The Premier League’s mid-table is larger than ever this season.
With the top six far away on the horizon and the bottom six in the unenviable position of a relegation battle, there are a clutch of teams in the comfortable middle. Not pulling up any trees, not suffering from the stresses of ambition or relegation, they can plod along towards the closing days of the season in a relaxed fashion.
Everton are the team that have led the mid-table group for the majority of this season. Residing in seventh place, the Toffees have settled for something marginally above mediocrity. They are seven points behind sixth placed Manchester United, were knocked out of the FA Cup by an abject Leicester City and brushed aside by Norwich City in the second round of the EFL Cup. Ronald Koeman has been accepted by the Goodison Park faithful, and he has certainly taken them forwards, but they are embarking on an important couple of months to close the campaign, even despite having relatively little to play for.
Finishing in seventh place would probably be acceptable for Everton after the calamity of Roberto Martinez’s final season at the club. However, the quality of their squad and failures in the cup competitions change the lighting somewhat. This season was set up for a good run in the FA Cup with little to play for in the Premier League. Instead they are left with 13 Premier League matches remaining and only the slightest hope of making it into the top six.
Just aiming higher than seventh was not really the expectation at the start of this campaign, but it is now all the Toffees have to play for. With several of the teams above them showing indifferent form, Everton must keep the pressure on throughout the rest of the season to, at the very least, close the gap. Koeman is a man with ambition, whilst significant investment – which has already secured the signing of Morgan Schneiderlin – will be evident in the summer. The remaining fixtures are the change to build the foundations for a charge towards European qualification next season and, with the luxury of an empty fixture list, the Toffees could even sneak their way into the top six this season.
Currently riding an eight match unbeaten run in the Premier League, Everton have momentum heading into the closing weeks of the season. With European football returning for many of their top seven rivals, the Toffees have the faintest of opportunities to burst into the exclusive club of the 2016/17 top six.
The seven point gap, though, is likely to be too great. Their slump through October and November cost them their league ambitions this season. While Everton would have taken seventh if it was on offer at the start of the season, this campaign has been a case of what might have been. Poor performances in matches they would have expected to win have been punctuated by some great displays, but those inconsistencies must be removed during the remainder of this season if next term is to be any better than satisfactory, too.