Everton’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Saturday summed up much of the season so far. Impressive yet frustrating, full of attacking threat but plagued by defensive lapses, with Marouane Fellaini once again the centre of attention, the draw with the Premier League champions showcased the potential that lies within David Moyes’ side, but also the shortcomings holding them back.
Fellaini’s goal, his eighth of the season, ensured the giant Belgian grabbed much of the headlines, but it was just reward for some cool and composed play from his teammates, and the timely pressing that was a feature of the first-half and directly led to the opening goal. It was a similar case against Arsenal – Everton won the ball high up the pitch and seconds later Fellaini scored. The 25-year-old is the headline-grabber but his teammates deserve just as much credit.
Without Fellaini, Everton’s neat passing and hard pressing would be largely impotent, while Nikica Jelavic finds his way back to form. With Fellaini, Everton are a danger in a number of different ways. If the tidy stuff cannot find a way through the opposition – and one particular Everton move consisting of more than a dozen passes slowly carved open City only for the final ball to miss its target – then Everton turn to the aerial dominance Fellaini guarantees. One long diagonal pass from Phil Jagielka turns defence into attack, and from there Fellaini takes over.
Unfortunately, Fellaini’s influence was not just confined to the opposition penalty area. By tugging back Edin Dzeko, Fellaini contributed to the defensive errors Everton have been unable to eradicate for much of the season. Everton have kept only three clean sheets all season, one of which came against Leyton Orient in the League Cup, and none since beating Swansea City 3-0 in mid-September. With a few more clean sheets to their name, Everton would be in a commanding position in the race for the top four. As it is, they are clinging onto the coattails of the teams above.
Tottenham Hotspur visit Goodison Park next weekend. A win over Andre Villas-Boas’ side would see Everton equal Spurs’ points tally and leap over them on goal difference. Depending on results, both Everton’s and those of others, the Toffees could even go third. It would require Chelsea to get a bit of a routing and West Bromwich Albion to drop points too, but the possibility remains. But Everton have to hold up their end of the bargain, almost certainly keep a clean sheet and start turning possession into goals.
Another draw and the best Everton can hope for is stasis. More likely, the sides within touching distance will record positive results and Everton will slip further. For all the good that drawing with the champions indicates, it says much more bad about the direction of Everton’s season – if they cannot turn draws into wins then Europe will be out of reach, and the good start to the season will be for nought.
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