Happy Tuesday Everton fans, I hope your Monday was kind to you after such a wonderful weekend. First, the Toffees put together a resounding 3-0 win over mid-table rivals West Bromwich Albion to put a seven-point cushion between themselves and the Baggies for 7th place.
Then, that spot in the table gained IMMENSE value when Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal moved into the FA Cup semifinals, virtually guaranteeing whoever finishes 7th will get a Europa League qualifying spot.
If you want more information, you can read up on it here:
#EFC have a chance of Europa League football next season, thanks to #Spurs win https://t.co/n8RRT9hyFP pic.twitter.com/qgTlNpyqpE— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) March 12, 2017
As it stands now, a strong finish by the Toffees will give them the chance to make their mark in Europe next season. I can appreciate the thought that Europe will detract from the Premier League, but isn’t the whole point of playing to finish high enough to reap the rewards?
With the establishment of quality midfield depth well under way, the back line and attack will now be added to in order to handle to rigors of pushing for multiple trophies next season.
As I mentioned two weeks ago during the height of the Wayne Rooney fervor, his addition to the squad would be MASSIVE in helping the squad adjust to a busy schedule and learning to pick up points on both Thursdays AND the weekend.
If you think back to Manchester City (late 00’s) and Spurs (last 3 years) you see teams that have been learning how to balance the rigors, and expectations, of being perennial European contenders and participants.
The idea that we can somehow avoid Europe next season, focus on the league, finish top 4, then just become a top 4 team year-in and year-out is ludicrous.
I am very excited at the prospect of mid-week matches around the continent as a way to attract more talent and sharpen the players as the club continues to push towards their ultimate goal of winning the league and eventually the Champions League.
This season has been more successful than even the most optimistic fans (yours truly) could have ever thought short of a Leicester style miracle, and this weekend’s events just serve to push the timeline for the club forward, something EVERY Toffes’ fan can get on board with.
So without further ado, let’s get into this week’s questions!
#TOTEVE #evewba please can Gareth Barry play again next week?— Paul Turton (@PaulTurton27) March 5, 2017
Our West Bromwich Albion supporting friend Paul watched Everton’s clash with Tottenham a couple of weeks ago and didn’t think much of Gareth Barry’s performance.
Paul was so unimpressed by the England national team veteran, in fact, that he was lobbying for Barry to lineup against his beloved Baggies a full six days ahead before the two sides clashed this past Saturday.
He wasn’t the only fan who was flabbergasted by Barry’s inclusion in the midfield considering the options at Koeman’s disposal in that area of the field.
After a reader inquired about Niasse possibly coming back into the side next season (more on that later), the conversation shifted to Barry and his inclusion last week.
@CraigMac @foleysthoughts Koeman doesn't look like the kind of person who changes his mind, but if Niasse keeps this up, who knows.— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) March 11, 2017
@RBMersey @foleysthoughts agreed, but he has given 2nd chances to Barkley, Jags, and Barry. Didn't think Barry would be seen after last week— Craig Mac (@CraigMac) March 11, 2017
@CraigMac @foleysthoughts Strangely enough, Barry was actually not at fault last weekend - https://t.co/JDLwXVlcqQ— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) March 11, 2017
@RBMersey @foleysthoughts— Craig Mac (@CraigMac) March 11, 2017
Well then, carry on.
@CraigMac @foleysthoughts That was our reaction too when we first saw that - Koeman is a wizard, and @abraun_15 is his apprentice.— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) March 11, 2017
The point is that Barry wasn’t the reason we lost to Tottenham, and his recall against West Brom just proved Adam’s point and confirmed the metrics Koeman seems to be using to assess his players.
In fact, at halftime, I figured a lot of fans were reassessing their own pre-game analyses and cleaning up their twitter feeds.
Toffees fans furiously trying to erase lineup critical tweets pic.twitter.com/M5ZnR7Ps2M— Brian Foley (@foleysthoughts) March 11, 2017
Gareth may not have the sexy game that we love to see out of Idrissa Gueye, but Ronald Koeman (who has been around the block a couple of time, at least) sees unwavering value in his inclusion in certain matches, then who am I to argue.
As for our friend Paul, well he learned a valuable lesson.
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
@foleysthoughts Serious question - what team should #EFC most hope to catch above them? #MUFC? #AFC? #LFC?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) March 12, 2017
I’m sure that much like every other Everton fan, I have been secretly (and not so secretly) scribbling down the numbers to see if catching any (or all) of the three teams right above us before the end of the season.
So first, let’s take stock of where things currently stand in the battle for 4th-7th.
(I know that Man City is only a point ahead of Liverpool, but they have a match in hand and a favorable schedule, plus Adam didn’t ask about them SO GET OFF MY BACK!).
So as it stands, we are only two points behind Man U and three points back of Arsenal, respectively, though they have both have two games in hand.
Liverpool sits 8 points ahead, but have played 28 matches just like the Toffees.
You will also note that over the past few weeks Liverpool and Arsenal have had a few slip ups.
So now that we know the task at hand, is catching any, or all of these teams feasible?
In a word....
YES! (but it will be hard).
Take a look at the chart below laying out every team’s league schedule from here on out. For each team, I have noted how many matches they SHOULD win, as well as those that are toss ups.
Finally, I have circled any match ups between these four squads.
The way it looks, Everton probably have the toughest schedule with so many matchups against the other sides, but that also means they have the most opportunities to make up points.
Besides playing the other three teams each one more time before the end of the campaign (all AWAY, gasp!), the Blues also play host to a Chelsea side who thrashed them 5-0.
These matches are certainly a challenge, but the Toffees ARE in control of their own destiny in this round-robin, and at this point in the season that is all that a Toffees fan can ask for.
Across Stanley Park, Liverpool looks set to determine their season’s fate in the next two premier league matches as they travel to Man City before hosting the Merseyside derby.
After those matches, the Reds will be solid favorites the rest of the way. It should be noted, of course, that matches against bottom half and mid table sides have been the achilles heel for the Kloppers, with all their losses this season coming to teams outside the top ten.
Even hosting Crystal Palace gives the most ardent Reds supporter night sweats. If the evil side of things start to lose confidence, they could very well find themselves with the Toffees breathing down their necks.
Currently our closest rival, Manchester United have two games in hand, with one of those versus Man City.
Overall though, Man United have a decent schedule. They will be HEAVILY favored in seven of their twelve matches, though half of their matches from here out are on the road.
Will they lose momentum without Zlatan? Will he hit his stride as soon as he returns? The answers to these questions will determine if Man U is playing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or on Thursdays again.
How will Monday’s loss to Chelsea impact Man U’s momentum?
Perennial (4th) bridesmaid Arsenal find themselves in a similar situation as the Red Devils, with plenty of chances to build a solid cushion over the Toffees, but knowing that any string of poor results will find them in the thick of a battle with the Toffees, Reds and Man U.
Arsenal are currently struggling for confidence as they look to put their 10-2 aggregate stomping by Bayern behind them in time to salvage their campaign.
Seeing as it is (probably?) Arsene Wegner’s last season, and with Meszut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez appearing unhappy, how will the team respond?
Normally a team that struggles down the stretch, this season will provide a fascinating soap opera as the many forces at work at Arsenal adjust to changing roles and ready themselves for MAJOR turnover.
With all of that in mind Mr, Braun, I think our best chance to catch someone is Arsenal!
Though they have two games in hand, I see them as most susceptible to be passed, and not just because of their tendency to finish the season slow, either.
Without Sanchez the Arsenal attack is middling at best and should he lose form due to injury, attitude, or apathy the Gunners will struggle to score enough to get ahead in games, a place they LOVE to play from.
I think the Toffees are going to have a hard time catching anyone, but with the form we are in and the unpredictability of the league, there is no reason we shouldn’t still be “Gunn(er)ing” for the team above us.
Rom, he never fails.
Praise him in hopes he will stay.
Love him either way.
@foleysthoughts @RBMersey is there any chance Koeman keeps Niasse in '17-'18 as a backup striker?— Craig Mac (@CraigMac) March 11, 2017
First off, if you weren’t aware, Everton loanee Oumar Niasse has been getting on the score sheet quite regularly.
(Then again, if you are reading a mailbag entirely about Everton in the middle of the week you probably WERE aware.)
So, the obvious question has started to pop up as to whether or not Koeman may bring Niasse back next season as a backup to Rom (assuming the Belgian is still around.)
Goals are the hardest thing to come by in soccer, and so it would stand to reason that if Niasse can score against Premier League teams for Hull, he could do it for the Toffees.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
If it was, Jermaine Defoe would have been the second striker for Man United or Chelsea these last few years.
Much like Defoe, Niasse has a particular set of skills that translate well when you are a relegation battling side in need of scrappy counter attacking goals.
Let me rephrase:
Koeman wants players who can play his style AND score, not just get the ball in the back of the net. It isn’t that he doesn’t think Oumar can score, the Dutchman just doesn’t think that the Senegal man can do it playing the technically mature style Koeman prefers.
Here, let me give you an example of what Koeman is looking for.
If we time travel back to August, Everton fans will remember being sooooo close to signing Lucas Perez from Deportiva in Spain we could taste it.
That was, of course, before Arsenal swooped in at the last second.
Perez would have offered competition (and a partner at times?) for Lukaku, and by all accounts Steve Walsh and Koeman were both quite distraught in losing out on him.
So, with Perez as a baseline, how does Niasse match up?
Well, looking at the last full season outside the Premier League we start to see why Koeman may not rate Niasse.
First, both offer a similar rate of return on goals, though Perez’s came in the much tougher La Liga, we won’t hold it against Niasse.
And while both seem to get shots off on a consistent basis, Niasse sees a dip in Key passes.
The biggest issue, however, is in poor touches.
While playing in La Liga, Perez was either dispossessed or took a poor touch about 4 times a match.
Niasse, while playing in the much less competitive Russian league, AVERAGED 6 DISPOSSESSIONS/ POOR TOUCHES A MATCH!
That number may be fine and dandy in Russia, where the forwards will get 10 chances on the ball a match, but it doesn’t fly in the Premier League.
Koeman knows that you only get but so many chances in the Premier League, and you can’t afford to throw them away on poor touches or dispossessions.
I have NOTHING but the greatest respect for Niasse as a man. He has fought through a VERY difficult time and proved his worth as a footballer.
“It was difficult, but I always kept smiling and always kept a positive mind to start again." #EFC https://t.co/H915AX9wBn— Everton FC News (@LivEchoEFC) March 12, 2017
However, I do not see his skill set fitting in at Everton.
I think the Toffees will be able to recoup most, if not all, of the money they spent on him over a year ago as a relegation threatened side will see his immense value and ability to help them pursue their goal of staying up.
Niasse is a talented player with plenty to give. He is a counter-attacking machine!
Koeman is a consumate professional and will put Niasse in the position that will best serve the Toffees and Niasse.
It just won’t be at Goodison.
@foleysthoughts Less serious question: what would the plot of a Terminator movie starring Barry (who is clearly an ageless robot) look like?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) March 12, 2017
This is exactly the type of question I got into soccer writing for!
I do love soccer, and fancy myself somewhat knowledgeable on the topic, but it is NOTHING in comparison to my movie and pop culture knowledge. While it won’t be on display here, it is always fun to blend the two worlds!
So without further ado.....
The basic premise:
It is Summer 2038.
Aston Villa have just won their 10th straight treble.
Owner Robert Kraft is seen on TV, waving as he holds up another Champions League trophy, a site not unknown to soccer fans around the world.
The camera scans the faces of the fans in attendance and at home, their interest obviously waning as the Villans dominance has deprived them of all joy.
(Cut to a boardroom deep in a cave.)
“Gentleman we must act!” a shadowy faceless executive screams to a murmuring group of harried billionaires.
“We’ve tried everything, but if we don’t do something soon Aston Villa will continue to win every trophy and we will have nothing to play for but Champions League spots!”
“What’s the problem, again?” says Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke
“Well, STAN, some of us aren’t happy finishing 4th every season!” screams Farhad Moshiri, owner of Everton, the last team to win before Villa was taken over by the Krafts.
“We have played our hand gentlemen, and we have only one card left up our sleeve.....”
“A yellow card.”
(Cut to 1996.)
Gareth Barry walks into a busy board room in Villa Park.
“Gentlemen, this club would best be served to offer itself in an initial IPO” says the mid-40’s looking teenager (?)
“Should on the field performances improve steadily over the next decade you all will stand to make a great windfall when you eventually do sell the team”.
The group of wealthy business people look around inquisitively at the youthfulish stranger, then proceed to unanimously nod eagerly in agreement with his proposal.
MONTAGE SCENE OF GARETH BARRY TEARING UP THE FIELD FOR VILLA AS THEY MAKE FA CUP FINALS, FLIRT WITH THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND BRING JOY TO MILLIONS OF FANS WORLDWIDE
(It was the best I could find)
— - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- -
Flash to 1999, Barry cozies up to a young Tony Xia who is in England studying abroad...... they are seen cavorting about town, “coincidentally” always in and around Villa Park.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - —
(Cut to 2006)
Scene in Cleveland as Randy Lerner signs on to be the new owner
Barry smiles devilishly (does he know ANOTHER way?) in the background
“My work here is done.”
In 2009, Barry leaves the club. After twelve seasons he has achieved his goals, and staying longer would draw suspicion.
He had achieved his major goals, however:
- Getting the club to go public
- Driving up the perceived value through over performance so as to inflate the selling price
- Getting Randy Lerner to buy the Villans, who was then being unable/unwilling to pay the wages required to maintain the previous standard of success and lacking on field direction put the team into a death spiral.
Barry then shifts to spending a few years in Manchester JUST IN CASE the team turned things around.
(Cut to 2016)
The second to last scene would be Barry finally receiving confirmation that his mission was completed when Xia’s purchase of the club was confirmed last year, thanks in no small part to Barry’s courtship all those years ago.
The 2038 owners celebrate as their world changes around them in response to their new past.
Villa is disbanded!! Red Bull London are Champions!!!
Barry had done it! He had single-handedly prevented the evil Kraft corporation from taking ownership of Aston Villa and monopolizing the soccer world.
After he receives word that he is to return to the future now that his task is complete, Barry is conflicted.
He is only a robot sent back in time to change the Premier League table, but his time at Goodison had endeared the Toffees in his cold metal heart.
He didn’t want to go home.
He wanted to stay and help his new......friends.
Will he stay?
Will he go?
How will he change Everton’s future?
You’ll have to stay tuned for the sequel.