Everton’s regular late season push is nauseatingly over-referenced. I’ve lost count of the times this season I’ve angrily interrupted insufferable pundits and their propensity to start Toffees-based sentences with ‘Traditionally, David Moyes’ side are slow-starters’. But as we’ve passed the New Year, I’ll risk self-proclaimed hypocrisy to tackle the subject myself.
Everton’s propensity to finish stronger is bandied about as a compliment, a compliment only validated by the sort of start consistently absent from the Blues’ recent records. If you jogged for the first half of the Olympic 100 metres final but sped up enough to overtake a few stragglers late on, tough luck, the Jamaicans have already finished, you’re not getting a medal.
Playing well for half a season is only half an accomplishment
Last season’s late surge rewarded David Moyes’ side with eight more points than in the first half, 32 of the overall total of 56. Impressive but still 14 points off third place, 13 points off fourth. A huge deficit. Whilst this season’s significant improvement has given Everton a much better platform – 12 points up on this stage last year – the Toffees’ form absolutely cannot falter if Champions League qualification is to be achieved.
Averaging two points per game for the remaining 17 fixtures will see Everton hit 70 points, Arsenal’s third-place total last year. To achieve this, a run of immediate victories would go a long way. To that end, no Evertonian can complain about the next few fixtures. Everton face Swansea (h), Southampton (a), West Brom (h) and Aston Villa (h) through January and into February.
Whilst 9-10 points would represent a decent return, Everton must view any dropped points as a big failure. Four wins would give Everton 48 points leaving 13 games to accumulate (approximately) 22 points – definitely doable.
Taking it two games at a time
To go against the old football adage of ‘taking one game at a time’, it suits the purposes of this article to split those fixtures into two groups rather than four, so let’s look at the first couple.
This Saturday’s home game with Swansea is the biggest threat to a 100 per cent record over the next month, but this is without doubt their toughest period of the season so far.
Swansea’s excellent campaign has them travelling down to London for their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea this Wednesday, heading up to Liverpool to face Everton on the Saturday, before returning to London the following Wednesday to replay their FA Cup Third Round tie with Arsenal. Enjoyably hectic; the problems of progress.
A substantial Stamford Bridge loss may dent confidence whilst a positive result may cause a dip in focus. Either way, there’s enough for Everton to forge a winning attitude out of self-convincing logic.
And then Southampton away. Potentially tricky but one that bears the same traits of Everton’s last away success at Newcastle. A midweek night game (Monday counts as midweek in order to make my argument stronger/ less weak), away at a struggling side just above the relegation zone. If Everton can recreate their St James’ Park performance, the three points should be theirs.
Six points from these games would leave Arsenal needing to beat both Man City (h) and Chelsea (a) to maintain their two-point deficit behind the Toffees. Losing those games could see the Gunners eight points behind Everton. Of course Arsenal have a game in hand but January 16th’s FA Cup replay means Arsene Wenger’s men four times in 10 days culminating in that rearranged West Ham game, followed by Liverpool’s visit the following week. Plenty of potential for a slip-up. Spurs face QPR (a) and Man Utd (h) in the next two. Points could certainly be dropped. Everton must take advantage.
By January 30th when West Brom travel to Goodison in a game which could really cement Everton’s position in the top six (incidentally my birthday for any overly sentimental and unnecessarily generous followers), Everton will have both Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas back (touch wood), and hopefully a few new signings. A victory in that game would create incredible momentum before the Premier League’s current worst side Aston Villa head to Goodison.
If Moyes manages his squad properly this transfer window, as he did so effectively last year, January could well prove to be the decisive month in a successful Everton season, providing the springboard and importantly the points to make for a very hopeful run-in.
Written by Chris Smith
Follow him on Twitter @cdsmith789
Check out his excellent blog, The Russian Linesman
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