With eight league games left of the 2010/11 season, Everton at the time of writing find themselves in 8th position in the Premier League and unless a miraculous run of form occurs will finish outside the European qualification places. David Moyes men have endured an up and down season, mostly down, with injuries, unavailability and some bad luck hindering the team’s efforts and resulting in a poor league position, that was much worse until an upturn in form in March. David Moyes has been at Goodison Park since 2002, and if everyone is fit has assembled a team that can go toe to toe with anyone in the division, but despite the recognition that The Toffees are a good side, his team have slipped down the rankings and not had the venom of previous campaigns this season.
On paper Everton have a strong side, with quality throughout. Tim Howard is an international goalkeeper with a wealth of Premier League experience and a pair of safe hands. In Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka they have two excellent centre halves with a mix of power, pace and defensive steel. Leighton Baines is an England international left back, whilst club captain Phil Neville is a top professional and adds experience and leadership to the team from right back. In Holland International defender Johnny Heitinga, who can play at right back or centre half, they have a player with Champions League and World Cup experience. In midfield they have quality throughout, and despite losing Steven Pienaar to Tottenham, David Moyes still has excellent options in the centre of the park. Mikel Arteta is a player with the guile and creativity to break down any defence, Jack Rodwell is a up and coming and much applauded midfield dynamo, Leon Osman a seasoned and tricky winger, and Seamus Coleman an exciting right winger with the ability to create and score goals. Add to this the versatile Marouane Fellaini, who can play in front of the back four as a stopper or further forward as an attacking support man, and the combative, goal threat of Tim Cahill and you have a midfield who can cause problems to opposition. Up front Jermaine Beckford is turning an impressive Championship goal scoring record into solid performances in the top tier, with performances and returns improving as he builds experience. Yakubu has had an injury prone season but is a handful with pace, power and an enviable ability to find the back of the net, and ex-Manchester United forward Louis Saha has the quality to score goals week in, week out.
There have been some positives this season, namely the emergence and improvement of Baines, Coleman and Rodwell. Baines has had international recognition and has excellent delivery from the left, which forwards, mainly Cahill, have benefited from. Coleman is an old school winger, who looks to get to the byline and cross, and has also popped up in the right place to convert chances also, whilst Rodwell has matured from an exciting prospect into an accomplished midfielder with all the attributes to be a top player . Everton have recorded good wins in the league when they perform to their potential, namely their 2-1 win over Man City at Eastlands, a 2-0 home win in the Merseyside derby and 2-1 victory over Tottenham at Goodison. They beat Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, in the FA Cup, showing steel and composure in the process to go through on penalties.
However the negatives outweigh the positives. The excellent FA Cup win against Chelsea was followed up by elimination by Championship side Reading at home in a massively disappointing performance and result. The team has missed key players due to injury, with Arteta and Jagielka sidelined for long periods. Tim Cahill was an absentee for the duration of the Asia Cup at the start of the year, and without him The Toffees looked toothless and devoid of inspiration in attack. The teams home form has been inconsistent, which will be a massive disappointment for the fans, as Goodison Park of seasons past was a ground where the home side could, and at times did, beat all comers. At the back they have let in soft goals at times, and don’t have the composure and assurance of previous seasons.
So what now for Everton? Injuries to key players have played a major part in the teams demise, and any team would struggle without their best players, but this shows that the club need more strength in depth. An over-reliance on Tim Cahill should have Moyes looking for a quality striker to share the goalscoring burden, and I am sure that ‘bigger’ Premier League teams will look to pry Everton’s main man away from Goodison; the club must not let this happen. Similarly, Baines, Rodwell and Arteta may be subject to transfer speculation and enquiries, but if David Moyes is to get his team back into European contention then he must retain his prize assets. Moyes needs to bring in a replacement for Pienaar who has similar energy, creativity and enterprise to make Everton more of an attacking threat, and additional strength in depth is needed at the back, as when Jagielka is unavailable, they lack organisation and structure.
All this boils down to resources. David Moyes has done a great job in his time as Everton manager with the relatively limited resources at his disposal, and although his team have grown and got better, so have all the teams around them due to investment in their playing staff. For Everton to feature as a top six club again they must invest in new players and add to their squad, as they need three or four new top notch players to realistically compete with the league’s leading teams. If this investment does not occur, the current players may become restless at the lack of new faces, and The Toffees could be in for another frustrating campaign in 2011/12.