Everton’s 3-0 win away at Newcastle on Tuesday moved them on to 57 points, 6 clear of 7th placed Manchester United with a game in hand, meaning Roberto Martinez looks to have succeeded in attaining European football at the first time of asking. However, Martinez and Everton could be forgiven for looking ahead and dreaming of the Champions League.
Arsenal, currently occupy the 4th Champions League position and although they were until recently considered title contenders they look to have lost the early season momentum which saw them tipped by a few as dark horses for the league. Despite that, Everton are just 6 points behind with a game in hand, win that and the gap is just three. Add to that the fact that Arsenal have to travel to Goodison Park next Sunday and suddenly it isn’t so unreasonable for Everton to dream of playing in Europe’s premier competition.
Everton have been a fresh of air under Martinez, with an average of 56% possession and 83% passing accuracy. A transition that many expected given Martinez’s style of play at Wigan, but one that few would have expected could have gone so well.
Everton have won their last 4 games in the Premier League, in the last two the contribution of Ross Barkley has been vital to their success. Scoring in both of the games, a close range header which turned out to be the winner against Swansea and a wonderful solo effort against Newcastle, Barkley has brought his total for the season to 6.
His goal against Swansea demonstrated positional maturity which will only develop in the coming years if he continues to be given chances, whilst the one against Newcastle highlighted his confidence and ability on the ball. Barkley makes an average of 2.3 dribbles per game and his skill on the ball, not only that but teams aren’t sure how to stop him once he gets going shown by the fact that he is fouled on average 2.2 times each game. His performances this season have been enough to suggest that Barkley will be in Roy Hodgson’s world cup squad, something Martinez certainly believes.
Barkely’s performances will in doubt have been helped by having the experience of Gareth Barry behind him. Shown by the fact that Barkley makes just 1.1 tackles per game, Barry sitting allows Barkley to express himself more and not be burdened by defensive responsibility. Regardless of where Everton finish at the end of the season they must surely look to make that deal a permanent one. Barry has 3 goals and 4 assists so far this season and he too has been playing well enough to get into the world cup squad, although that is unlikely to happen. He looks to have reinvigorated his career and regular match time has seen him recapture the form of his early career.
Another of Everton’s loan players, Romelu Lukaku has been their top scorer so far this season. With 12 goals and 6 assists in 21 games so far this season, perhaps Chelsea are regretting letting the Belgian go again. Lukaku has strength, pace and power, coupled with good feet and technical ability, to call him the heir to Drogba’s throne isn’t unreasonable. The problem for Everton next season will surely be replacing those goals, when you look at how West Brom have struggled for goals this season you can see how they’ve failed to fill the void, and they aren’t competing in Europe as Everton surely will be next season. To replace Lukaku will not be easy and certainly won’t be cheap, although the attraction of European football would be a bonus.
Whether it’s Europa League or Champions League Everton will be flying the flag for England in Europe next season and will be hooping they can have as much success there as they have in the Premier League. Although, perhaps they should look at the plight of Swansea this season and proceed with an element of trepidation.
Statistics courtesy ofwhoscored.com