The seemingly unassailable gap from February has shrunk, Villa have collapsed and despite the naysayers Everton have continued to pick up points even without Arteta or first choice striker; Moyes has managed to fashion a midfield that can create chances and play a little.
If we had held out against Villa and Arsenal in the last seconds at Goodison or not been robbed of the winner against Chelsea, we'd already be sitting in 4th (in fact we'd be 2 points ahead of Villa and Arsenal). And of course if my auntie had bollocks... she'd be my uncle.
Naturally we'd all prefer to be in that position (the points that is, not the auntie with gonads), but there's still a quarter of the season to go and there'll be more twists and turns yet.
The question now that we're closing in, is can we really do it and how? As I see it there are three stages to our bid for a CL place: 1. overhauling a struggling Aston Villa; 2. catching a resurgent Arsenal; and 3. winning our own games
1. Overhauling Aston Villa: As many have predicted, their luck not to mention their confidence appears to have run out. Like Man City last year and Portsmouth the year before (and to be fair us the year before that) they've simply run out of steam at a crucial point. The next 3 games against Liverpool, Man Utd and us could knock the stuffing out of them completely. I can see them taking 1 point max from the first 2 games and then it's down to us to either overtake them or stretch the lead. After that, they've got a run-in against likely UEFA spot 7th place chasers (West Ham, Fulham) and likely relegation battlers (Middlesboro, Newcastle, Hull and Bolton).
Earlier in the season you'd have had them down to win most of those games, once confidence is further cracked it'll be tough.
Verdict: We can overtake them on 12th April.
2. Catching a resurgent Arsenal. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece where I virtually wrote off a stumbling Arsenal...now that looks naieve to say the least. The penalty shoot out in Rome definitely went the wrong way for us. What could have been a post-Fiorentina style slump instead became a rallying call which then saw then thump Blackburn at home at the weekend, effectively cementing an extra point lead in the form of goal-difference. With Arshavin starting to click and Fabregas to return for the run-in, hopes of Arsenal continuing to easily squander points are abating fast.
However, there is room for optimism. For starters I think that the Blackburn game was a bit of an aberration (they were very poor), that Arsenal still lack strength in midfield and can be frustrated and bullied by defensively organised teams and are unlikely to have Fabregas back to full fitness till May. This year they've proved prone to plenty of random results and whilst I'm not sure either Newcastle or Man City can provide them, they could well trip up over Middlesboro, Wigam and Stoke. They also have plenty of distractions, in the form of CL quarter finals and FA Cup quarter/semi finals. Ultimately though our best bet has to remain with the other big 3 - games against Liverpool in April and Man U and Chelsea in May should clip at least 4 points from their wings if not more.
Verdict: We need to get close to them by the end of April so that we're in striking distance come the middle of May.
3. Winning our own games Obviously this really is the crux of the matter. Whilst Arsenal and Villa have plenty of points-draining fixtures, at the end of the day that only matters if we can secure the points. Without the front-line options of Yak and Vaughan that was tough, without Arteta tougher still and if Cahill's knock turns out to need the treatment table then suffice to say that ratchets it up another notch.
The good news is that 8 of the 9 games ahead are genuinely winnable against sides that are below us (I've marked down a Hiddink-inspired, potentially still title chasing Chelsea as a 0 pointer), our final three games are likely to be against teams with not too much to play for by this point (i.e. Spurs safe, West Ham in 7th and Fulham drifted to mid-table) and only Sunderland are relegation battlers.
Verdict: To be in with any sort of chance we're going to have to win the majority of these games (I'd say 7) and only drop 5 more points. It's still a long shot with our small and depleted squad, but I actually do believe we can do it. It won't be pretty and we'll be grinding out results in some (if not most) matches, but if we can keep the squad fit and keep on rolling... you know it might just work.
All that said, I have to say that ultimately a top 6 and the FA Cup semis is a solid season ? take into account a terrible start and long term injuries to our 2 best players and I'd even argue it's a good season.
Should we manage to squeek to the FA Cup final, it's a very good season. Throw in CL qualification as well and quite frankly I'd be over the bloody moon. COYB!
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1 Posted 17/03/2009 at 14:52:51
I disagree about the result for Arsenal in Rome. Their squad is still not good enough to compete on 3 fronts and by them maintaing interest in the CL they may well shift focus from the league. A draw for them tonight would be ideal as well.
2 Posted 17/03/2009 at 15:18:06
3 Posted 17/03/2009 at 15:17:48
At this moment in time we should now be on course to finish 6th, anything above that will be a bonus. Let's just take each game at a time and see where we go.
4 Posted 17/03/2009 at 16:07:25
And with Mo?s new hair, it's like a new signing!
5 Posted 17/03/2009 at 16:13:19
Now, he must take more risks, which I am not sure he will want to do. It is not really in Moyes's philosophy to attack away from home, even though we have done well on the road. Whether he is adventurous enough may well determine whether we get to 4th. I fear he will not be positive enough.
6 Posted 17/03/2009 at 16:07:56
My money is on it not happening.
7 Posted 17/03/2009 at 16:39:17
8 Posted 17/03/2009 at 17:00:20
9 Posted 17/03/2009 at 16:48:26
To be fair, even Villa’s own fans (those that have been quoted or interviewed) have called it how it is and reflected on the run of extraordinary luck they had when winning 7 successive away games whilst being played off the park in 6 of them.
The challenge now is Arsenal & they are clearly hot favourites. They’ve found their scoring boots and they’ve got almost half a team returning from injury. Oh yes, and they’ve got Arshavin who is just fucking brilliant. So the race might be on, and I forecast precisely this a few weeks back, but whilst I had some faith then that we could do it, not so sure now.
I made my prediction (of us sneaking 4th from Arsenal, with Villa 6th) based on our ability not to fuck up, e.g. give away silly goals, concede late goals, not see games out, that sort of thing. Apart from Arsenal finding the net again, something else has happened to temper my faith in our stability. I refer of course to our manager breaking up the best defensive partnership I’ve seen for years & moving Jags to RB.
Some on TW have already scoffed at this scenario. They’re fools. The fact is we have now started conceding goals, central defense is looking less solid and Howard has looked more edgy. And we’ve only played Newcastle, MBoro & Stoke.
I thought we’d nick it by 2 or 3 points from Arsenal. Now, with them seemingly over their poor patch & our team unbalanced, especially at the back, I think the chance has probably gone. Thing is, what will Moyes do when Hibbert returns? seems crazy to force yourself to make 2 changes when you can get by with only 1. Unless Yobo stays in...
Keep the faith.
10 Posted 17/03/2009 at 17:01:18
But I think Moyes has decided to go for it, especially looking at his selections of late. Playing Jo, Felaini and Cahill together with both Pienaar and Osman is quite aggressive for Moyes if you look back. Basically a solid back 5, Neville as the link man, and an attacking front 5.
Perhaps Moyes has decided to try and win every game, knowing every game is winnable, and knowing he has to beat Man U to get to the final means we need to be in that mode of football before April 19th.
That in itself is real progress; the desire to win games and not just "not lose" them. I think we should expect to lose a game and if I had to pick a game to lose it would be Chelsea (A) so that will keep the pressure on Man U and Liverpool. We’re not going to catch those three anyway. But I would rather lose to Chelsea by trying to win than by trying to not lose. Chelsea (A) is also 3 days after the FAC Semi (A) so you have to feel it will be a hard night’s work at the Bridge.
As everyone says, we need to prepare for one game at a time but we need to do it using football that can win the FAC and get us our best possible league position.
11 Posted 17/03/2009 at 11:32:49
Everton's remaining fixtures: Portsmouth (A), Wigan (H), Villa (A), Chelsea (A), Man City (H), Sunderland (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (H), Fulham (A).
Arsenal's remaining fixtures: Newcastle (A), Manchester City (H), Wigan (A), Liverpool (A), Boro (H), Portsmouth (A), Chelsea (H), Manchester Utd (A), Stoke (H).
Aston Villa's remaining fixtures: Liverpool (A), Manchester Utd (A), Everton (H), West Ham (H), Bolton (A), Hull City (H), Fulham (A), Boro (A), Newcastle (H).
It seems to me at times that some people (particularly the BBC, SS etc) forget that the Blues were 4th in the league around this time last season, and whilst Liverpool had a game in hand, we had a chance to cement our position by getting a win in the Anfield Derby. We all remember the poor performance, and I doubt anyone had expected us to do it in the wake of the Fiorentina game.
David Moyes, Steve Round and some supporters have been saying for weeks now that 4th place is not out of our reach and is still our aim. I've been dismissing this notion, thinking that catching 2 clubs was too much to ask, with the FA Cup to consider as well (for the record, I would still much rather win the Cup than take 4th place, but why not both?). Yet Villa continue to slip up and we are now only 4 points behind both clubs, albeit with inferior goal difference, with 9 games to go. 27 points still to play for.
Arsenal look to be scoring goals again, and have key players returning but remain involved in the Champions League as well as the FA Cup (remember they are still to play their quarter final as I write this), and whilst Villa still have time to recover their poor current form, their small squad looks to be feeling the effects of their season starting in July. Their next 2 games look extremely difficult too.
Now I am aware of our limitations too, the squad is stretched hugely and we are not playing good football at all, though there are definitely signs of improvement. We also still have to go to Stamford Bridge, and Craven Cottage, and we all know how our record is at those grounds.
But a highly achievable 6 points, or even 4 could see us climb ahead of Martin O'Neill's team before we head to Villa Park on the 12th, where their form is far from impressive. Arsenal have difficult games in their run in too, travelling to Old Trafford and Anfield.
I fear Arsenal may have too much experience of the run in for 4th but against the better teams I think they are suspect defensively, despite a run of recent clean sheets against the likes of Sunderland and Fulham. The experience and form of Phil Neville I think will be vital to this run in, and I honestly think we have a far better chance than is being made out. Of course Rafa could show his usual ineptitude by following something spectacular with something abysmal and Villa could get something at Anfield this weekend. But until then, I'm feeling far more optimistic than I expected.
I realise this article is a lot of ifs and buts and it's difficult to predict this weekends games, never mind in a months time but regardless ? opinions? I suppose my point is that I think our run-in looks good, and I'm confident which is unlike me. Can we do it?
12 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:30:37
13 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:18:21
"I suppose my point is that I think our run-in looks good, and I?m confident which is unlike me. Can we do it?" ? Was that sentence meant to sound as oxymoronic as it does?
You shouldn?t have spent so much time presenting everyone?s fixtures. I?m sure we?ve all scoured them by now. Personally I think games at this stage of the season are won in the head before they are won on the pitch. Whoever?s bum squeaks last, or not at all, will prevail.
Villa?s bum is currently squawking like a seagull with a sardine. They?ve blown it (at least in terms of beating Arsenal). After last weekend, and if truth be known, for a few weeks now (with the exception of the Fulham FA Cup result) Man Utd have been stuttering. It would not surprise me at all if Man U?s bum gave way. Vidic was shite against Liverpool and now they have to switch things around. For almost all of this season Man U?s victories have mainly been by 1 goal. That?s not champions form.
The best time to hit form is right now. Most teams that come good are able to sustain a run of 6 - 10 games. Teams that start to kick-on and win games by 3 or 4 clear goals at this stage of the season are the ones to fear. Thus Arsenal have put down an impressive marker. I won?t even consider the effect on confidence of putting 8 goals past real Madrid & Man Utd within 5 days.
As for the good old blues; we really need to kick-on, but I can't see where that is coming from now that Mikel is out. Thus there is even more emphasis on our defence to keep teams out and provide the platform that enables us to win games by 1 goal. And yes, as I?ve stated 20 times on other threads in the past fortnight, I just can?t see us doing it with our most important central defender playing right-back & the obvious imbalance that is creating.
I think we have a spine of players who simply don?t blink. That was what I thought would carry us through. It was Howard-Jagielka-Lescott-Neville-Cahill. As much as I love him in may ways, Joe Yobo does not breed the same confidence. Howard?s recent wobbles just prove it. I hope to hell that I?m wrong, but my confidence has slipped.
14 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:28:20
Does not bode well for 4th place.
15 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:36:32
Arsenal are a different proposition unfortunately. They have a relatively good team spirit and are used to the pressure of the run in.
I firmly believe the semi final will have a significant effect on morale with a real boost if we win and a kick in the guts if we lose.
The other factor is the supporters' effect. Villa ? booed off the pitch for the last couple of games... and if we win the semi-final, Evertonians will be dancing in the streets.
ALL THAT IS CERTAIN IS THAT NOTHING IS CERTAIN.
16 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:26:14
I don't know.
17 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:57:14
18 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:54:00
Arsenal are brittle and face a tough run-in, and if they show their experience at finishing fourth then it is our job to test them all the way.
As for Villa, they get a result against Liverpool and they are back in it, we know how Liverpool can be at home. Liverpool should win but they often don?t.
That said, I am with the Villa bubble has burst brigade. Martin O'Neill showed a winning team how to lose in my view. All they had worked for before he dismissed as nothing and he introduced the doubt.
Conversely, whilst Everton have their problems, they are further down the road of progression than Villa and despite key injuries have much more mental strength, goalscorers throughout the team and a solid defence to get us home this time.
Our lads really want to win stuff. This was blatantly obvious after the 2nd half v Boro and the home game at Stoke. Win this Saturday we have enough about us with our run-in.
19 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:48:58
Arsenal as always will be there or thereabouts and despite a few setbacks this season Wenger and company will be looking at a champions league berth, or at the very least a Uefa Cup spot.
I had to do a double take when I saw West Ham were now behind us in the league, they came up on the rails double quick, but there will be little to cheer around Upton Park this season. I can?t see them overtaking us for european honours, it will not happen, I am sure of it.
We are approaching accolades on two fronts, both with the league to play for and of course the small matter of a first semi-final appearance in fourteen years against none other than MUFC. I noticed on here a month or two ago that people would rather take as high a league finish as possible, by that I assume they want champions league football again, rather than an FA Cup Final victory. Just for arguments sake I would go for the FA Cup, our first trophy of any kind for 14 years, we have to win a trophy, it?s been too long since the last silverware.
People are entitled to their preferences, and if league places reinforces us as a leading Premier League side then I won?t argue with it. The thing is trophies seem so close this season, it?s only two games to a piece of silverware, I am under no illusions that we have a job on our hands to win anything, but with still all to play for we just may yet see a trophy at Goodison after such a long wait.
Sorry for any seemingly incoherent rambling, but just my thoughts on the weeks ahead.
20 Posted 17/03/2009 at 19:56:50
In each of the three times I have done it this week I have had Everton (and I try my best not to be unrealistic/bias) overtaking Arsenal into 4th after the penultimate weekend of the season. That means that we will have to go to Fulham and win to be sure of CL qualification. If ever there was sufficient motvation to end a 43 year jinx at a particular ground then this is it.
21 Posted 17/03/2009 at 20:50:21
I tried a few times and my worst case scenario is Everton, Arsenal and Villa all with 65 points with Arsenal having the better goal difference.
I hope our "easier" run-in doesn't make us complacent.
22 Posted 17/03/2009 at 22:10:31
23 Posted 18/03/2009 at 07:24:10
24 Posted 18/03/2009 at 08:50:36
It’s hard to see us continuing our form until the end of the season. We’re currently on a fantastic run and history dictates that Everton will drop points in the final 1/4 of the season.
I think Pompey away is a massive game, we’re showing signs of going off the boil, especially away from home. Pompey are in a bit of a mess and if we can get a confidence-booster from that game, maybe we can continue the great run that we’re on.
Personally, if we get ahead of Villa before we go to their place, I’d put the emphasis on not losing against Villa and Chelsea, especially away and without Arteta’s creativity. Normally, I prefer us to take the game to our opponents, but a couple of games lost on the bounce might knock the wind out of us.
The other games are absolutely winnable and, at this stage, the longer we go unbeaten, even if we win less often, the better our chances of not blowing up. If we can get through the next 4 games unbeaten, which is a huge ask, we have a great chance of finishing the season unbeaten.
Quietly optimistic, I expect 5th and hope for 4th.
25 Posted 18/03/2009 at 09:14:07
If we win away from home it will be by 1-0 scorelines and keeping it tight at the back. If we’re conceding easy goals it becomes very difficult to score 2 away from home and less likely we’ll win. For me, if we’re to finish 4th, Jags needs to go back to the centre.
26 Posted 18/03/2009 at 09:58:07
Admittedly we have looked ropey beyond belief against West Brom, Boro & Stoke but 3 wins is 3 wins and wins breed confidence. For me there are additional factors to take into account.
We have 3 games prior to Wembley. Should we go out of the cup that day will this see a Fiorentina style effect?
Will Villa’s luck continue to catch up on them after their early season fortune. Also having only used 19 players in the league this season will fatigue show itself?
We realistically have a smaller squad than at any other time in recent years. Talk of Hibbert and Vaughan returning, whilst encouraging doesn’t sound as good as Arteta and Yakubu returning. One more season ending injury could see the wheels well and truly come off.
Will Arsenal have the squad to cope with challenging on 3 fronts or will last nights result galvanise them?
Or simply are we just spouting speculative thoughts to once more build up expectation so that come the summers the Anti-Moyes squad can blame the Ginger Leader once more for opportunities missed!
Football is a game of ’if only’s’ and ’what if’s’. For every Villa 93rd minute sickening defeat, there is a Bolton 93rd minute joyful win. Arsenal equaliser and City winner. We had a bad summer, a terrible start and some shocking results and worse injuries. Despite this we have once again defied the odds to establish ourselves in the top 6 and reach the FA Cup Semi Final with 3 teams in the top 5......the only reason the other 2 teams in the top 5 are not there IS BECAUSE WE KNOCKED THEM OUT!!!!!!
Reasons to be cheerful? Absolutely! The kick point to move on be it this season or next? Hopefully! Proud to be Blue???? Without a doubt!!!!
Let’s just be patient, get behind the lads and get there together!!!!!!
27 Posted 18/03/2009 at 13:20:31
28 Posted 18/03/2009 at 14:00:10
The doubt I have is the general form we show in the last ten games as highlighted above by a previous poster.... interesting reading...!
29 Posted 18/03/2009 at 14:20:33
Don’t wish to blame Joe Yobo as I like him a lot, but the facts are there. We are now leaking goals that we wouldn’t have a few weeks ago and the whole defense is becoming unsettled, including Howard.
I think Moyes has made a mistake and he will now have two decisions to make when Hibbert comes back, rather than just one. Unnecessary upheaval IMHO.
Ray Walker - I’ve written at length about this. It’s been a consistent & worrying phenomenon during Moyes’ reign that we do crap in the final quarter of the season. Could be fatigue from small squad (a la Villa), but you could almost set your clock by it.
I had, and to some extent still have, a sense that it will be different this season. But with the shitty injury situation, and the strangeness of Jags at right-back, I wonder just how different. I am looking to Pienaar, Osman & Fellaini to really step up & fill the Arteta void. And I am hoping more than anything else for a cameo, however brief, from James Vaughan.
One thing that Vaughan does brilliantly is unsettle defenders with his hustling, strength & pace. Would be a fabulous boost if the kid is available for the final push.
And, at the risk of harping on, at Pompey this weekend I know for sure that my heart will be in my mouth with Yobo, rather than Jags, in the centre. Jags & Lescott almost guarantee clean sheets. Not so at the moment. I feel that we will need 2 or 3 to be sure, rather than just the 1. It’s a big ask & I just don’t understand Moyes on this one.
30 Posted 18/03/2009 at 14:37:41
31 Posted 18/03/2009 at 14:44:35
32 Posted 18/03/2009 at 18:53:30
Arsenal still have to play Liverpool, Chelsea & Man Utd. So, whilst I wouldn?t rush out & stick a bet on us doing it, I?ll stick with it until mathematics intervene.
This semi-final Wembley/Sunday bollocks is worse than I realised, as we have to travel back down to London to play Chelsea on the Wednesday too. That all smacks of being a tadge unfair to me. Almost certainly a Chelsea or Arsenal fan within the FA did this nonsense.
33 Posted 19/03/2009 at 04:50:22
They probably said that even if Arsenal or Chelsea have an away match on the Wed then it is ok to get them to play at Wembley on the Sat since it is local for the players. The FA were probably too scared of AF?s reaction if they end up with a situtation such as Man Utd playing away at Barcelona on the Wed evening then travelling to London to play again on the Sat.
34 Posted 19/03/2009 at 10:26:51
I honestly don’t think a defeat to Man U in the semi-final would have the Fiorentina affect.
Don’t get me wrong, I want us to win the whole thing, but I can’t see the players being overly gutted about a defeat to the best side in the country in the FA Cup semi-final. If we get spanked 6-0 then maybe, but if we give a good account of ourselves then we have nothing to be ashamed of whatever the result. The problem with Fiorentina was that we didn’t turn up in Italy and then only had ourselves to blame for not going through despite being a much better team (as demonstrated at Goodison).
Immediately before the semi final we go to Villa, then immediately after the semi-final we go to Chelsea and then we have a home game against Man City the following weekend. Those four games will shape our season, so we have to look at Portsmouth and Wigan as confidence builders.
On the penultimate weekend Arsenal go to Man U (who could be looking to clinch the title in the final home game), Villa go to Middlesboro (who could still be looking to fight off relegation), we play at home to West Ham! If we are in striking distance by the time this weekend comes around we will have a good chance of going into the last day in control. COYB!
35 Posted 19/03/2009 at 13:24:22
We?ve been terrible lately but managed to nick the points... you cannot get a Champions League place with a 4 point deficit to Arsenal with luck.
Face it lads... it?s not going to happen... a quick glance at our performances against Boro, West Brom and Stoke... shows that we are sturggling at the moment..
With our injuries and lack of quality, 6th is a superb achievement.
Not exactly my ambition for Everton, but the best we can achieve at the moment.
36 Posted 19/03/2009 at 19:40:59
It?s indeed a fun game.
37 Posted 19/03/2009 at 21:23:02
The greatest defenders ever to play the game would struggle to keep clean sheets with Howard behind them at the moment... He?s having a prolonged Weston, but let's overlook that and blame Yobo. or Moyes. These clueless fuckers keep banging on and on... and fucken on, warning us about "Moyes's mistake" playing Jags right back, but it hasn't cost us a single point and we?ve marched into the semis too.
It's the old law of average game: if they says it every game, they believe they?ll be right sooner or later. Then they?ll be all over the site boasting "I told you so"... forgetting what complete pricks they?ve looked all these weeks.
38 Posted 20/03/2009 at 10:23:59
Can you tell what it is yet? Yobo is a better right back than Jags... and Jags is a better centre half than Yobo... work it out yourself.
39 Posted 20/03/2009 at 13:19:38
If you want to know which games, l'll tell you, then if you have any knowledgeable friends you can go and ask them how he played and why he isn't right back.
Don't try to work it out for yourself... you don't have that sort of time.
40 Posted 20/03/2009 at 15:53:15
And he?s certainly got better attributes for that position than Jags. Don?t let that fact, or the observation that Jags has been pretty cack in right back... or that he was dragged out of a position where he was performing superbly with great consistency ? get in the way of your dozy little point.
41 Posted 21/03/2009 at 06:26:03