Can Everton Qualify for the Champions League?

Can Everton Qualify for the Champions League?

A 1-1 draw at home to Crystal Palace is nothing to be ashamed of considering the Eagles came out winners across Stanley Park at Anfield, as well as at Stamford Bridge. However, the Toffees may see it as a missed opportunity to go sixth after rivals dropped points over the weekend. Consequently, Palace move into sixth place and the table remains very tight in the top half but do Everton have what it takes to do what they managed in 2005 and finish in the top four?

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Whilst Everton have put on some magnificent attacking performances, defensively they have been susceptible and will be disappointed to concede from another set piece on Monday night. However, they again showed their abilities in the final third and yet again Gerard Deulofeu was a stand out performer whilst Romelu Lukaku netted his 50th Everton goal in only his 100th appearance.

The Importance of Gerard Deulofeu

Coming through the ranks at La Masia, Deulofeu showed a lot of promise but never really got his chance in Barcelona’s first team. He spent the season on loan at Everton a couple of years ago and instantly became a fan favourite with his tricky dribbling and flair. Last season, he spent the season with Europa League winners Sevilla but was not as effective as he was at Goodison Park. Martinez was clearly a fan and the winger returned this summer but Barcelona retain the rights to a 6 million Euro buy back clause.

The Spaniard has been in inspired form in the last couple of months and has found the net once in the league but has contributed six assists since the start of the season. He was a stand out in the week in the 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough, scoring a fantastic goal and creating the other for the rampant Lukaku. Aside from his direct involvement in goals, his chance creation has been phenomenal. He has created 7 big chances, according to expected goals, in less than 700 minutes which is comparable with some of the best playmakers in the world. Deulofeu is ranked 16th in the league for expected goals + expected assists per 90 minutes and is one of the reasons why Everton have been so prolific this term.

Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley

The two attacking players have been in sensational form this season, netting 21 goals and racking up 9 assists between the two of them in 19 appearances in all competitions this season. Both aged only 22, the future looks very bright for the blue half of Merseyside (Deulofeu is still only 21 as well).

Romelu Lukaku has scored the second most goals in the league this season, only Jamie Vardy has more. For a player that Jose Mourinho deemed not good enough for Chelsea, he has certainly proven himself as a top class goal scorer in the Premier League. Not only does he lead the line for Everton, he has also created a lot of chances for his teammates. He occupies defenders and drags a lot of attention away from his teammates that allows them the space to influence the game. Arouna Kone has certainly benefited from Lukaku’s selfless play, just as the others in the attacking quartet.

Barkley has certainly been aided by Romelu Lukaku. The young Englishman has created the most chances for his team with 28 and has been one of the main draws to this exciting Everton side. In previous years, he has been a little underwhelming at times and seemed a little bit selfish, often dribbling into trouble and losing the ball too easily. However, this time around he has been a lot more mature in possession and his decision making has improved no end. Whenever I have seen him play this year he always looks as though he is going to make something happen and hopefully he can take this form into his appearances for the national side as we look towards Euro 2016.

Consistency

Everton had a tough October, not winning a game in the Premier League and earned only one point from facing Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. This was very disappointing for a team that wants to be competing for those Champions League positions. However, they managed to bounce back in November but were still not too convincing. One week they battered Sunderland 6-2 at home before drawing a 1-1 with West Ham, to thumping Aston Villa 4-0 to throwing away the points at Bournemouth. Unquestionably, they have been fantastic at home but they need to carry that form into their away games if they are to challenge the top four.

Conclusion

Overall, the Toffees have been fairly hit and miss. The performances have been good at home but they need to make sure that they continue the good displays on the road. Defensively, they are missing Phil Jagielka who leads the backline but John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori have done an adequate job. With the return to fitness of Leighton Baines, they should have another outlet down the left hand side, although Brendan Galloway has done a stellar job. Tim Howard has been evergreen in net and the midfield duo of Barry and McCarthy has provided great cover and balance to the team.

I see no reason why they cannot challenge for any of the top six places and with Chelsea all but out of the Champions League picture, there is a spot up for grabs. Spurs and Liverpool look the most likely to take it at the moment, but we cannot write off Leicester who currently head the table. I expect to see Leicester, Crystal Palace and West Ham drop down the league over the next two months and Everton will need to improve their away form if they are to beat out Liverpool or Tottenham but the top four is definitely not out of the realm of possibility for such a talented and balanced group.