David Beckham has insisted he will not be joining Everton on loan this winter and who can blame him. This was supposed to be the season Everton really pushed for the top 4, something which was heavily advocated in the summer by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. But as other teams have improved, Everton seem to have gone backwards.
Last season, Everton finished in a respectable 8th place and were only 9 points adrift of the top 4. The previous two seasons they finished 5th. This season, they lie in 16th place, just 2 points above the relegation zone. It’s all very well saying they have had a bad start (which they always do) but will recover, but the reality is we are almost halfway through the season and their form shows no sign of improving. The league table has started to take shape and has given an indication on how each club will fare this season. The Toffees face tough trips to Chelsea and Man City in the coming weeks and it is difficult to see where the points will come from, the latest embarrassment being a 4-1 drubbing at home to West Brom.
After a poor start, they began October by ending Birmingham City’s long unbeaten home record as well as beating Liverpool, drawing with Tottenham and beating Stoke City, but since then their form has worryingly dipped. The win over Liverpool, which put their rivals in the relegation zone, was supposed to be the turning point in the season, but since then Liverpool have pushed up the table and Everton have stood still. 17 goals scored and 19 conceded in 15 games is not top 10 form, let alone top 4. Their home form has always been very strong in previous seasons, yet this season they have only won 2 out of 8 home games, losing to newly promoted Newcastle and West Brom.
Without Tim Cahill, who has 8 league goals from midfield, they would be in the relegation zone and not hovering above it. They took a gamble on Jermaine Beckford in the summer, someone had to after his exploits for Leeds, but unfortunately it has yet to work out for him, having only scored once in 11 league appearances. The unpredictable Yakubu only has 1 goal in 12 and Louis Saha, so dangerous when on his game but always injured, has yet to score in 10. Victor Anichebe has made only one league appearance so far due to injury.
Even without your strikers scoring, as long as the defence stays tight, you always have a chance, but this just hasn’t been the case with Everton who have conceded the joint third highest home league goals total this season. On paper, their back five is strong and full of experience, with USA number one Tim Howard in goal and current English Internationals Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, the experienced Phil Neville and reliable Sylvan Distin making up the usual back four. But Jagielka has suffered a dip in form recently and Distin seems to have lost that yard of pace which made him such a strong defender and he has been massively exposed at times this season. His positional play hasn’t always been the best, but his pace and strength always bailed him out, when that goes completely, then there’s a problem.
While Everton struggle, they have an embarrassment of riches in midfield, with top scorer Tim Cahill, the fabulous Mikel Arteta, World Cup finalist John Heitinga, Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Marouane Fellaini, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and the emerging young talents of Jack Rodwell and Seamus Coleman for company. Perhaps the greatest disappointment has been Fellaini, bought for well over £12 million after immense performances for Standard Liege but he has become better known for his swinging elbows rather than his ability on the ball. Pienaar is already despondent about Everton’s future and won’t sign a new contract, hinting that he is looking for a new challenge, and with his head out of the door, his form has gone with it. It is difficult to see how they can keep their best players after a five match winless run dragging them into a relegation dogfight. The good news is they still have time to turn it around but it is difficult to see where the goals will come from.
Jagielka said after the weekend:
“We are in a difficult position now and yes, that tends to bring out the best in this side, but the truth is we’re getting sick and tired of us having to do that.”
But it’s the same old story for Everton fans, they have heard it all before and are getting bored with being a nearly team who has a poor start and recovers in the second half of the season, and the recent boos have shown their frustration at their team’s lacklustre performances.
David Moyes is a fine manager, that cannot be disputed, but just why he has failed to gel the team together this season is a mystery for all. Whether he has taken the club as far as it can go must be a pressing issue in the back of his mind. It won’t be long until the big boys come knocking for the likes of Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and the outstanding young prospect of Ross Barkley and without European football and no real financial muscle, it is difficult to see how they can keep them. There is a distinct lack of confidence at the moment which radiates every time they take to the pitch. If the money is there, Moyes needs to invest in a centre forward in January and he must also attempt to get Louis Saha fit. Landon Donovan has so far stalled on whether he will join on loan in January, being someone who would provide a much needed injection of pace and potency.
Maybe David Beckham would have taken the offer more seriously if the prospect of Everton was more attractive, maybe not. On paper, Everton are certainly too good to go down, but the same was said of West Ham in 2003. Stranger things have happened.