On New Year’s Day 2011, Everton were 13th in the Premier League table on 22 points, with just four points separating them from rock-bottom Wolves. This was after the first half of a season in which they won just four games from 20 and were struggling to find the net, with just 21 goals scored and a goal difference of -3.
On New Year’s Day 2010, Everton were 11th in the Premier League table on 22 points, just four points separating them from 19th-placed Hull City. This was a remarkably similar story, after 19 games, just five wins and a goal-difference of -6. The blue half of Merseyside improved to finish eighth, incredibly gaining almost twice the amount of points as they managed in the first half of the season – 39.
The fact that not many, especially Everton fans, were surprised at the Toffees’ poor start this term, when taking last season into account, makes the subsequent turnaround somewhat expected but no less impressive. Saturday’s victory over Manchester City was indicative of Everton’s season so far – a poor showing in the first half, deservedly 1-0 down at the break, before ultimately finding their way impressively and taking all three points.
Had Everton been able to start this season the way they have ended it, they would surely be a shoe-in for the automatic Europa League spot – fifth – currently held by Tottenham Hotspur (with the other two going to the season’s Cup winners). It took them seven games and it was the third month of the season when the first victory was celebrated, a 2-0 win over Birmingham at St Andrews.
Last season, unprecedented injury troubles were attributed to the Toffees’ poor start, and the 2010/11 campaign has seen a similar story, with several key players missing at intervals throughout – Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, and Marouane Fellaini have all missed their fair share of games. Nevertheless, the team were not clicking and were even on occasion tipped as outsiders for the drop. In just over four months, however, Moyes’ troops have comfortably exorcised that demon and have pushed themselves into seventh, which in previous seasons would have qualified them for Europe.
In truth, little has changed in the tactics used throughout the season. The major difference from the opening day is the departure of Steven Pienaar, although Leon Osman has excelled recently just as Pienaar did so often. Inconsistent fitness of the main strikers has also been a major issue for Moyes. Despite all this, things begun to click in the second half of the season and Everton have picked up 29 points from a possible 48, almost two-thirds of those on offer, compared to barely over one from three to start with.
Whether it is a healthier set of strikers, deeper squad depth, or just a little more luck, if Moyes could get a full season out of his team they would undoubtedly be battling Spurs and Liverpool for fifth. He will be keen, of course, for his side not to be known as poor starters as they have been for two years on the bounce.