An accusation that can never be levelled at Evertonians is they are too full of themselves. In fact the very opposite applies and it can often prove a frustrating experience bantering with a rival fanbase who are only too keen to point out their club’s many failings before you get the chance.
But that was then and this is now and Everton somehow, after years of under-investment and ‘Moyesying’ along – where they weirdly punched above their weight and trod water at the same time – now find themselves with plenty to be proud of and excited about.
Someone really should inform Roberto Martinez.
The Toffees boss has always been a pragmatic sort – four years of managing Wigan Athletic will do that to you – yet increasingly his attempts to see the sensible silver linings in a season where the Blues are languishing in mid-table having won only three home games are beginning to cloy.
This is arguably Everton’s strongest squad for three decades and in a bizarre league where no team other than Leicester has the fortitude to grab it by the scruff of the neck, it’s not beyond reason to suggest that Martinez’s men should be challenging for the title. They should certainly be in contention for a top four spot. They should certainly not be flailing in 12th with a bad habit of drawing games that are there to be won.
So the likable coach’s regular assertions that the project is ticking along nicely with plusses to be gained and lessons to be learned is no longer cutting it. Because the harsh fact of the matter is this – Everton are the great under-achievers of 2015/16. Here’s FIVE reasons why.
Jagielka and Stones partnership
Disrupted by injury and further complicated by John Stones’ protracted Chelsea saga there is no question that this duo – when fully fit and functioning – is a match for any centre-back pairing in the top flight. Granted there remain legitimate concerns over the talented 21 year old believing his own hype, with many growing exasperated at his laissez faire attitude when under pressure, but Stones’ ball-playing style is off-set by his skipper’s adroit all-round strengths. In short they compliment each other perfectly. With Ramiro Funes Mori providing increasingly accomplished back-up it is staggering then that Everton have conceded only four fewer than Aston Villa and three more than Swansea City this season.
Consider the plaudits that have deservedly been lavished upon Jamie Vardy this term and the incalculable impact his free-scoring form has had on Leicester.
Now consider that Romelu Lukaku has scored only one goal fewer.
Scoring has unquestionably not been a problem for the Toffees this season and they could easily smash last year’s tally by February’s end. Pertinently their 40 in the plus column is considerably more than anyone else outside the top four.
A significant reason for this of course is the blazing form of Lukaku who has been terrorising defences with abandon and whose 15 league strikes would be a major boon for any side. Artfully aided by Gerard Deulofeu (who has the same amount of assists as much-lauded Leicester wide-man Riyad Mahrez) and Ross Barkley there is more than enough firepower to sustain a campaign-long challenge for the top.
Yes he has the tendency to balance out a star showing with 90 minutes of anonymity but when viewed overall the influence and impact of this bustling 22 year old is immense. Blessed with a rare combination of poise and power, Barkley has the ability to create from nothing while having the awareness to open up the tightest of rearguards with a single pass. Currently level with Christian Eriksen on assists, the future of England’s midfield showed once again this week against Manchester City why he is so coveted.
Driving through City’s centre he unleashed an unstoppable shot with the minimum of back-lift to put the visitors ahead. Seconds earlier there was very little danger.
Everton have a £50m diamond in this kid, and when he sparkles there are few around better.
Baines and Coleman
There are some who lay claim that Arsenal boast the best full-back pairing in the Premier League with Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal. They’re wrong. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are not only integral to Everton’s high-intensity ethos, but consistently put in 8/10 performances down the Goodison flanks, chipping in with goals and assists while offering ferreting defending when out of possession.
The Toffees have missed their rampaging full-backs terribly and it’s hoped that their return to fitness will mark a significant improvement on results.
Midfield craft and graft
‘Gaz Baz’. He’s 34 and past it right? Losing pace on a weekly basis that he never really had and conceding cheap fouls in dangerous areas with a desperate tug on the shoulder.
It’s time to eat our words. Gareth Barry’s stats for 2015/16 are startling, running an average of 10.89km per game and coupling that endeavour with a long career of nous and simplicity.
He won’t be in the PFA Team of the Year come May. But he should be.
So just why are Everton struggling along and seemingly incapable of stringing a run of form together this season? Tell us below.