Club Focus – Everton – Competition for places heats up as key players return

Everton’s injury list gets shorter by the day and the competition for places in David Moyes starting XI will start to heat up. With the loan signing of Landon Donovan earlier this month, the Goodison faithful have already seen Diniyar Bilyaletdinov dropped to the bench for Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal – a move which paid off as the Toffees could well have took all three points from the Emirates stadium. However, two deflected Arsenal goals ensured the points were shared but a solid performance from the creative American led to many counter attacks for the Blues. The former Bayer Leverkusen striker also tracked Armand Traore’s runs down the left-flank extremely well, aiding right-back Phil Neville. With renewed competition for places, Everton’s performances have also picked up and the Blues boss will hope to build on a fine performance.

The Liverpool-based club have recently seen both Neville and Louis Saha return and Mikel Arteta, Victor Anichebe and Phil Jagielka are now back training with the first-team squad. The former Preston North End gaffer stated: “The players know now that if they don’t play well then they might not be in the team.” The 46-year-old who saw his team take the lead twice but fail to grab all three points, added: “What we need to stop now is giving away the odd goal and take the amount of chances we are creating so we can win.” The exhibition was a complete contrast to the 6-1 defeat on the first day of the season and debutant Donovan showcased the fighting spirit and willingness to chase the opposition down – a quality that epitomised the team’s overall performance.

Once again the Toffee’s inability to close a game out reared its ugly head again and the Everton tactician has called for more ruthlessness in front of goal. Saha has not scored in his last three starts and the Frenchman has contributed heavily to Everton’s goals so far this year, scoring 10 of Everton’s 28 in the Premier League. The Blues cannot rely on one player, especially one with such a poor injury record. Nevertheless, a silver lining may be that both Saturday’s goals came from midfield, with Leon Osman leaping like a salmon for the first goal and Steven Pienaar seeing his long run culminate with a cheeky lob over Manuel Almunia.

The last month has seen Everton climb up the Premier League table and the Toffees are currently sitting in twelfth place, while the influx of recovering players can only strengthen the confidence that has been present of late. Recently, the tactics, passing, closing down and counter attacking, especially away from home, have been tremendous. The Toffees are now unbeaten in any English competition since November 29 – a loss to neighbours Liverpool – a run which stretches seven games. They have only lost in the Europa League during this run – a game in which they were already ensured of qualification.

Moyes revealed this week that he has yet to offer top scorer Saha a new contract and he is in no rush to do so. The former Manchester United and Fulham striker’s contract expires at the end of the season and he would be free to sign a pre-contract agreement with any foreign club. With the Blues unhappy with the 31-year-old’s huge wage demands – thought to be around £60,000 a week – reported interest has appeared from Bordeaux and Roma. It was revealed that talks are in progress with the attacker’s representatives but nothing has been resolved to date. Another striker that has upset the Glaswegian over the last few weeks has been Jo, who has now been allowed to return to training – the Brazilian will join up with the main squad on Monday.

To add to the buoyancy created by the return to training of Anichebe, Arteta and Jagielka – Dan Gosling, Sylvan Distin and Jack Rodwell have also started light running. A European spot may be a tough ask, considering the form of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, who are applying pressure on the so-called big four. Nevertheless, Moyes will be confident of continuing his rise up the league and he will hope that he can add a few fresh faces to his squad in January to aid the cause.

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