For Everton, the current campaign is promising to say the least, but also remarkably streaky as well. The brilliance the club began the campaign with faded as matches slipped away from us that should have been some of the easier points of the season.
Then, just as the arguably most difficult stretch of our young season was upon the Toffees, they rattled off victories against Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal all in succession. With Manchester United tonight in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and Sheffield United at the weekend, the Blues have a real shot at staying in the conversation, not only for the Europa League, but for the Champions League and maybe even this year’s Premier League title.
The road will not be easy, for even after the Blades, Manchester City await, and while the new year’s schedule might be less brutal, it is hardly less formidable. This means that should Everton close out the current calendar year properly, they will have a real shot at all of the aforementioned possibilities. But certain players and nuances will have to be cleaned up, shored up, and retouched in order for this endeavour to truly be reasonable to believe in.
Up and Down: Everton must bring, not match, the matchday intensity day in and day out
One overarching trend that must be noticeable to those Toffees watching around the world when watching their club is that the club, while still young and developing around its boss and his concepts, does play both up and down to competition.
The greatest shocks of the season can be reasonably stated to be the losses to competition, not the victories against any particular side. That is certainly a compliment of where we as a club have progressed to in just the year since Carlo Ancelotti made his way onto Merseyside, but slipping against less talented and well-coached sides could very well be a massive issue for any ambitions we have as a club for this year.
Southampton are seemingly not a club to be taken lightly, and so at this point in the season the loss to them seems less abhorrent than it might’ve otherwise. Surely, though, losing to Newcastle United was unacceptable, as was the defeat at the hands of Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United; the draw to Burnley is another lamentable loss of points, but what has sprung forth from those disappointments has been massive.
The defensive play of Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey at full-back has been an absolute masterstroke and innovation for the club. It has appeared to, alongside the move back to 4-3-3, rejuvenate the creativity of the squad regarding offensive play, by creating some really fantastic defensive quality. Allowing only a goal in these last three matches, while achieving all nine points, in just seven days, is absolutely brilliant, and players like Abdoulaye Doucoure, and Alex Iwobi must also be mentioned with high praise.
Iwobi has particularly played wonderful football on the right wing and has shown skill, pace, vision, creativity and ambition. Should this level of play remain consistent for the Nigerian international when James Rodriguez is available to return, Everton’s front three will have ample support directly behind them with Iwobi slotted in midfield behind either Rodriguez or Richarlison.
It could also be that Iwobi can own a timeshare of the position with Rodriguez, and that the two could, if necessary, trade matches playing further up the pitch for days alongside either Allan, Tom Davies or Andre Gomes.
In any event, for the Toffees to continue against all of the competition that falls on either side of this year’s muted New Year celebration, it will take a mammoth effort. The entire club, not merely the aforementioned players, will have to step up to a level that can be understood as a maintained standard to play and practice to every single day. Something that is easily understood when watching Liverpool is something that Everton will have to continue to build in real time themselves.
Luckily for every Blue on Merseyside, Ancelotti and Duncan Ferguson are on the mission, finding results - results will be the name of the game moving forward, however, just as much as they’ve been so far.
New Year, Same Season: Everton moving forward across all competitions
Everton have a chance to take revenge on the United squad that pummelled them 3-1 on November 7, and doing so at home, en route to the EFL semi-finals. would be even better. But after that and the Sheffield United match on the weekend, City will be coming to Goodison Park the following Monday, just two days after having travelled to Sheffield. Were that not absolutely cynical enough in terms of scheduling, West Hamare visiting Everton on New Year’s Day as well.
Having taken three points in seven days, with a Carabao Cup game sprinkled in just days later for good measure, the Toffees are then being asked to do something potentially more remarkable still. Three matches in just six days will absolutely test the very foundational mettle of the club, from its boss down to the veterans and young starlets dotting the depth chart. Had the club not just performed more than admirably on a similar run, I’d pronounce the next segment to be hardly any more favourable, and yet it is absolutely.
Sheffield United have yet to win a match in the league this season, and so we should be able to keep our head and play to our own standard and not another clubs; that should be another three points. Thirteen in the last five matches is nothing to sneeze at certainly, and a run of that nature should give the club confidence playing City, even on short rest; should a point or even three be wrestled from Pep Guardiola in that matchup, fans should feel really good about the state of the club as the New Year beckons us forward.
Celebrating with a victory against former boss David Moyes, at Goodison Park, will be no easy task either however. West Ham are no slouch of a club this year and it will take as equally a vigilant game as we’ve demonstrated capable of playing against the most notable names of the Premier League. With an actual break of over a week to get ready for the third Round of the FA Cup against Rotherham thereafter, the team can hopefully play with a refreshed energy and focused mentality, they will have earned the rest to say the least.
Six to seven points would again be most encouraging. Nine would be truly stunning and an innovation that few will have seen coming coming into the year. It will put Everton in a really key position moving forward, with the ambition for Europe and a top-of-the-table finish firmly in the sights of all at Finch Farm and Goodison Park.
And while the rest of January beyond the start looks promising for an Everton that might be surging at the proper moment, only time will tell if that pace can be maintained moving forward. Wolves, Aston Villa, Leicester City and Newcastle will all present unique problems, with the Toffees responsible for solving each in turn. But the current run is promising, and while the United match may be an indicator of things to come, a loss will not derail the squad of its current ambitions outside of the EFL Cup.
The Blues aren’t so blue on Merseyside anymore.