There’s a definite and real worry on the horizon that this could represent the last hurrah around Goodison Park for many of the key components of their success in recent seasons, with Moyes looking increasingly likely to seek a new challenge at the end of the term in pursuit of a club that can consistently compete for silverware, whether that be here in England or a move abroad, with Germany mooted by the man himself as a possible future destination in the past.
The 49-year-old told reporters last week about whether he would be signing a new deal beyond the end of this campaign when his current one runs out: “I’ll give as much as I can, and I’ve spoken with the chairman and I want to see how the team does. I want to see how we do in the cups, I want to see how we do in the league and it’s more than likely that I won’t make a decision until the end of the season.”
However, with just eight points in their last nine league games, a run that puts them behind both Wigan and Southampton in the form table, the loss to Chris Hughton’s side was merely the final nail in the coffin of their top four hopes as opposed to a shock result. The side have kept just four clean sheets all campaign, won just four of their games on the road and have drawn 12 in total, which points to underlying problems at both ends of the pitch and for the first time in a long while, the club has a soft underbelly right through the spine of the starting eleven.
Everton have thrown away 19 points from winning position this year, with only Reading and Southampton ‘boasting’ poorer records and despite their fantastic early season form, a reverse in fortunes of the usual barnstorming run they customarily go on at this time of the campaign has seen them fall away precisely at a time when they need to be consistent, with the likes of Nikica Jelavic and John Heitinga enduring poor performances all term in key positions. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to their year.
Moyes sought to play down talk that uncertainty over his future had contributed to their poor form of late, telling reporters this week: “These two weeks we are in now are big weeks. We are in a period where we’ll see the direction our season is going. We have to try and knock each one off one at a time. We have no excuses. You know it would be easy to say the transfer window has had an effect on our performances, just as it would be very easy to say it has got anything to do with my contract – it would be easy to make those excuses. But it’s not had an effect. It’s about the players we have got, and the players we have got have been working great for the past year. The truth is, from January last season to January just gone we have outperformed most clubs. I think there’ll be very few teams with a record similar to us, and very few teams who have done as well as us, so hey – the players may be entitled to a wee dip.”
They now face a potentially season-defining clash in the FA Cup replay against Oldham, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them put all of their eggs in one basket now rather than the league, with the side unlikely to close the seven-point gap behind Chelsea in fourth now. Moyes seemed to say as much in the press conference after the Norwich defeat: “Most seasons we’ve tended to finish sixth, seventh or eighth and if you ask the people who know football they would say that’s about as good as Everton can do. We’ve probably been playing at our maximum for a long time at Everton – foot hard to the pedal – and I’m hoping we can go a wee bit further this season and maybe do better in the FA Cup.”
Put into context, this has not been a terrible year for the club but it will go down as an unfulfilled one, a season that promised much but will eventually deliver very little and with the vulture lurking around both Baines and Fellaini, they will face an extremely tough time in trying to hold onto both of them, with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United certain to be interested in both.
The Belgium international has made various noises in his own national media about the need to test himself on a bigger stage, before trying to later retract them with the old ‘I’ve been misquoted’ shtick which everyone knows is code for ‘I’ll get in trouble if I stick to my original line’. It’s not that he’s reached the stage in his career yet where he can be considered bigger than the club he is playing for, for his ability hasn’t outgrown Everton at all, and his positional future remains a cause for some uncertainty.
Pushing him further forward has come at a cost to the entire team’s defensive solidity and his performances have been inconsistent across the entire campaign so far. If he were to move to Chelsea or United, it’s likely it wouldn’t be in the role he currently commands at Everton, rather a more reserved, tactically aware one that he played in previously, which could count against him when talking about a move to a larger club.
The case of England international Baines on the other hand is a touch more crystal clear, and aside from Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, he has created the joint-highest number of chances per game this season in Europe’s top five leagues, in a position which he has made his own. At 28 years of age though, this summer probably represents the last chance he has to make his mark elsewhere and at a higher level. He’s certainly capable of doing so and should United finally push out Patrice Evra at the end of the season, they could do no worse than moving for a player that has become the outstanding left-back in the top flight over the past 18 months.
Everton’s financial model, or rather lack thereof, dictates that they must sell a star player every summer. The club’s annual report revealed a financial loss of £9million last season when it was published in early January, and the unusual moves during the transfer window for both Leroy Fer and Alvaro Negredo spoke volumes of a manager losing patience working in such strict financial constraints. In order to break the glass ceiling, he requires money, the sort that the club simply doesn’t have and in the likely event that either or both of Baines and Fellaini leave in the summer for large fees, Moyes could follow out the same door shortly afterwards.