Indifferent would best describe this season just passed on Merseyside. The Red half put most of their energies into ousting their much-maligned owners, while the blue half were not quite as dramatic, but they still played out a Jekyll and Hyde nine months. Everton now are in danger of finishing closer to the bottom half than they are the top-six.
The last time they found themselves in the top-half at Christmas was back in 2008-09, and inevitably when they start well they usually end well. However, they should make no mistake, it will now be as hard as ever, as more Premier League clubs are finding some ‘disposable’ income, or affluent owners, to aid respective causes.
The Toffees are a club renowned for watching the purse strings and many argue one day this will ultimately drive David Moyes away. The last time the likeable Scot was given real money to spend was back in 2007-08 when he brought the likes of Yakubu, Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar and Dan Gosling for a combined fee of around £16m. The following season they were in the top-six until the end. Since then, a token £6.5m has been outlaid on new talent and looking at the net spend – in general – during the January transfer window just passed, comparisons need little interrogation.
Moyes is a good manager; you are not continually touted as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor for being a candidate draped in mediocrity. Like other managers working to shoestring budgets, his side reflects a well-oiled machine where his tactics prevail. He has been shrewd with the players he has acquired; Seamus Coleman has been an exciting and cheap acquisition while Jermaine Beckford has shown signs he will ultimately make the grade.
Key players, however, have failed to produce in back-to-back campaigns, with Mikel Arteta the most obvious example. Injuries have played a part this campaign, but he ran the show for his side the previous year and his relative anonymity was a diminishing factor this season. Everton must also retain and develop the personnel they have. Only Didier Drogba, Nani, Cesc Fabregas – all at top-four sides – have more Premier League assists than Leighton Baines this term, and none of those are defenders. The left-back was an ever-present for the Toffees, so they must keep him.
The same could be said for players like Coleman, but maybe of more importance, Jack Rodwell. Maybe the latter’s talent has been subject to hyperbole, but Moyes is the one in a position to tell. Manchester Utd has been courting the youngster, but ultimately he was a bit-part player this term, with just one assist to his credit. The Everton manager could and probably should build a team around Rodwell – at the very least his progression should top the club’s agenda.
An in-form Everton can stand up to most challengers but they struggle to locate their early season rhythm. If they bring in a striker or two who are less injury-prone and do right by their youngsters, then Moyes could make his team a genuine force again.