Everton rounded off their Premier League campaign with a solid 3-1 victory over Newcastle United at Goodison Park, and the two teams provide sound examples to each other – the Magpies on how to turn a mid-table side into European contenders, and the Toffees how quickly that European dream can go sour.
Goals from Steven Pienaar, Nikica Jelavic and John Heitinga rendered Tony Hibbert’s own goal meaningless and gave David Moyes’ side another goal-laden home victory to end the season. But as the Newcastle fans celebrated qualifying for Europe despite the defeat it was easy for the mind to turn to what might have been had Everton not wasted the season before New Year, for while the side was devoid of creativity in midfield and goals in attack the performances were still sub-par from the players that were available to Moyes. The injection of both in the form of Pienaar and Jelavic turned Everton’s season on its head but too much damage had been done and Europe was out of reach.
Newcastle had both goals and creativity in spades throughout the season, yet the manner in which they obtained them may prove unpalatable if it was attempted at Goodison. Selling Andy Carroll for £35m gave Newcastle the funds to improve their squad overall, bringing in Papiss Cisse in January for substantially more than Everton paid for Jelavic, who was only afforded when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov moved on. To bring in the kind of money Carroll was sold for would mean selling one of two players, Marouane Fellaini, the Belgian midfielder who has been in phenomenal form lately, or Jack Rodwell, less vital to the Everton cause but a symbol of the club as a youth team graduate.
Fellaini could command Carroll-level money, Rodwell slightly less, and Leighton Baines slightly less again but still a significant amount. The uproar that would follow the departure of any of the three however renders such a move almost unthinkable, despite the results seen on Tyneside. The money must of course be spent wisely and Moyes’ track record in that area is a little mixed, but unless investment comes from outside Everton are faced with either scrimping to save every penny or embracing the idea of a big sale to fund three of four players.
It is not too long ago that it was Everton celebrating an unexpected place in Europe, when in 2005 a top-four finish and with it the Champions League play-offs was achieved. But Everton’s European campaign was over almost before it began when Villarreal, who reached the competition’s semi-finals that year, put Everton out at the first stage and then a shell-shocked Everton were routed by Dinamo Bucharest in the UEFA Cup. Newcastle’s Europa League draw will surely be kinder than Everton’s in the Champions League but the celebrations of May count for naught come August, and the hard work of the league campaign does not necessarily inoculate a side against the rigours of continental action. Nonetheless Everton would much rather be faced with Newcastle’s challenges next season than their own purely domestic kind.
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