Everton suffered what can only be described as a hammering at the hands of arch-rivals Liverpool last night, as the Reds won 4-0 in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
As if the result was not bad enough Everton’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku was stretchered off the field with an ankle injury, after the Reds opened the scoring.
For Everton to lose Lukaku will an absolute disaster. The Belgium striker has been first choice striker for the majority of the season.
Lukaku’s status as first choice striker persuaded the Toffees to sell Croatian international striker Nikica Jelavic to Hull for £6million.
Everton have just brought in highly-rated Ivory Coast Lacina Traore on-loan from Monaco, but the giant striker arrived at Goodison lacking match fitness. Everton boss Roberto Martinez may now be ruing the sale of Jelavic.
Scotland international Steven Naismith came on to replace Lukaku in the derby, but then moved to the wing. Winger Kevin Mirallas was moved into the central striking role and may well be used through the midfield in future games with Lukaku set for a spell on the sidelines.
Both teams had injuries for yesterday’s derby, but it seemed that Everton’s affected their performance more than Liverpool’s. Everton went into the derby as the team with the second best defensive record in the Premier League, yet looked vulnerable against the deadly duo of Luis Suarez of Daniel Sturridge.
The key to that was the fact that the Toffees were missing the outstanding Seamus Coleman at full-back and Sylvain Distin at the heart of the defence. The Toffees rather surprisingly started with teenager John Stones at right-back, when derby veteran Tony Hibbert was sitting on the bench.
Boss Roberto Martinez will have learnt some valuable lessons from this defeat. The Spaniard believed that Stones had enough quality, but it was obvious that he did not have Coleman’s know how at full-back.
Costa Rica winger Bryan Oviedo has also been in outstanding form this season. However, the 23-year-old will miss the rest of the season after that horrific double leg break sustained in the 4-0 win at Stevenage in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Toffees boss Martinez rushed the likes of Ross Barkley, Antolin Alcaraz and Steven Pienaar back into the team, despite the trio hardly training and not being match fit. It was a gamble that back-fired on the Spaniard.
Known of the trio really looked match-fit and you cannot afford to field half-fit players in a derby game, especially against the likes of Suarez and Sturridge. Fully-fit centre-backs struggle to cope with the Reds strike-force and Alcaraz was destroyed by the pair.
Even centre-back partner Phil Jagielka was a doubt prior to the game, so Everton did not possess a fully-fit squad by any stretch of the imagination.
There is at least some good news on the injury front for Everton though, as Barcelona wonderkid Gerard Deulofeu is set to return to the Toffees trip to Tottenham next weekend, but this weekend’s clash with Aston Villa will come too soon for the youngster.
A fully-fit Everton starting line-up can compete against any team in the top-flight, as they have proved with a victory over Chelsea, a draw at Arsenal and of course the draw against Liverpool at Goodison earlier in the season.
When Everton have been at their best this season they have had a fully-fit squad and boss Martinez had viable options. At the moment his squad is down to the bare bones, but hopefully the likes of Pienaar and Barkley will soon return to match fitness and Lukaku’s injury is not too bad.
Last night’s game was about more than just local bragging rights on Merseyside. The victory put Liverpool four points clear in the race for the Champions League positions. Fifth place Tottenham host title contenders Manchester City at White Hart Lane tonight and could go joint with the Reds in the Premier League table with a win.
Everton look like they are in danger of losing touch with the two teams above them. With a few days left in the transfer window I am sure that Roberto Martinez would love to strengthen his squad, but a lack of resources may scupper his attempts.
Unfortunately that has been the story of Everton’s recent history, promising seasons ruined by a lack of resources. It looks like this season could be a case of history repeating itself for the Toffees.
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