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By Allan Hobbs :  02/08/2007 :  Comments (4) :
All fair points I'd say..

Mike Adamson, The Guardian

"In the past few years it has become patently clear that only those clubs which boast impressive financial clout can truly compete for the major prizes. What we don't want is to be left behind."

So said David Moyes this week, but sadly for him the top four broke clear of the pack long ago, with Everton's fourth-place finish in 2005 being a hugely commendable but freakish exception. So a repeat of sixth place is realistically the best Liverpool's other half can hope for this year, Everton's ambition being to front the tightly-packed peloton that is trailing at some distance the tête de la course and the poursuivant, Tottenham. With the strengthening of the runners and riders around them this summer, even that goal may be out of reach.

How, then, can Everton seek to improve on last season? In practice, they're unlikely to, but theoretically a lengthy cup run on top of more of the same in the league would do. However, both domestic cups are now also dominated by the fantastic four - Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United contested last season's showpieces at the Millennium Stadium and Wembley - so the Uefa Cup is Everton's best hope of glory (if that is the right word) this year.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, Moyes will have to prove he is tactically cuter than suggested two years ago when Everton's dogmatic approach led to failure at the first hurdles in both the Champions League (though they were admittedly unlucky in Villarreal) and, more embarrassingly, in the Uefa Cup. Secondly, Everton do not have the squad to cope with the extra fixtures a prolonged jaunt in Europe entails - such a campaign would impact on their league prospects, as it has for Middlesbrough and, to a lesser extent, Spurs in recent seasons.

Last season Everton played just four extracurricular matches in the cups - Spurs played 20 - enabling eight players to start 31 or more league games. Were they to reach, say, the Uefa Cup quarter-finals, this would add 10 fixtures to the schedule, placing severe strain on a squad that has welcomed only two new faces this summer: South African left-winger Steven Pienaar on a season-long loan from Borussia Dortmund; and odd-job man Phil Jagielka, who will fill in for the influential Joseph Yobo - an ever-present last season - when he jets off to the African Nations Cup in January.

This shortage of newcomers made it imperative that Moyes clung on to his trio of star players in the off-season: the goal-grabbing Tim Cahill and graceful Mikel Arteta, who both autographed new five-year contracts, and Andy Johnson, whose form (much like Johnson himself in the penalty box, some would say) took a tumble last season after he struck six times in his first seven games for the club. Equally important were the signatures of 19-year-old hotshots James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe - the most exciting pair of young strikers in England have committed to the club until 2011. Unfortunately, Vaughan will miss the start of the season after dislocating his shoulder; and should Cahill's foot not recover or a body part of any of Everton's other major players break down, their tracing-paper thin squad will be spread beyond its limits by this season's extra demands.

More worrying still for Everton fans is Moyes's tendency to alternate top-half with bottom-half finishes. The best chance of preventing an extension of this quirky streak to a sixth season may be for early cup eliminations to allow Everton to concentrate their efforts on the Premiership. This leaves Moyes with the tricky, but crucial, decision over which competition to make his priority, because he's unlikely to succeed on both fronts. If he tries to, the Toffees may be chewing over a season of disappointment; and they may slip even further behind the leading group.

In: Steven Pienaar (loan), Phil Jagielka (£4m), Lucas Jutkiewicz (undisclosed).

Out: Richard Wright (free), Gary Naysmith (£1m), Alessandro Pistone (released), Alan Kearney (released), Scott Phelan (free).

Reader Comments

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John Holmes
1   Posted 02/08/2007 at 15:56:54

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Last season I wrote two articles pointing out the ridiculous fallacy of claiming that the top four is some exclusive club. After the season finished I wrote a third but didn’t submit it because I thought the point had been made.

When will people accept that:

Firstly, the top four doesnt exist, if you buy into it at all then it’s two top twos - there is rarely a significant gap between fourth and fifth but often one between second and third.

Secondly, Everton in 04/05 and Spurs in 05/06 were there or there abouts for Champion’s League qualification and it was self-destruction by Everton, Spurs and Bolton rather than any innate achievement by Arsenal that stopped the same being true for 06/07. They may have a decent record of finishing above but it’s a very, very fine line not a massive gap.

Thirdly, it’s a short term construct. 5 years ago it was Newcastle and Leeds up there. If you want to stretch it any further then you might as well say Chelsea aren’t one of the big four because they haven’t been there that long. In that five years there hasn’t been a club in an adequate situation to compete with them consistently. Everton were building from scratch, Newcastle and Leeds were self-destructing, Spurs only in the last couple of years have got their act together and Bolton have always had too short-term season-to-season goals to build a quality side. That’s now changed, Everton and Spurs look increasingly like consistent competitors and it’s now in their own hands to push on with Arsenal seemingly there for the taking and reasonable questions over whether Liverpool are really any stronger or just juggling the pieces.

So to summarise, Everton can and should hope for better than sixth. Our realistic best case scenario should be third and as a measure of a decent season should be being in touch within say 10 points of fourth place at the end of the season (i.e. having competed for fourth even if not managed it).
Duncan McDine
2   Posted 03/08/2007 at 10:12:18

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Nice to see an article about something other than the ground move!! I’ve always been realistic (bordering on pessimistic) when estimating our chances for the season ahead. Last season was just about spot on (though really should’ve been 5th place if not for some dodgy decisions at Chelsea), but the UEFA Cup this season makes it tricky to guage.

Under Moyes we’ve shown a lot of inconsistency. Every good season seems to be followed by a poor one - hopefully not this time, though I fear mid table mediocraty if brutally honest.

Please post your own expectations for the upcoming season (though I’m sure there’ll be a toffeeweb poll coming up soon), it will be interesting.

League position : 8th
Cup Runs : UEFA possible, others unlikely

Notes on other teams : I think either Reading or Wigan will be relegated this season along with Brum and Derby. Sunderland to finish mid table. Bolton to drop into bottom half of the table with Newcastle in the UEFA places. Spurs to possibly grab 4th from Arsenal.

Your thoughts please???

Cheers, Dunc
Nigel Tilley
3   Posted 03/08/2007 at 20:24:34

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Very good article Allan. Thanks.
I won’t comment much except to say, we have much to small a squad and shallow level of quality to finish above 6th. As for Europe, better than last time I hope but again, we don’t have any depth so I don’t expect much there either.

I’m surprised Moyes is still here actually. he HAS to be disappointed. They are expecting miracles of him and not giving him the support he needs. Frustration will get the better of him and he’ll be gone to a "lessor" but richer club soon. (Not sure what his contract is)

Position 7th
Cup Run in any competition .... Unlikely, but, as always .... fingers crossed.
mark-chester
4   Posted 03/08/2007 at 22:16:34

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I am so fed up with posting my pissed off frustrated coemments, so I will just say NO MONEY - SHIT BOARD - A MANAGER WHO WILL BE GONE BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR UNLESS SOMETHING CHANGES - NO AMBITION:-

LEAGUE 12TH

DOMESTIC CUPS 6TH ROUND AT BEST

UEFA CUP DEFEAT AFTER 2 ROUNDS

DISSAPOINTMENT ALL AROUND AND YES I CAN SEE CHANTS OUTSIDE AND INSIDE OF GOODISON OF KENWRIGHT OUT!

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