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Everton’s Perilous Path to Champions League in Danger

People are beginning to get nervous about Everton, but all hope is not lost.

Laurence Griffiths

After the first fantastic start to an Everton campaign since 2004, Evertonians had begun to dream of trips to places like San Siro and Nou Camp. Now that we are 13 games into the season, it seems like those days were ages ago. Some have declared our hopes for a top 4 finish dead, but it is not that dire yet. A table that shows even the best teams dropping more points than usual indicates that David Moyes has some time to turn things around, but it won’t be easy.

One of the chief complains among fans right now is our defense. Honestly it is hard to blame them given the number of cheap goals we have given up. To add insult to it, these goals always seem to come late in matches or completely against the run of play. In some cases Everton have been able to pull a good result out such as against Sunderland. Unfortunately Everton tends to settle for a draw or a loss when 3 points were theirs for the taking.

The good news is that while there are defensive issues, they aren’t as bad as you would believe. Through 13 games this season Everton has conceded 17 goals, the exact same number through 13 games last year. While I’d certainly like to see a stouter defense, at least these numbers do not suggest a huge slip is occurring from previous seasons. In fact last year our defense managed to settle down and only allowed goalsthrough the remaining 25 matches.

Fans have been quick to slag off on everyone in the back except Baines it seems. Everyone has been responsible for their share of the goals allowed, but the real problem lies in who isn’t available. Midfielder Darron Gibson’s absence is noticed even more in defense than offense. The fact that no one has his ability to hold onto the ball and transition into attack means that we end up defending too deep in our own part of the field with the lead. With Gibson in the team we are able to not only get the ball out of our own end, but actually hold onto it and create something, especially when we have the lead and play a little bit more defensively. As much as I love Kevin Mirallas, Gibson’s return could spell an end to our crazy defending at the end of matches.

The big change in Everton’s fortunes have come in the offensive third where the Toffees have scored 23 goals this year compared to 15 last year. The combination of Fellaini and Jelavic has allowed Everton survive and thrive through some of these defensive lapses. While Jelavic does seem a bit off form, he is still capable of some brilliance as we saw against Sunderland.

The big talking point as always is points. This year Everton sit at 21 points in 5th place, 5 more than last year when they only had 16. For comparison, Everton earned 26 points through 13 games in the 2004-2005 season when finishing 4th. Obviously there is room to improve, but it isn’t like we are staring at a huge run up the table come spring.

With Gibson returning before a crowded fixture list for Christmas, our fortunes should improve. Add in the return of Kevin Mirallas and things could get even better. Heck even if Pienaar and Jelavic improve by half of their current form things won’t be awful, but the players need to step up. Too often fans want to criticize Moyes for tactics and squad selection, but at some point players need to do their jobs. There hasn’t been enough of that recently, and without it Everton will be doomed to the Europa League for even another 7th place finish.