Having won three of their first five games in impressive style, Everton should be added to the legion of clubs challenging for fourth place.
Everton went into their opening league game in 2004 apparently in disarray, the transfer window had seen several important players leave, eventually including Wayne Rooney. Incoming were the relatively unknown Marcus Bent and Tim Cahill. There was also trouble at the boardroom level, where two Chief Executives departed in two weeks. Predictions of relegation gathered momentum after the Toffees suffered a 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal in their first game.
However Everton quickly turned their form around, and finished the season in fourth place, ensuring a place in the qualifying stages on the Champions League.
Since then Everton have often started their season poorly, but this year they have picked up wins against Manchester United, Swansea and Aston Villa, in their first five games. The latter two wins achieved in commanding away performances. Given that the Toffees have also had a habit of finishing the season strongly in the past, if they can give themselves a strong base in the first half of the footballing year, they should be able to improve on the 7th place finish they have returned in the past two seasons.
Clearly the league is very different now to when Everton finished fourth. That year Liverpool, Bolton and Middlesbrough were their closest challengers for the Champion’s League. Whilst Liverpool will likely challenge them again this year, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, who will also be in the mix this season, finished 8th, 9th and 14th respectively. Also Everton’s 2005 points total of 61 would have only been enough to match their 7th place finish last year.
However, Everton currently look the most settled team in the league. Although they haven’t had as strong results as the likes of the Chelsea this season, they are comfortable with their playing style and so have the self-confidence of a team that harbour no doubts about what they are expected to do on the pitch.
They have purchased well over the summer, and, as a result, for the first time in a long time, they seem to have depth in the striking department. This was demonstrated as they dispatched Swansea 3-0 despite the absence of Jelavic.
At the helm, David Moyes is as respected a figure as there is in the Premier League, and his position is rightly without question. This can give Everton an advantage over Liverpool and Spurs, as they look to adjust to their new managers.
On paper Everton may not have the strongest squad, and whether they can sustain their performances through to May is impossible to know. But the absence of doubt in their manager and their style of play, leads to a confidence that manifests itself on the pitch.
They are not going through a period of adjustment, or trying to come to terms with the loss of key players, they are just playing football, and they are playing it very well indeed.