There has been much discussion at the start of this Premier League season about which clubs can break into the top four and gain Champions League qualification for next season. Whilst the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have had a great start to the campaign, it is worth considering a team who were in the top four at the end of the 2004/05 season and have finished fifth in both of the last two. Everton have had a remarkable few years under the managerial guidance of David Moyes. They have finished in the top six of the Premier League table in each of the last three seasons and were of course FA Cup runners-up this May.
This season however, Everton have struggled to gain consistency and, whilst injuries have played a large part in the early season struggles, it may be the case that Moyes has taken the club as far as he can. So far in the Premier League this season, Everton have been unable to beat Stoke and Wolves at Goodison Park and have suffered defeats at Burnley, Fulham and Bolton. Results such as these are why the Toffees currently sit 14th in the Premier League table. Defeat to Spurs in the Carling Cup has further emphasised the problems that exist at Everton.
The sale of Joleon Lescott to Manchester City, whilst bringing in a transfer fee in excess of £20m, has seemingly destabilised the defence with six goals being conceded at home to Arsenal on the opening day of the season and five in Portugal against Benfica in the Europa League last week. John Heitinga has the making of a good signing, but is taking longer to settle into the side than Moyes will have hoped for. Phil Jagielka has proven to be a big loss, and with his return not expected until December at the earliest, Everton are struggling for decent cover at the back.
Up front there also seems to be problems. Louis Saha has a had a good start to the season, with six goals to his name so far this campaign, but no other player has scored more than two goals to date. The main rivals for a top six spot are not experiencing similar problems. Manchester City, for instance, have four players with at least three goals to their name, and Spurs have three strikers with at least five goals each already this campaign. Whilst injuries to key players such as Yakubu, Joseph Yobo and Leighton Baines have not helped Everton at the start of this season, the upcoming fixtures for the Merseyside club suggest that, even with a fully fit squad, Everton will struggle to reach the heights of previous seasons. Between now and the middle of December, fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and local rivals Liverpool will indicate if the Toffees’ has been a blip or something more serious. Moyes has done a tremendous job in bringing through young players at Everton – the likes of Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell have had the opportunity of first-team football this season and that will only be of benefit to Everton in the long term.
Moyes might well, however, be questioning if he has taken Everton as far as he can. Six months ago, he was talked about as the natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, however the start to this season has not done much to enhance his reputation as the best candidate to take over at Manchester United. The next few months will tell us much about what Everton can achieve in the next few years. Competition for breaking into the top four and for winning cup competition is becoming more intense than ever before. Everton cannot afford to let the likes of Aston Villa or Spurs steal a march on them to an insurmountable extent. There is a real danger that unless money is given to the manager in January, seventh position may become the new aspiration for the club that has been a feature of the top six for the past few of seasons. The chances of success in this season already seem slim, even though we are still only in October.