Everton lost to Leeds United on Saturday with the opposition scoring with just over ten minutes remaining to seal the game’s fate. Dropping two points to Leeds was forgivable, but dropping three is a blow, especially when considered alongside the losses to Southampton and Newcastle as well. There are plenty of matches and teams that can overpower any club on any given week, but the good clubs beat the teams they're supposed to because they have more talent and more ambition.
While the Toffees have talent in wonderful supply, as well as a boss of wonderful repute and a club legend as assistant, they are currently lacking consistency and the fluidity that Don Carlo requires from his clubs. In a season where the boss is attempting to goad ever greater offensive produce from each player, being shutout is nearly heretical and has further consequences across the pitch. In a match where only one goal was scored, Everton’s defense and goalkeeping can hardly be held in contempt; the questions vacillate between offensive and defensive efficiency and so, while it is fair to be critical and analytical, we must also remember patience and trust as well.
Patience and Trust: The Gamut of Games will be a Bumpy Road for the Toffees
I have been, and will continue to be, equal parts realistic, optimistic, patient and ambitious regarding Everton, but in that spirit, it is becoming more and more apparent that we will continue to suffer growing pains, as do all young entities upon this planet. This surely means that as the schedule thickens and the weather grows colder, that the Toffees will win matches against opponents who should have their number and lose to teams whom pundits regard too lightly.
Burnley looks like a good bounce-back game, however it could just as well be another trap fixture; the perspective we will have after the game will reflect the seriousness with which Everton took this next match. Another three points would give us six of nine, and while it is not necessarily acceptable, we must accept it all the same, for the schedule doesn’t become any easier, and so the rush from victory could also create volition as even more difficult matches loom ahead. Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal will all be tests, and while the first two will prove really difficult, the third has seen its own form swoon in recent weeks; some would argue the Gunners have played that way all season however.
In any event, Everton have a real opportunity and were the club able to win four to seven points from the three games, much of the horror at losing against supposedly lesser opposition will be muffled. In the balancing act of a team’s season, wins must be counterweighted with losses, and while some losses might sting more than others, and some wins may invigorate greater than others, they all count for the same respective point tallies.
The four matches afterwards, including another date with Manchester United this time in the Carabao Cup Quarter-finals, will be varied, with a trip to Sheffield United after the Red Devils make the trip to Goodison. The Toffees then host Manchester City just days later, and while City haven’t been as clean in terms of performance as in years past, it will take a much more consistent and comprehensive performance than what we’ve demonstrated against either Fulham or Leeds United.
Hosting the Hammers on the second of January, any Toffee would surely be more than happy to have a trip to the EFL Semifinals, as well as another six points before we host Championship side Rotherham United in the Third Round of the FA Cup. A victory in that match puts us in the hunt of all three English competitions nearing the middle of January; by my tally, that would give Everton, from the stretch beginning against Fulham, a total of two different cup round victories, as well as potentially nineteen to twenty points in the Premier League as a best case scenario. Does that success entice Don Carlo and Marcel Brands to make a push for either Isco, Sami Khedira, Dominik Szoboszlai or someone else?!
Why Shouldn’t it?
Should Everton still be in contention across all three competitions, a big if with our current inconsistent form, then we should absolutely be entertaining improving the squad further. Our defense will continue to get better with the young players we have and with the return of Jean-Philippe Gbamin, another body and talent will be added to that mix as well; but we need fluency, we need grace, and we need an offensive engine on the inside, not simply the wings and central striker. The questions Everton are being asked, are those questions which a young, up and coming team must answer, no matter the talent of their players or the acumen of their boss.
But the Toffees are capable, and despite their poor form, they are not without hope, especially in a season of which is seeing remarkable parity so far. While expectations are high from the perspective of pundits and fans alike, the pressure is even more remarkable from the players themselves. They feel the weight of both tradition and the absence of glory that predates their time on Merseyside, yet it takes time to change a culture, and to teach a team exactly how to win at all. Don Carlo is that coach, and the players at Everton have the ability to be the players that break the trophy drought; they must put it all together and answer every question presented to them. Will they lose, giving wrong answers confronted? Absolutely, but such is life, and out of those losses, just as from victories, lessons are learned and knowledge gained.