We’ve entered a murky part of our previews, with a few teams that can make a reasonable case for pushing toward the carrot that is Champions League soccer.
Unfortunately for Everton fans, it seems like the Toffees have done the least of that group in the off-season to bolster their squad, and it looks like they will miss out on the likes on a certain American star (what: you were expecting this one?) and a couple of other players they had at least one eye on.
Still, Everton – largely healthy at this point – has some world-class players and was one of the hottest teams in the league to close the 2009-2010 season. But I think they’re going to come up a bit short against the teams directly ahead of them:
2009-10 standing: 8th
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Gaffer: David Moyes (9th season)
Best new signing: Jermaine Beckford – With all the money Manchester City has thrown around, Beckford could be a typical Everton steal. He’s had his problems in the past and does not appear to be the perfect soldier all the time. But the man scores goals, 20 or more the last three seasons for Leeds (granted, in League One). He did not look overwhelmed in cup competitions against Premier League opposition (see: Manchester United), and should be in the prime of his career. I think he’ll do well.
Biggest loss: Dan Gosling – Gosling is off to Newcastle under bizarre circumstances, especially for a 20-year old. It’s not a huge loss, especially with no European football to speak of, but you don’t like to lose talented 20-year old players unless you get a lot of money for them.
Key player: Mikel Arteta – We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Arteta, he scored 6 Premier League goals last season despite being limited to only 13 appearances due to injury.
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But, for the most part, they have been just that, flashes. Moyes would love to have Arteta in 2006-2007 form when the Spaniard started 35 league games, scored 9 times, had 13 assists, and was fouled 100 times. If Everton gets a season like that, the Champions League is certainly not out of the question.
Random fact: I mentioned in a previous preview that Steven Pienaar led the Premiership in fouls suffered last season with 97, but Marouane Fellaini might have been on pace to lead the league in fouls committed, having been called for 67 fouls in 23 appearances before missing the rest of the campaign with an injury. And, of course, Fellaini already lead the league in hair, so that would have been quite the double.
It’s hard to completely erase the dreadful start Everton got off to last season, particularly on the defensive end. The Toffees were only 11th statistically last season there, conceding 49 goals. If I would have told you six months ago a defense with Leighton Baines, John Heitinga, Joseph Yobo, and Phil Jagielka would be one the best in the business, you might have laughed at me, so it might be a little quick to annoint them as such.
Can Cahill, Fellaini, and the others stay healthy for a full season? Past precedent would say probably not.
It really was a remarkable run for Everton at the end of last season, beating Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and whomever else stood in their way. In fact, Everton was destroyed by Arsenal (6-1) in the season opener and lost only once at Goodison Park in the rest of the campaign (in November to Liverpool, of all teams).
When Cahill, Pienaar, Fellaini, Louis Saha (13 goals last season), and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov are at the top of their game, there might not be many better groups in the league, and now you get to add Beckford to that mix, too.
Moyes has also proven he’s in the conversation for top managers in the Premier League. Repeatedly.
It’s a solid lineup, complete with a bunch of veterans (I got this far without even mentioning Tim Howard) and a few youngsters to spice things up, and one that compares favorably to just about anyone else in the league.
But “compares favorably” and “is better than” are two separate animals, in my opinion. I think at the end of the day, as it did last season, it will come down to consistency, and that’s where league success is manifested.
Can Everton play an entire season and stay consistent, beating teams below them and grabbing points when they can elsewhere? Can they avoid an ill-timed slide that may push them from a spot like fourth to seventh? I don’t think so.