Everton have to wait a little longer than most for Premier League football to return after the international break as their match with Newcastle United was moved to Monday for television. But the visit of Alan Pardew’s Magpies throws into opposition the side that last season very nearly gate crashed the Champions League comfort zone, and the side that many feel are best equipped to do so this season.
Southall may be coloured by more than a decade spent at Goodison Park but he was only the latest in a long line of observers to make such a suggestion. The hype began when Everton battled to three points against Manchester United and went into overdrive after Everton dispatched Aston Villa with such style and ease. In that respect, the defeat to West Brom may have more long-term positives than short-term negatives. Expectations were threatening to get out of hand before the Hawthorns reality check.
David Moyes will of course rue the lost points but the manager is nothing if not grounded. He has rarely tolerated players with ideas above their station – comments made by Tomasz Radzinski prior to joining Fulham spring to mind – and, while he cannot stop the fans dreaming of trips to the Nou Camp or Napoli next season, that does not mean he would particularly welcome it either. Moyes will want to finish as high up the table as possible and having had a brief taste of the Champions League already, will want more. But the top four is a wish, not an aim. Europe of any sort will do.
Newcastle found out just how difficult disrupting the ensconced clique at the top of the table can be. Even with the help of Chelsea self-destructing most of the season under Andre Villas-Boas, they still fell short. Chelsea already look like contenders for the top spot, not just the top four. Arsenal appear to have hit stride. United have fire power most teams can only dream of while Manchester City have even more than that. Four teams already stand between Everton and the Champions League and that does not even include whatever Villas-Boas might achieve at Tottenham Hotspur – good or bad.
If all teams stood as they were at the end of last season Everton would have to make up 13 points to finish fourth. Have Everton improved to the extent of four more wins and a draw? Time will tell. But if the answer is yes then it must be said almost all of the teams above them have improved too, leaving the race more like running behind on a treadmill, the top four forever out of reach.
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