Everton’s joy of progression to the Europa League Round of 16 on Thursday was cancelled out by a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday as they dropped further down the Premier League table.
The Toffees sit 14th in the Premier League, just six points above the relegation zone with eleven games to play. Roberto Martinez has struggled to stop the side’s slide down the table yet taken the club to a strong position in Europe. Their Europa League form has been good to watch this season, allaying fears of the drop thus far, but will the club Evert danger or get themselves in a sticky mess?
Why they could go down
If their Europa League journey continues then it could be bad news for those who prefer the Premier League. Everton have won just twice following European games this season, and more games equals added fatigue across the season. Furthermore, the club have strength unevenly placed throughout the team with Romelu Lukaku virtually irreplaceable, as is Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and Phil Jagielka. Their depth is adequate at best, with the exception of the midfield area, and fatigue/injuries to key men could prove costly. On top of that, any loss of form by these players is frustrating as Martinez has nowhere to turn to – as seen by Tim Howard’s woeful season so far.
The American stalwart has been an Everton star for years, but this season he’s been hopeless. Clangers have seeped into his game and he’s ended up costing the team points. Martinez refuses to make Joel Robles number one despite a series of errors from Howard. If he continues in games that could swing either way, he could plunge Everton into more danger.
Additionally, the club has a poor defensive record this year. When did an organised defence of Baines, Coleman, Jagielka, Slyvain Distin and John Stones go so awry? The Toffees have leaked goals all season despite scoring aplenty, and Martinez’s refusal to adopt a more conservative system underlines Everton’s shock at being in such a position. In fact, Everton have the 4th worst defence in the league this season, and the 2nd worst at home. It simply has to change in the next 11 games or they will be treading water.
Why they are fine
A quick glance at the remaining fixtures will be a welcome relief for any Everton supporter. The Arsenal result meant that they have faced each of the top three twice this season, and only the home game with Manchester United looks particularly daunting from the list. Games against Stoke, West Ham, Newcastle, Spurs and Swansea will all be tricky, though hardly demanding. 12 more points for Everton should guarantee safety and they could manage that in fixtures against Sunderland, QPR, Burnley and Aston Villa.
Their run in Europe may also be a trigger to sustained progress in the league. A cup exit and the focus will shift, whereas a special night might kickstart their home form. For supporters it must have felt like watching two different Everton teams this season, and the moment when it all clicks has yet to come. Maybe then all the pressure, especially at Goodison, will relax and they can end the season on a high.
Romelu Lukaku is someone who looks to be ending the season that way. His five goals over two legs against Young Boys appears to show his form is returning, whilst another three goals in 2015 so far suggest he’s finding his feet again. Against lesser teams Lukaku can show his striker’s instinct and steer the club clear of the bottom half. A look at his goals this season against Palace, Villa, Burnley, West Brom and Hull certainly proves that, meaning he can be the man to guide the club clear of any danger.