time?

More ice-cream for Baines in Europe next season?
More ice-cream for Baines in Europe next season?
Shaun Botterill

A few nights ago I was renewing my season ticket for next season and came across the Home Cup Scheme. First was the choice to opt in for the home League Cup games, then the home FA Cup games and finally the European home games – which got me dreaming…

Imagining the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in Real Madrid colours, Lionel Messi with Barcelona or Bastian Schweinsteiger and Bayern Munich gracing the Goodison turf was racing through my mind, reminding me of thoughts from the previous experience of finishing in the highly coveted top four of the Barclays Premier League.

Unfortunately our last tango with the Champions League didn’t do the Blues justice with the toughest possible draw in Villarreal. If Everton were to finish in the position to qualify for Europe’s most prestigious club competition, what would be different?

Quality of players

The first and foremost difference between the team that played Villarreal in 2005 and the team Everton have now are the quality of players they have at their disposal.

From my memory our sole creative spark was Mikel Arteta in that 2005 team, with contributions from Leon Osman, Kevin Kilbane and Simon Davies. Compare that to the team the season and the Blues have Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines who create, then those paid for that very task in Kevin Mirallas, Aiden McGeady, Ross Barkley, Steven Pienaar and the survivor from nine years ago; Osman. Not forgetting Gerard Deulofeu, with his inclusion depending on whether he is allowed to re-join the Toffees next season.

At the other end of the field, even though in 2005 Everton were known for their defensive stability the defenders in the Everton ranks at the moment are a class above, in my opinion. Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in front of the back four provides even more defensive assurance.

Size of the squad

Even though the depth of the squad is the biggest issue raised from pundits about the current squad, in comparison to the 2005 side I would say the squad is a lot bigger. With everyone fit, Everton now have two players in every position. For the summer, there are only a few additions that are needed whether the Toffees are in the Champions League or not – whereas back then the Blues made several additions going into the 2005/06 campaign and probably could have used a few more.

Goals from all over the pitch

In 2005 most goals came from Tim Cahill, with some from Marcus Bent in the 2004/05 season and then James Beattie and James McFadden the following. However now, and especially this season, goals have come from all over the pitch. One of the clubs top goal-scorers this season is right-back Coleman. The majority of goals this season have come from Romelu Lukaku but Mirallas, Deulofeu, Steven Naismith, and Barkley have all scored often and even Barry and Baines have chipped in. Furthermore, Roberto Martinez can always rely on Osman to score and I’d imagine it won’t be long before winger McGeady finds his scoring boots.

Different style of play

A final difference between the current Everton side and that which qualified for the Champions League is the style of play. The possession-based passing play under Roberto Martinez should suit European games, being a continental style. Martinez’s style of football should also suit away games in Europe as keeping the ball was the biggest problem for David Moyes’ team traveling to the likes of Fiorentina and Benfica.

Having said all that, it is important to remember that the hard work begins now if anything. It’s vital that the Blues win Sunday against their positional rivals, Arsenal, in order to go a point behind them with a game in hand. A victory is imperative because the Toffees future would be in their own hands, needing to win their game in hand and only match the results of the Gunners to finish above them in fourth. This would still be a tough ask as the Blues run-in to the end of the season is tougher than the London side's.

Although Champions League football is not definite for next season, what is certain is that Roberto Martinez’s side have the foundations and tools to give a better account of themselves this time around compared to the previous experience for Evertonians.