Could Everton be the surprise package?

The race for fourth spot has been pretty hot all season and is, in my opinion, just as intriguing as the title race.  It had seemed as if Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa would fight it out but I’m wondering – could we have a new contender in Everton?

At the start of the season expectations around Goodison must have been pretty high despite the high profile loss of Joleon Lescott.  Davod Moyes has managed to mould a side that continually challenges for a European spot and invariably gets it but this season started poorly for the blue half of Merseyside.  Indeed, as recently as the beginning of December they were flirting with the relegation places and it had began to look as if this season would be one Moyes would be keen to write off, domestically at least.

How quickly things change in football though, in their last eight league fixtures Everton have won six and drawn one – until the start of that run they’d won just four times in the Premier League all season.  That change in form has revitalised David Moyes’ side and they’re now very much in the mix for a place in Europe next season.

I’ve always rated David Moyes as a manager and he has built a great team at Goodison Park.  However, compared with some of their rivals they have a small squad and injuries have affected them a lot this season.  Mikel Arteta has only just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines – a massive boost considering Marouane Fellaini has now been ruled out for the rest of the season.  Tim Cahill has also gone down with a calf injury but he should return in three weeks, with an international break in that time Cahill’s absence should not be a massive problem.

As long as the likes of Steven Pienaar, Louis Saha, Cahill and Arteta stay reasonably injury free Everton could well prove a surprise package and secure a top five finish.  At the start of the season Everton finishing fifth wouldn’t have particularly shocked anyone but considering their start it had looked as if they were destined for mid table.  Moyes also has a decent balance of youth and experience, with youngsters like Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling pushing for a place in the starting eleven.

Everton are currently eight points adrift of fourth spot, although they do have a game in hand over both Liverpool and Spurs.  It would take a massive effort to break into the top four or five but considering their current form anything is possible.  The likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have both gone down against Moyes’ side – proof they can beat anyone on their day.  Everton face Spurs on March 7 and Villa on April 10 – results in those games would surely put them right up there with the top sides.  Liverpool, City, Spurs and Villa have all faltered somewhat lately, and with Everton picking up form at the right time they could well upset the odds and sneak a Champions League spot.  Make no mistake, it would be a big ask and they’ve got a lot of ground to make up – but they’ve played all the title chasers now and having a look at their remaining fixtures I would argue they’re certainly in the mix for a top four finish.

Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about Irish racing, Premier League football and Cheltenham betting tips 2010.

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