As Christmas approaches, all Evertonian’s have been given the gift of hope from Santa Martinez, with Champions League qualification a real possibility. As Everton approach the half way mark of the season, Martinez’s blues are in true contention at the top of the table, mixing it with the big boys of the Premier League. However, over the next few games of the Christmas period, we will find out if Everton’s Champions League ambitions are actually realistic, or just a fairy-tale dream.
Everton’s four festive League fixtures should all be seen as winnable matches, with the Blues scheduled to play all the ‘S’ sides of the Premier League; starting with Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on the 22nd. Due to Swansea’s Europa League campaign, their domestic league campaign is suffering as a consequence. Already 11 points off Everton, and without Nathan Dyer, who is out with ankle ligament damage for around 4 to 5 months, Swansea should be seen as a team that Everton need to be beating, especially if they hope to secure a top four spot this season.
No matter what happens on the 21st/22nd weekend of fixtures, Everton will be playing the bottom of the table, in the shape of Sunderland at Home on Boxing Day. Sunderland have had a torrid time so far this season, and with Everton unbeaten at home in the Premier League in 2013, Sunderland should be seen as a team to beat comfortably at Goodison, with the Blues picking up another three points.
The Toffee’s third festive fixture in the Christmas period is against a very well-drilled Southampton side at Goodison. In the Christmas period, this fixture will be seen as the toughest Everton have to play, even if the Toffees are playing at home. Southampton so far this season have certainly surpassed expectation; flying high and playing great football under Pochettino. Southampton will certainly be eyeing up some form of European football at the end of this season; so when the Saints visit Goodison Park, it will not be an easy game in any way for the blues. Especially regarding how Pochettino gets Southampton to press high up the pitch when his team are not in possession of the football, and with Distin and Jagielka occasionally looking vulnerable under Martinez’s philosophy of playing out from the back, Everton could find themselves in a spot of bother come the 29th December.
The final game for Everton in our festive schedule sees the blues visiting a transformed footballing Stoke side. Mark Hughes has got Stoke playing some lovely football so far this season, and have been unlucky not to pick up more points than they find themselves with. Stoke are currently sitting in a modest 13th position in the league and are already 13 points off Everton; so therefore this should be a match that Everton would only expect to win.
All Evertonian’s would like to think that the Toffee’s could pick up around 10 points in the next 4 games, and if they do, then people will have to start taking Everton seriously as possible Champions League contenders.
However, it is not just the fixtures for Everton that make this festive period crucial for the club, but additionally it is the fact that the other teams around the blues all have an extremely tough run of fixtures and would hopefully drop points in their league runs.
The Christmas fixtures for the other teams competing for Champions League places:
Arsenal: Chelsea (H), West Ham (A), Newcastle (A), Cardiff (H)
Chelsea: Arsenal (A), Swansea (H), Liverpool (H), Southampton (A)
Manchester City: Fulham (A), Liverpool (H), Crystal Palace (H), Swansea (A)
Liverpool: Cardiff (H), Manchester City (A), Chelsea (A), Hull (H)
Tottenham: Southampton (A), West Brom (H), Stoke (H), Manchester United (A)
Manchester United: West Ham (H), Hull (A), Norwich (A), Tottenham (H)
As you can see, each rival team could easily drop a few points in their next four games. Therefore, if Everton drop no points, or possibly only 2 in their fairly easy run of fixtures, then Everton should find themselves in a very promising position running into the 2nd half of the season.
The Christmas period is always seen as a crucial part of the season for every team, because this is the time of the season that the league starts to drift apart, and teams are not so congested with everyone sitting on similar points in their respected parts of the league table. But for Everton, because of their easy fixtures and their rival’s fairly difficult ones, the next four games really are vital for the layout of Everton’s season.
After already losing Gerard Deulofeu to a hamstring injury, it is very important to Everton that they do not lose any other important players to injury, as the Everton squad, even though it is in the best shape it has been in for years, it is still fairly light on numbers compared to other teams in the Premier League. Therefore, if Everton can stay injury free and play as well as they have been in recent matches, then Everton should find themselves in one of the Champions league positions come 2014.
By Toby Fletcher