With Everton not in action until New Year’s Day, David Moyes’ side will end 2011 mired in mid-table, closer to the bottom of the Premier League than the top in terms of points and well within the congested ranks that make up the sides largely expected to be free from relegation worries but in need of something special to reach the Europa League and beyond.
The club’s financial situation is generally in a holding pattern but at least Landon Donovan will arrive next month to bolster the ranks, and the United States international is expected to be the first of a handful of new faces. For Everton to repeat the trick of the last few years and surge up the table post-Christmas, Donovan and whoever else Moyes can attract will have to hit the ground running – particularly Donovan, since his loan expires at the end of February. If Everton can pick up points during Donovan’s short stay, and the LA Galaxy forward leaves the club in a healthier state than he found it, the brief return will have been well worth the time, effort and expense. But with Donovan to return to Los Angeles before March, the onus will be on Moyes to find other signings to turn Everton’s season from one of a humdrum mid-table existence into something a little more thrilling.
West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day represent precisely the kind of team Everton struggle against – well-drilled, dangerous and resilient. In the pre-Christmas period the Toffees have found themselves stymied by the likes of Stoke and Norwich City, and very nearly against Swansea City too. Lacking the kind of invention that can be relied upon regularly to unpick these sides’ well-marshalled defences – Royston Drenthe delivers only sporadically – Everton must instead grind out results. They failed against Stoke, and, to an extent Norwich, although the point taken from Sunderland must be regarded as decent even if came in exceedingly fortunate circumstances. But West Brom do have players to damage Everton across the pitch, from the wicked left foot of Chris Brunt to the speedy and industrious pair of Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long.
Long, an Everton target over the summer, was priced out of Moyes’ reach despite costing West Brom a modest £4.5m rising to £6.5m. That, however, is the sort of money Everton must release in January to give the manager a chance of breaking free of the middling pack once again.
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