At the beginning of the season, Everton looked like a team that meant business under new boss Ronald Koeman. For the first few months of the campaign, the Toffees were being talked about as a team who were realistic contenders for a top-four finish.
Some rather over-optimistic onlookers were even talking about Koeman’s side being title contenders.
Very few Everton fans were amongst that number, as they knew the team were still recovering from two years of underachievement under Roberto Martinez.
That early season form drifted and between September and the end of 2016, the Toffees had dropped off the pace for even the top-six reckoning.
Tantalisingly close to the top-six
Everton have been in fantastic form since a late 1-0 derby defeat against Liverpool on 19th December. Since that defeat, the Toffees have suffered just one defeat, which came at second place Tottenham.
On Saturday the Merseysiders recorded a 3-0 win over a stubborn West Brom side at Goodison Park. The win was the Toffees fifth consecutive home win on home soil in the Premier League. It was also the first time in four seasons that the Merseysiders had scored against the Baggies at Goodison.
The win was a typically assured home display. They prodded and probed at a West Brom team that came to defend and were doing well until the opening goal arrived on 39 minutes. After the first goal went in there was only ever going to be one winner.
Everton have turned Goodison Park into a fortress once again. The Toffees have suffered just one home defeat in their last 17 league games at their grand old stadium.
The West Brom win put them within touching distance of sixth place Manchester United, who are now just two points above them, albeit with two games in-hand. Next Saturday Koeman’s men could temporarily move above the Red Devils with a home win over Hull.
United play at Middlesbrough on Sunday in the early kick-off and would still have three games in-hand on the Toffees.
Outsiders for a top-six position
Even if the Toffees move above United next weekend then they will still be considered outsiders to make the top six at odds of 13/2. Those odds illustrate that United are still some way ahead of the Toffees in the race to secure a top six place.
Jose Mourinho’s side are of course still in contention to make the top four this season. However, four draws in their last six Premier League outings has stalled the Red Devils top four challenge. Mourinho’s side will be disappointed with some of those draws coming against the likes of Bournemouth and Hull, who are currently at the wrong end of the table.
United will be highly disappointed if they do not finish in the top four this season after starting the campaign as title favourites, so for United to finish outside the top six will seem unthinkable.
Seventh place is progress for Everton
Following two seasons of bottom half finishes, finishing seventh place this season would have to be regarded as progress for the Toffees. The last two seasons have not been a truthful representation of the players in that Everton squad.
Everton fans will no doubt look back at those poor few months earlier in the season with regret. Had the Toffees won just a few of those games they would be right up there challenging for a top six or even top four spots now.
Koeman’s side are now just five points behind arch-rivals Liverpool, although the Reds do have a game-in-hand which will take place later today at Anfield against travel-sick Burnley.
Everton’s next few fixtures after the Hull game are away at Liverpool and Manchester United. These games will test their resolve and serve as a gauge to where they are as a team.
In recent seasons the Toffees have struggled against both of their north west rivals, especially Liverpool. If Koeman’s team can pick up points from those games, then maybe the Everton fans will start to believe a top six finish is possible this season.
For now, though, they have broken clear of West Brom who are eighth. It is hard to argue with their claim to be the best of the rest. Finishing seventh and bringing European football back to the club will represent progress, even if it’s not finishing in the top six this season.
Can Everton really break into the top-six this season?
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