Everton suffered what now looks like a fatal 2-0 defeat at midtable Southampton yesterday in a must-win game in the race for the top-four.
The defeat was a self-inflicted one with Toffees defenders Antolin Alcaraz and Seamus Coleman scoring own goals in the first 31 minutes of the game.
Everton started the game with a centre-back partnership of injury-prone Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz and youngster John Stones.
Alcaraz was at the heart of the action after just 53 seconds, heading past Tim Howard to give Everton a terrible start to the game.
Alcaraz looked shaky and unfortunately so did youngster John Stones. The 19-year-old had looked solid alongside Sylvain Distin in recent weeks, but without the experienced Frenchman to guide him through he did not look the same player.
Alcaraz was brought into the squad as back-up to first choice partnership Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin. The Paraguayan has not played much football in the last few years, never mind this season. Against Southampton it really showed.
When fit, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin are one of the best central-defensive partnerships in the Premier League. Everton have the third best defensive record in the Premier League table and a lot of that is down to Distin and earlier in the season Jagielka.
Jagielka and Distin between them have all the attributes needed to make the perfect combination. Any team would miss their first choice centre-backs, but for a club like Everton who have not got the biggest squad the pair have been badly missed and their absence could prove costly in the final reckoning this season.
Everton started the season with arguably their best squad of players in a long time. However, Arouna Kone, Bryan Oviedo, Lacina Traore, Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar are all long-term injury casualties. Now in-form Belgian winger Kevin Mirallas is sidelined for the rest of the season.
Even first choice striker Romelu Lukaku endured a spell on the sidelines and during that spell the Toffees lost ground on the top-four, before recovering in the last few months.
Who knows what could have happened if the Toffees had kept everybody fit for the majority of the season. Injuries have an effect on every team. The same could be said of Arsenal, whose title challenge took a hit when a number of key players were ruled out with injuries, including key midfielders Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey.
Everton’s chances of competing for a top-four spot this season will surely have been better if they would have had a relatively injury-free squad, but as it is injuries have been too much for the Toffees squad.
It was always going to be tough for Everton to challenge for a place in the top four of the Premier League, with the big spending of some of the clubs around the Toffees this season. They also lack the experience of Arsenal of finishing in the top four.
A lot has been made of Everton’s loan signings this season, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Gareth Barry playing a big part in Everton’s season so far. However, Barry could yet sign a permanent deal on Merseyside and Deulofeu could also stay on-loan at Goodison for another season.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez pulled-off some great deals last summer and you would not bet against the Catalan pulling something else out the bag in the summer. He will have some money to spend this summer, but he will again have to be creative with his funds.
With his contacts and his ability to spot talent, I am sure that Martinez will be able to strengthen his squad for next season. He will also most likely see the returns of the likes of Oviedo, Gibson and Kone to aid the Toffees challenge for a top-four place next season and likely Europa League campaign.
Everton are in fifth place the Premier League, just one point off Arsenal and fourth place. However, Arsenal now have a game in-hand, which is against struggling Newcastle on Monday. It is difficult to see the Gunners slipping-up in that game.
Even if Everton do fail to make the top-four, which now looks likely, then the Toffees have progressed this season under Martinez. The challenge for the Spaniard is replicating the Toffees form next season and maybe improving even further.
It will be difficult for Martinez and the Merseysider’s to take the step to the next level, but with the Spaniard’s positivity who knows what Everton can achieve next season.
How much have Everton improved under Roberto Martinez?
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!