At the end of the season, Everton find themselves at a crossroads.They are the seventh best team in the league, according to the league table, and the fact they’ve finished well behind the top six and well ahead of the rest of the league is probably a perfectly accurate snapshot of where the team is at the moment.
There’s daylight on either side, too, finishing 15 points ahead of Southampton and eight behind Manchester United. Everton are in no-man’s land.
Eight points behind Manchester United is a big enough gap by itself, but as United have turned their attention from the league and, as a result, won just two Premier League games since their victory over Chelsea in mid-April. It is perhaps more representative to look at the gap to Arsenal rather than the one to United. And the Toffees find themselves a full 14 points behind the Gunners.
This is where the crossroads comes in: just how to Everton get themselves into the race for the top four next season? And is it even possible.
The idea of breaking into the monopoly of the top six has started to seem harder with the influx of more money into the league and the arrival of some stellar managers at the biggest clubs. The teams which are ahead of the Goodison Park club mean business.
It’s a mixed bag when it comes to the story of the Toffees’ season, too. There are signs that Ronald Koeman has strengthened up a team who, under Roberto Martinez, were woeful at the back at times. The number of goals the Toffees have conceded has decreased, and this season they rank third for tackles made and third for clearances, too. The experience and new-found solidity clearly helps, and when coupled with the distinct lack of interceptions, it’s clear that Koeman has asked his defence to be more pro-active this season, looking to tackle and clear the ball rather than take chances or wait for the opposition to make their own moves.
And yet Everton aren’t just third for clearances made in the Premier League, they are also third for clearances in all of Europe’s top five leagues. Koeman has clearly made Everton a more solid side, but he has a long way to go if he wants to make them a particularly attractive one.
Another problem could be just around the corner this summer. Romelu Lukaku has been hinting for quite a while that he wants to play Champions League football, and Everton simply can’t provide that next season – nor can they reasonably claim that a top four spot is within their grasp for next year. The fact that the Toffees have had the most different goalscorers in the division is gratifying on this score because it shows that other players are stepping up to hit the target, too. But it’s also worrying: nine players scored only one goal this season, whilst Romelu Lukaku scored a full 20 league goals more than anyone else in the side, even contributing with six assists. He had a direct hand in 32 of Everton’s 62 Premier League goals.
The reality is that Everton have a lot of work to do in order to make sure they’re closer to the top six next season. Consolidating seventh place and creating a credible defence is a good start for Koeman, but next season will need to see his side do more in attack and give more support to their striker – if he stays – otherwise Everton could be the perennial link between the top teams and the rest of the league.