And then the transition period ended. Right…..here.
Fast forward eight months, and haven’t times changed? Manchester United have enjoyed the Moyes effect, Ricky van Wolfswinkel hasn’t added to that opening day goal, and the Martinez revolution has gone from strength to strength. A run of seven successive wins have taken the Toffees into fourth, and with just five games left. Five. That’s the number of obstacles left to jump. Actually, make it six. The fact that we’re Everton ought to factor in there. So we may as well take a closer look at the teams that stand in our way.
Wednesday April 16th – Crystal Palace (home) 19.45 KO
Background: We go into this tie on a run of seven straight wins – our best run of victories since 1987. That season, we won the league while Liverpool’s title bid was scuppered by defeat at Norwich. Nah…surely. We’ve also won nine on the bounce at Goodison. The 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light on Sunday was the first time since the 2-1 victory over Cardiff on March 15th that we failed to score three goals.
For Palace, this game coincides with an excellent run of form. Of course. Tony Pulis’ side have won three on the bounce, including a 3-0 victory away to Cardiff – their third away win of the season. Palace have lost 11 on the road and have scored fewer away goals than any other side (9).
Strengths: As you’d expect from a Pulis side, Crystal Palace are very tough to break down. In fact, that was true of them last season as well. Mile Jedinak provides a Barry-esque anchor while the likes of Dikgacoi and Ledley act in the McCarthy role. Yet this side is not the all-out physical unit Pulis’ Stoke were. The biggest danger comes from the wingers, including Puncheon, Bolasie and Ince.
Weaknesses: In their last season in the Premier League (04/05) Palace could rely on Andy Johnson to score their goals. This season, Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh have not lived up to fleeting shows of promise, Glenn Murray has seen his season hampered massively by injury, and Cameron Jerome has seen his season hampered massively by the fact he’s shit. One consistently scoring front man is what Palace will be looking for in the summer.
Danger Man: Jason Puncheon. Currently the man who shits when he wants is shitting on a few opposing teams as well. Six goals for the season, and three have them have come in the last two games – the winger will be looking to cut inside and cause havoc.
Verdict: Crystal Palace are a strong, well-organised side. Yet the fact their season is as good as over and their away form is so poor, as well as the fact we’re up for this and strong at home, should mean a home win if we remain as clinical as we have been. Do it for Ric Wee, lads.
The Challengers: ARSENAL vs West Ham, Tuesdsay 15th
Sunday April 20th – Manchester United (home) 16.10 KO
Background: Oh, we’ve been waiting for this. Ever since the fixtures were unveiled back in July, we’ve been thinking of David Moyes’ return to Goodison Park. Yet we never imagined we’d go into the game as clear and comfortable favourites. While we’ve won seven on the bounce (it could be eight by the time the sides meet) United have lost a whopping nine games in 2014 – including two Champions League defeats and a home humiliation in the FA Cup by Swansea. That Bryan Oviedo goal is still playing on repeat in every Evertonian’s head, and wouldn’t we like more of the same eh.
Strengths: The Manchester United attack on its day is a real force to be reckoned with – Wayne Rooney may be a badge-kissing granny-loving potato-headed ****, but you won’t hear me mentioning it. Er, again. The likes of Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj will be swarming around our penalty area looking to feed Rooney. And if you give the badge-kissing granny-loving potato-headed **** the chance he’ll punish us.
Weaknesses: Marouane Fellaini.
Danger man: Marouane Fellaini. Oh, come on. You know how it works.
Verdict: Let’s not get complacent – United have scored 4 in their last two Premier League games, and they’ve got a taste for goal. But victory over Palace and this lot would secure European football. And imagine that look on David Moyes’ face if we beat them again. It’s magic.
The Challengers: Hull vs ARSENAL, Sunday 20th
The Also-Rans: TOTTENHAM vs Fulham, Saturday 19th
Saturday April 26th – Southampton (home) 12:45 KO
Background: Our last game on BT Sport this season (probably). And breathe. Yes, we’ll have to deal with Michael Owen, but also hopefully David James will be made to sweat as he’s reminded that he said Southampton would finish in the top 8 while Everton flounder in 16th. That brings up a good point – no matter how much people whine about loans and put our future chances down, we’ve proved them wrong this season. And in fact many of us can hold our hands up and say we’d have been delighted at 6th at the start of the season. Now it’d be a disaster. As far as this game goes, we’ll be playing for much-needed points, while they won’t be. That’s a sign of success.
Strengths: Southampton have got an excellent mix of youth and flair, along with a solid backing from the likes of Fonte, Lovren, Schneiderlin and Cork. Full backs Shaw and Chambers (or Clyne) love to roam forward while flair players such as Adam Lallana make things happen. Actually, they’re just a bit Everton, aren’t they.
Weaknesses: Complacency. Southampton’s season ended long ago, and they’ve kept just one clean sheet in the last nine. With a number of players fearful of missing the World Cup in the same tragic fashion as Jay Rodriguez, don’t expect full-blooded tackling from many Saints players.
Danger man: Rickie Lambert. You thought I’d say Lallana, didn’t you? Well, the midfielder (psst, and he’s an Evertonian. Pass it on) is a clear threat, but Lambert makes the attacking unit tick. For a big man he’s got a light touch (that’s one cliché. Check) and he loves to create chances. Lambert can also be lethal if he gets the chance. Without Rodriguez in the side he’ll be ploughing a lone furrow. (Check)
Verdict: Southampton are a good side, but recently they’ve looked like a side cruising towards the summer. Their season is over, Mauricio Pochettino is making eyes at Daniel Levy and only one team needs the points.
The Challengers: ARSENAL vs Newcastle, Monday 28th
The Also-Rans: Stoke vs TOTTENHAM, MAN UTD vs Norwich, Saturday 26th
Saturday May 3rd – Manchester City (home) 17.30 KO
Background: Well, it won’t quite be Goodison under the floodlights, with summer closing in. Yet a full day of “atmosphere-building” in the homes and pubs of L4 should – and must – make Goodison that daunting fortress that caused Arsenal to falter. The players need to be boss too but we can’t do anything about that, can we. Well, maybe – if you see Romelu Lukaku in the chippy post midnight tell him to go home. Sound. Thanks to City being f***-up merchants at Anfield, they’re unlikely to be picking up that Premier League trophy. Thoughts of us pipping them to third might be a bit optimistic, but didn’t we say the same about the thought of Champions League football? Forget the impact on the title race; there’s a good chance to pick up three points here and make our own dreams come true. #MakeUsDream etc etc. Pass the bucket.
Strengths: Good God, where do you start. Hart can have his boss moments in goal, Zabaleta and Kompany dominate your Fantasy Football teams, Sergio Aguero is Maradona without being a cheating little tit and Yaya Toure’s been put on this Earth to remind us how s**t we all are at togger. Strength in depth is their greatest boon – City’s bench at Anfield cost over £130 million. Look at ours. Robles, Hibbert, Browning, Garbutt. £13 quid and a scratchcard’s worth in this transfer market.
Weaknesses: Somehow this extensively assembled super-squad still has its weaknesses. Joe Hart could turn up and flap at every ball, Demichelis and Clichy/Kolarov may not bother turning up, and Dzeko, Negredo and Jovetic aren’t arsed if a defence makes life tough for them. As a result, City’s away form is patchy.
Danger man: Don’t you know, it’s Yaya Toure. If he’s fit for this one James McCarthy will have to bust both his and Leon Osman’s guts to keep him in check – no Gareth Barry, remember. Sometimes Toure lopes around as if he has somewhere better to be and Fernandinho acts as the City engine. But if he’s in range of goal, Tim Howard will have to make those flying saves we all love to see.
Verdict: This is the strongest side in the league. Second best attack (behind Liverpool), second best defence (behind Chelsea). Yet it’s a case of waiting to see if they even turn up. Let’s make sure they don’t, by getting straight into them. Remember, this lot hate coming to Goodison Park. Lets remind them why.
The Challengers: ARSENAL vs West Brom, Sunday 4th
The Also-Rans: West Ham vs TOTTENHAM, MAN UTD vs Sunderland, Saturday 3rd
Sunday May 11th – Hull City (away) 15:00 KO
Background: No more Saturday 3pm games, so a Sunday 3pm will have to do…and this one marks the end of that “transition season”. There will be plenty of time to reflect after this game how that has all gone, but this game could be vital in the race for fourth place. Actually, Hull are good opposition to have. By the time we roll into town, the Tigers’ Premier League status will be assured and they’ll have an FA Cup final to look forward to, which they have earned by not being drawn away to Arsenal in the quarter final. Lucky sods. In any case, you can expect either a changed side or one that will be wary of injuries with the final just a week away. This is ours for the taking – and it could be vital that we take all three points back home.
Strengths: Whatever side is put out, it’ll be hard-working. There are no ‘star players’ in this side, and they normally attack and defend in numbers. Generally they are hard to break down, although a couple of sides – notably Newcastle and ten man Manchester City, tore them apart at the KC Stadium. Nonetheless, this side have plenty of strikers and plenty of players looking to provide them with chances.
Weaknesses: Apart from Nikica Jelavic? Nah, he’s nailed on to score, isn’t he. The fact that the FA Cup final will be on the horizon is the main weakness for this game – their minds will be on Wembley. The kicker is the fact they’ve won just 4 points against teams in the top 9 all season.
Danger man: Who’s playing? In the case of a full squad, Tom Huddlestone is the main architect of Hull’s football. Shane Long and Jelavic are certain starters, and the Irishman would love to make a bunch of Twitter mongs bang on about how they moaned at Roberto to sign him back in January.
Verdict: Roberto’s Everton, aren’t we? Nowadays games that we need to win are won. This will be a big one in all likelihood, and only one team on the pitch will be arsed enough to take the points. This could set off the Champions League tour…imagine, eh.
The Challengers: Norwich vs ARSENAL
The Also-Rans: TOTTENHAM vs Aston Villa, Southampton vs MAN UTD
So only five teams stand between us and the Champions League.
Forget Arsenal, we’re not playing them. Five wins from five makes it certain, while four wins and a draw leaves us depending on goal difference. If we drop any more than two points, Arsenal will have to do the same. But let’s not even let them have a sniff, eh? There’s no reason why we can’t win all of these games. Of course, there’s only one way to find out – not by speculating like this, but letting the boys in Blue decide how it goes on the pitch. Come on, lads. We want to sing “Allez Allez Allez Ohh” at the Nou Camp. Whatever happens, this is going to be a very exciting time to support Everton.
Roberto had a dream…