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The Great Leap Forward

By David Roscoe :  06/09/2007 :  Comments (15) :
As we reach a stage where Premier League teams have a few games under their belt, as the transfer window closes for a few months and as managers new and not so new begin to formulate their preferred line-ups, it is probably reasonable to make a tentative guess at how Everton may fare relative to the opposition this season.

There are many factors which will influence the relative performance of teams this season, but the ability of the manager and the environment in which he is obliged to operate within his club can play a very significant part. Factors which influence his operating environment include the existing squad of players, the money he has available to spend on new players, the availability of players he requires to improve his squad, his relationship with his chairman and the expectations of his chairman and his team?s supporters. If the manager can optimise the balance between these factors, only his own limitations will prevent him moving his team forward. It is interesting to see how David Moyes and Everton compare to other managers and clubs in this respect, because by making such comparisons, it is possible to get an idea of what are realistic targets for this and future seasons.

There are a number of teams that Everton can reasonably expect to outperform for a couple of seasons at least. These include Derby, Sunderland, Birmingham, Fulham, Wigan and Middlesbrough. If we look at the promoted clubs to begin with, it is clear from the early season games that their ambitions are likely to be limited. Billy Davies seems to have had a difficult relationship with his chairman at Preston and tensions also appear to have been in evidence since Derby were promoted. Operating under tight monetary conditions with a squad that obviously needs strengthening, his ambition will clearly be survival. Roy Keane showed enough last season to suggest that he has the making of a good manager in the future. He also seems to have the full backing of his chairman, but he is taking a big step up with his team and they are unlikely to threaten the upper reaches of the table for a couple of seasons at least. Steve Bruce has been at Birmingham for several years now and was gently taking the club forward until a couple of years ago. However, his situation shows just how seriously relegation from the top division can affect progress, having had to dismantle his squad last year and having had to re-build again this summer. All of the promoted teams need time to re-build squads that don?t yet have the depth, quality or continuity that is required to make a dent in the top group of teams.

In Lawrie Sanchez, Fulham have a manager who has had relative success at lower levels in his time at Wycombe and managing one of the smaller football nations. He is making the next step on the managerial ladder, but there is no indication from the early season games that Fulham are ready to significantly change their status yet. At Wigan, Chris Hutchings is still relatively inexperienced at this level and, despite leading the table at the start of the season, it still appears that the most realistic hope for Wigan is a mid-table position. The chairman provides funds for his manager and displays loyalty and patience, but Wigan?s problem in the short term will always be attracting the top players. Rightly or wrongly, they are perceived not to be a glamorous club. Gareth Southgate is clearly still gaining experience as a manager, but he has an environment that enables him to do this at Middlesbrough, given his chairman?s track record of providing regular funding and of giving his manager time to do the job. Again though, Middlesbrough do not appear to be about to threaten the top six places, as their rebuilding continues.

Everton should also realistically be able to out-perform Bolton, Reading and Portsmouth. Bolton look likely to take a step back from their recent progress as the team get used to operating under Sammy Lee. The step back may only be temporary, but it will last long enough for Everton to extend their advantage over Bolton. At Reading, Steve Coppell managed to establish the club in the Premier League last season by building a team rather than assembling a bunch of individuals. This is the only way to produce success and Coppell certainly seems to have the full support of his chairman. However, there is always a sense that their opportunity to threaten the very top of the table will be restricted by an inability to attract some of the star names and by a limited fan base. While Harry Redknapp remains at Portsmouth, they should always be pushing more towards the top of the table than the bottom. He has the financial backing and the years of experience, but the turnover of the squad seems to be one of the highest and to begin to push the top 4, greater continuity in the playing staff is generally required.

That leaves a clutch of seven teams who may consider that they have hopes of breaking the Big 4 monopoly at some point in the future. The biggest threat to the top four teams comes as the managers with proven track records gravitate towards the clubs that have the finances and the fan base to sustain a challenge. Strangely enough, this is a situation that has taken time to develop, but it is something which now appears to be taking shape. Looking at each in turn, West Ham now have the finance in place, they have a strong fan base and a manager with a decent track record. They could maintain a challenge in the future but, at the moment, they fall short in a couple of respects. Firstly, there is still a sense that they have assembled a collection of individuals rather than built a team. That may eventually come with the current group of players, but it will take some time. Secondly, the owners, having provided the cash, give the impression that they will not be the most patient of employers should success not occur in the very near future. Thirdly, as good a job as Alan Curbishley did at Charlton, there may still be a sense that he is not proven in managing a team in the upper echelons of the league. All these things combined suggest a slightly unsettled environment for the current season at least.

In Martin O?Neill, Aston Villa have a manager that has had success at various levels of the game. He also appears to have the financial backing of the club?s owner, is quickly assembling a squad that looks capable of mounting some sort of challenge and has had 12 months in the position to begin to establish his mark on the squad. Villa appear to be developing quickly and you sense that they could prove a danger to the top 4 teams. However, Villa probably need another season before mounting a serious challenge as the new additions to the squad bed in.

Newcastle?s failings in recent years haven?t been due to a lack of crowd support or, it would appear, financial support from the boardroom. It remains to be seen whether they have simply been waiting for the right manager for the job. Sam Allardyce turned Bolton, who were not the most affluent of clubs, from a team that oscillated between the top two divisions into regular European contenders. He had to do that by bringing in a certain type of player and adopting a certain style of play. The key for Newcastle will be if he can adapt his approach now that he should, in theory, be working with better quality players. Critically though, if Allardyce is to reproduce his success at Bolton, he will need some time to sort out his squad. Coupled with an apparently uneasy relationship with the new owner, this suggests that a challenge for a top 4 place this year is unlikely.

Prior to this season, Manchester City would not have even been mentioned in relation to the top section of the division. However, the influx of new money and a new managerial appointment is likely to change that viewpoint. City clearly have the fans and now the financial backing, but the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson will probably help to take the club up a level. It was probably easy to forget Eriksson?s track record as a club manager during his time in charge of England. He seems to have put his past experience to good use straightaway. He has begun to overhaul his squad by spending considerable sums on players who are probably not household names. However, he obviously knows the game and City?s results in the first few matches are revealing in terms of where his influences lie. Few goals for either City or their opponents suggest that Eriksson believes that good teams are built from the back, a belief which I?m sure arose from his time managing in Italy. He already gives the impression that he can turn City around and this should allow them to pose a threat in the future. Again though, such a recent overhaul of the squad is likely to mean that the players take time to settle into a pattern. That should delay the challenge for a year or so, although any issues with the ownership of the club could bring down the whole set-up ? any trouble and Eriksson would not be the type to hang around.

Aston Villa, Newcastle and Manchester City look capable of threatening the monopoly in the near future. They are, or soon will be, catching up fast ? but they don?t appear to be ready just yet. At the start of the season, Tottenham seemed to be the team most likely to mount a serious challenge. Two seasons of finishing just outside the Champions League places, a developing and talented squad, a solid fan base, a board that were providing money for further additions and a good manager ? all the key factors in place?or so it seemed. Less than a month into the season, however, and if we are to believe most of the press speculation, Martin Jol has all but lost his job. Only a win against Arsenal is going to save him so we are told. Personally, I can?t believe what is happening there, but we are looking at it from the outside and we don?t have the same level of awareness that we may have if that scenario was unfolding at our club. Tottenham appeared to have everything in place, but one of the key cornerstones for making sustained progress and maintaining continuity, namely the relationship between chairman and manager, no longer seems to be there at Tottenham. Again, some of this is press speculation, but the chairman may be right in thinking that Jol is not the man to take the team to the next level. It is noticeable, for example, that his teams play good, attacking football but their deficiencies seem to lie in defence. Maybe the chairman is also of the belief that Jol will never sort out the defensive side of the game and will therefore fall short of their target. However, if a change is made, Tottenham will take a step backwards, even if it is only temporary and even if it does eventually result in moving two steps forward. The result of all of this is that it could hand a competitive advantage to Everton in the short term.

The remaining team outside the top 4 are Blackburn and anyone who was at Goodison a couple of weeks ago will know that Mark Hughes has put together a team that will give anyone a hard game this season. For different reasons, I felt that game was both worrying and encouraging for Everton. Worrying because Everton were outplayed for large sections of the game, but encouraging because despite that fact, they managed to get something from it. Mark Hughes had a good record whilst managing Wales and he has steadily built up a very good team at Blackburn. Again, he seems to have a good relationship with his board, he has a settled squad and is making sustained progress. Unfortunately for Blackburn, their financial strength relative to the rest of the league is not what it was 10-15 years ago and they probably have a limit to their fan base due to a relatively restricted catchment area. That said, given Tottenham?s difficulties at the start of the season, they may be one of the teams best-placed to have a crack at the top 4.

So where does that leave Everton? Well, consider David Moyes? operating environment. He seems to have a very good working relationship with Bill Kenwright and he seems to be under no threat of dismissal. He has assembled a settled squad of good players and the nucleus of the team has been playing together for a while. In addition, although it may not have been apparent to us at times, money has been made available to strengthen the squad and he has chosen to spend it. Over time, his spending has generally become more astute as he has grown into the job. There seems to be a general acceptance that the current squad is the best that has been assembled for several years. Other aspects of his management have also developed. He has often been criticised for being overly negative or defensive. In some cases, this may have been valid, but he seems to be another manager that agrees with the sentiment that successful teams are built from the back. Once that part of the team is sorted, the more creative, attacking football will follow. We are not yet at the stage where this is happening enough for our liking, but the spells of neat passing and attacking play are gradually becoming more and more frequent.

The substitutions that David Moyes makes have often come in for criticism, too. He has perhaps given the impression in the past of being hesitant in making these decisions, but his comments after the Bolton game were very telling. His view was that he has not necessarily had the options available to him in the past that would allow him to change the pattern of a game. That is obviously a matter of opinion, but it now appears that he himself has the confidence to turn to his bench and make more bold substitutions in order to change the direction of a game. If the example at Bolton, where positive changes were made in order to try to win the game, is a view of things to come, I?m sure most supporters would welcome this approach.

I think last season also saw a further development in how Everton provided stiff competition in the games against the top 4. This is one aspect of the game, for example, that Tottenham fans seem unhappy with in respect of their own team. If Everton can again amass a sizeable points total from their games against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, they will give themselves an important advantage over the remaining teams.

So, if we consider the aspects that can influence the environment in which the manager operates, all of the managers of teams outside the top 4 have some of these in place, but most, if not all have some aspects that are lacking. Taking all of these influences into consideration though (the settled squad, talented players, financial backing, good manager/chairman relationship, substantial fan base) perhaps only David Moyes and Everton currently have them all in place at this precise moment.

David Moyes has manufactured this situation largely through his own efforts (with some help from others along the way). However, with these achievements comes a sense of heightened expectation from the Everton supporters, so Moyes has raised the question within that support of whether he is ready to take the team to the next level of performance on the field.

Several other clubs currently just below Everton are beginning to position themselves in such a way that suggests they will pose a threat in the next year or two. However, it could be that this season presents Everton with their best opportunity to make the breakthrough. To do this, of course, would mean that one of last season?s top 4 would need to be overtaken. How realistic this is must be open to question. You sense that nothing less than the Premier League title and the Champions League will do for Chelsea this year, given their outlay on players. Their relative ?failure? last year suggests that they will seriously target regaining the title and they retain an incredibly strong playing squad. It is unrealistic to suggest that Everton will overcome Chelsea over the course of the whole season

Despite a slightly unconvincing start by their own standards, Manchester United also seem unlikely to be overtaken by Everton. They have made changes to their squad which will take time to bed in fully and I think their primary focus this season will possibly be the Champions League rather than the Premier League. That said they are still too far ahead in their level of development to suggest that Everton could overhaul them over 38 games.

Much as we may hate to admit it, Everton won?t catch Liverpool this year either. The Liverpool fans and board are desperate to win the title again at the expense of almost anything else and Rafael Benitez knows this. He has assembled a squad this year which contains greater depth and quality than in previous years and they have started the season in a manner that suggests that they will go close to winning the title. Whether they finally attain their ambition remains to be seen, but the fact that they will be concentrating so much effort on it leads to the conclusion that they will ensure Champions League qualification.

So that leaves Arsenal. They appear to be the only team that Everton can realistically overtake, but this is still hardly a nailed-on certainty. Arsenal have the stability provided by one of the best coaches in the game and he is currently carrying out another regeneration of his team. Arsenal play some of the best football you could wish to see, but the flaws in their game were very evident last season as the new team developed. They had a tendency to over-elaborate in front of goal and exhibited a certain vulnerability when they came face-to-face with, shall we say, a more robust approach from the opposition. Their early season form indicates that they are improving on last season and are still likely to slot comfortably in the Champions League slots. However, any lapse back into some of the habits they displayed last season and the opportunity may present itself for another team to pounce.

The odds are still against a new team breaking through ? if you don?t believe me, check the bookies, because they are very rarely wrong - but it is possible and, for this season at least, Everton may be the team best-placed to take advantage. In the next couple of seasons, other teams will be ready to join the challenge so maybe, just maybe, this could be Everton?s season. Of course, a lot can happen between now and May. In some ways, the beauty of the game is that it still throws up the unexpected. For example, who could have envisaged Manchester United having such a shortage of strikers, with injuries to Saha and Rooney and a three game ban for Ronaldo. But let us imagine a scenario where David Moyes keeps his squad settled, the players stay relatively injury-free and Everton keep up the pressure to edge into fourth place. Add a decent Uefa Cup run to this and we could find ourselves back in the Champions League qualifying draw with a decent enough record to allow us a seeded position. Who knows where the club could go from there?

The question is (with apologies to Chairman Mao): Are Everton ready for the ?Great Leap Forward??

Well, we can dream can?t we?

Reader Comments

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Danny Mullally
1   Posted 06/09/2007 at 23:21:23

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Thanks for tat post David, but with all due respect mate you could have saved yourself about 4 days by just posting something along the lines of "Everton should be challenging ths year".
Your points about the other teams in the division are valid ones, but if football was an exact science, it would be boring.
This year will bring ups and downs, all depending on how each team copes with the various environmental factors thrown in to the mix, injuries, suspensions, managerial change ovcers-its all gonna happen this year-Alls that we can all hope for is that Moyesy and the team are prepared as best they can be for the onslaught this season. I have every faith in our squad this year and I am quietly confident that we can finish in a very respectable position by the end of the marathon.
A cup win would make my day too, and I am backing us for one at ladbrokes!
Matt Traynor
2   Posted 07/09/2007 at 02:00:29

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Good article, but one "splitting hairs" point re your comment:

If Everton can again amass a sizeable points total from their games against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal...

9 points out of 24 isn’t sizeable in my book. I know we came close to getting something from Man U and Chelsea at home (and Chelsea away), but we didn’t.

With the changes going on with other teams, it does seem more of lottery this year. Even though we are behind on points from corresponding games from last season, concensus is we’re doing alright for now. Next few games should be interesting!
David Flanagan
3   Posted 07/09/2007 at 07:55:00

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A bit long winded to basically say that we are fighting for fifth. Nothing new there but a few good points about possible challenges for the future.
Richard Dodd
4   Posted 07/09/2007 at 09:38:50

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....And you say I go on a bit! I would estimate that 95% of Evertonians now accept my long-standing view that our club is in good hands on and off the pitch. Moyes has conducted a master class in how to make haste slowly and we are, without any shadow of doubt, now geared to challenge the Big Four. AGAIN!
Gavin Wadeson
5   Posted 07/09/2007 at 10:31:17

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The best article I?ve read on here for a long time...

...are you Colm in disguise?
Lars Eddison
6   Posted 07/09/2007 at 11:36:45

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9 points from 24 games IS indeed quite sizeable compared to team such as City, Spurs (in particular) and even Liverpool (well relative to their 6 games against top 3).

It?s an incredible testament how close we were to even more points (it?s amazing that the Arsenal away, Chelsea away, United home and Chelsea home only yielded two points).
Lee Spargo
7   Posted 07/09/2007 at 12:29:05

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You cant just look at it like ’9 points from a possible 24’.

Given that most teams in the prem aim for 5th at best (realistically), and the fact that the top 4 teams win most of their games, we should also look at it as the top 4 teams only took 12 points from us.

Personally, I would take a home and away draw against Liverpool, Man U, Arsenal and Cheslea if we were offered them now. Wouldn’t you? That’s only 8 points - so 9 is good in my book.
Joe Rourke
8   Posted 07/09/2007 at 12:02:43

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This a balanced, thorough and well written piece David.

I will contest you on two points though.

The year Everton came 4th there was a massive relegation battle where all of the teams involved Norwich, Crystal Palace, Southhampton and WBA had a respectable haul of points - well over 30.In particular they got a lot of points from draws.Everton that year took 21 out of 24 points from their games with these teams.This was much more than the RS got - they lost to Norwich, Crystal Palace and Southhampton (at least) that year.This points haul more significant I think than 7 out of 24 points we gained from our games against the big four.We were generally pleased with our performances against the big 4 last year - and we got 9 points.If you want to finish in the top 4 you have to routinely put lesser teams to the sword - the results against your ’equals’ aren’t so important.Also if there are a lot of draws in a given league season the points required for 3-6th drop drastically.

My second point of contention regards the RS.I’m not sure they will come any closer to the title this year.Beneathus will make team selection mistakes through his loyalty to Alonso, Torres and $tevie Me who he will pick ahead of Mascherano, Kuyt and Voronin.Saying that I still think they will pick up 70pts or more...

Good article though....
Billy Deane
9   Posted 07/09/2007 at 13:21:59

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dare i say it but the redshite look possible league champions due to the money spent by their yank owners and the fact that Benitez will ruthlessly do anything to secure the title. Man Utd cocked up not buying a striker and the 3 amigo?s ronaldo, nani and anderson are more concerned in banging up hookers than banging up goals. They lack an out and out scorer which they had in van nistelroy when again Ferguson as he did with stam got shut due to a personal vendetta. The retirment of Solkskar and the fact that Saha is injury prone has left him well short in that dept. Last year he pulled Larsen out of the bag to help them to the title but by January he will be too far behind. Chelsea too me are not an attractive side to watch and will continue scraping wins together but are not as formidable as they were. Arsenal are going through a transistion period and may struggle to hold onto fourth. I think we stand a good chance of 5th with Spurs and Newcastle the main threats. Third is not beyond the realms of possibility and would be a realistic achievement as I think Man Utd will finish 4th or 5th this season down to bad buying by ferguson
glen strachan
10   Posted 07/09/2007 at 18:17:55

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Very well thought out piece , David.

Worth considering that any one major event could change everything.

This rumour about a new owner for Everton in the next few months refuses to go away and that could make a difference at the next window.

Like you I am really looking forward to this season !
Mark Scarratt
11   Posted 07/09/2007 at 18:11:56

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A good well thought out article.
Stability is the key.
Teams that stick by their managers and give them 4 or 5 years to get it right, generally do well.

Teams like West Ham, Newcastle and Man City who change their manager every 2 weeks, never get anywhere.

Also Spurs treatment of Jol is nothing short of a disgrace. He has done well and got therm playing attractive football. If I were him I’d have walked out and gone to manage somebody else.

The top 4 will be the same in whatever order. It always is.

We have a much better depth to our squad now, with the addition of Yak and the emergence of Anichebe and Vaughan plus the return of Cahill, we should have enough firepower. We are pretty solid too.
Terry Maddock
12   Posted 07/09/2007 at 19:32:09

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Lots of good points David..A little over optimistic maybe?

I think this year 5th will be our target , and a good cup run..but I do believe that if we continue to make progress this year that maybe we can provide a real challenge in 2008/9.
Chris Whitby
13   Posted 08/09/2007 at 10:01:11

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Thankyou David for an intelligent well thought out article that includes a sensible analysis of the current state of the premiership.It is a great relief to see such an article on the toffeweb forums about football.It would be nice to get more points against the ’top four’ but last year we were for the first time in years competitive against those sides and i believe none of them see us as three points in the bag anymore.COYB
glen strachan
14   Posted 08/09/2007 at 23:27:20

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Excellent stuff David and important to stress the fact that just as the others are ready to use this season to ’bed in their new players’ , we will be in a good position to further strengthen in the summer.

Even more importantly we have all of our ’core players’ signed for years ahead.

Put another way this should be the WORST Everton squad that we will be watching for the next five years and considering the talent that is here now that is a hell of a thing to look forward to.

Just great to read another positive voice on the subject of our beloved Blues !

Thanks David !

David Roscoe
15   Posted 10/09/2007 at 09:11:37

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Some interesting comments about where points are picked up during the season. Joe is absolutely right about scoring points against the teams lower down the league ? if this isn?t achieved, any of the good work against the top teams goes to waste. As Joe points out, it is probably one of the reasons why Liverpool have fallen short in recent years.

Lee?s point is also interesting. To get involved in the competition at the top, denying other teams points may prove to be just as important as winning them ourselves. Looking at the points totals of the games between the top 6 teams last season, it shows that Everton aren?t doing too badly:

Arsenal 15
Chelsea 16
Everton 12
Liverpool 13
Man Utd 20
Tottenham 7

At least it is a big difference from a few seasons ago, when most of us probably expected to lose home and away to the other teams in this group!

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