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    Everton's Season Defining Matches: Same Old Or Promising Future?

    After a recent resurgence in form, Everton find themselves 6 points away from Champions League qualification with nine games to go and an all but guaranteed Europa league spot. Their next two games involve trips to Anfield and Old Trafford and with Liverpool and Manchester United still in touching distance, these fixtures will potentially define the direction in which the Toffees go for the next few years.

    Forgetting the international break, this is possibly the best time for Everton to face their immediate rivals. They are scoring goals for fun (26 in the 10 games in 2017) and have kept 4 clean sheets in the last 5 games. The squad contains experience from the likes of Baines, Jagielka, Williams and Barry combined with the youthful exuberance of Holgate, Davies, Lookman and Calvert-Lewin. If there was ever a time for them to break the Anfield hoodoo that has plagued them for almost 20 years, this would be it. Liverpool’s form has improved of late but it still remains a little patchier than they would hope for. Manchester United remain unbeaten in the league since October but are also susceptible to dropping points at home. Despite their opponents having obvious weaknesses, Everton seem to have a psychological block whenever they face a top 6 side away from home. They famously freeze, picking up just 1 point from the 3 games they’ve played away from home against the top 6 so far this season. In fact, their last away win against a top 6 side was a 2-1 win over Manchester City on 20th December 2010. This dismal record needs to be forgotten coming into these games if Everton want to consistently challenge for European places.

    It's been over 6 years since Everton's last win over a top 6 side away from home
    Regardless of whether they win both games, Everton would still have an uphill task to break into the top four with Chelsea and Arsenal to play. But by winning two major games away from home, it would prove to the owners, fans and players alike that the club were moving in the right direction to challenge the “big boys” on a regular basis. The likes of Romelu Lukaku, for example, would potentially be tempted to stay for at least another year. It seems that the Belgian’s reasoning for refusing a lucrative new deal was to do with the club’s lack of ambition in the transfer market. Positive results going into the final few games of the season may make him reconsider at least for the short term.  At the same time, Ross Barkley has been reported to be a major target for Tottenham this summer. Like Lukaku, Barkley is 23 years old and reaching his peak years. Despite Everton being his boyhood club, he would surely also be tempted by regular Champions League football? If Everton can sustain a European push, the likes of Lukaku and Barkley would both potentially be more open to signing new deals and seeing how far their careers can progress on Merseyside. Both have been a revelation for the Toffees this season, particularly Lukaku, who is the league’s top scorer at the time of writing. Barkley has also been recalled into the England team and has found a consistency to his play that had always been missing before. A free scoring striker and a consistent, inventive attacking midfielder are assets to any team, so Everton need to hold onto them at all costs.

    Could Barkley and Lukaku find themselves elsewhere come August?
    Beyond this, Everton’s majority shareholder has pumped a significant amount of money into the transfer budget, as proven by the capture of Morgan Schneiderlin for £24 million and the signings of Idrissa Gueye, Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams this summer for a combined fee of over £40 million. Reports are also rife that Wayne Rooney is to return to Goodison this summer. Although not the player that he once was, Rooney still has at least 2 or 3 years at the top level and will add depth to an already talented squad. David Moyes’ Everton side were always respected as a solid side but without the financial clout to mount any kind of regular challenge, consistently finishing anywhere in the top half but below the top 4. Inconsistency under Roberto Martinez saw an impressive debut season tarnished by 2 underwhelming 11th placed finishes but, with the new owners coming in, Everton are arguably in a better position to improve than they have been for almost 30 years. Recent reports also suggest that the club are in talks to secure a new stadium around the Liverpool waterfront. Several pundits have argued that, despite Goodison Park’s great history and atmosphere, the club are being held back by the fact that they cannot extend the capacity beyond its current 40,000. If this new stadium materialises, the extra revenue generated by that would be another positive for the club to enjoy. What better way to increase that ambition than European football?

    Goodison Park has been Everton's home since 1892

    As previously mentioned, the next 2 games for Everton will be a massive test and potential turning point. All bad runs must eventually come to an end and, if this were the time for that to happen, who knows how far this side could go in the coming years? In order for Everton to truly kick on and be something more than the best of the rest, they need to be winning games like Liverpool and Manchester United away. It’s all well and good being hard to beat at Goodison but the real top sides are just as difficult to play against when they’re away from home. It could be a case of now or never for Everton, but the ‘now’ is looking strong at the moment.
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    Item Reviewed: Everton's Season Defining Matches: Same Old Or Promising Future? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: George Kelsey
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