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An in-depth look at Everton - Is this 'their year'?

Everton under David Moyes’ guidance have long been a side that despite severe financial restraints and fierce competition from rival clubs with considerably bigger budgets, have performed above expectations consistently with The Toffees perennially challenging for European qualification places.

Everton fans were left overjoyed last season when they finished in seventh position in the Premier League one place above city rivals Liverpool however they have long been known as a team who struggle in the early part of the season before hitting form after January.

This has often been a result of losing key players in the summer transfer window without having sufficient time to replace them and thus the team has to take several months to gel together however it appears that this year David Moyes’ side have all the tools at their disposal to improve on last season’s league position and qualify for continental football.

Everton’s early season performances this season have been a far cry from last year’s start to the campaign where the Merseysiders lost six out of their opening ten League fixtures. Following the opening fixture victory over Manchester United at Goodison Park Everton have gone on to take seven points out of a possible twelve with victories over Aston Villa and Swansea City both away from home.

Not only have the results been positive but the performances have been a joy to watch with Everton displaying a real niche for attacking football this season making real use of Marouane Fellaini’s physical presence by playing him in a more advanced role almost as a second striker and the Belgian has responded to this well so far by scoring three goals and providing one assist.

Everton fans along with many neutrals myself included worried for their club this summer when the club agreed to the sales of Jack Rodwell, Joseph Yobo and Tim Cahill to Manchester City, Fenerbahce and New York Red Bulls respectively for a combined fee of £16m and despite Yobo having spent the past season on loan with the Turkish club it was still a loss in terms of personnel.

It was a complete surprise when Tim Cahill left the club following eight hugely successful years at the club but with the Australian international now thirty two years of age it was on paper a tremendous bit of business from David Moyes to make a profit on a player they purchased from Milwall almost a decade earlier.

Everton however made significantly positive moves in terms of bringing players into the club this past summer with the permanent re-signing of South African international Steven Pienaar being a move in the right direction following his impressive performances in his loan spell at Goodison in the back end of last season. Bryan Oviedo was brought in from Copenhagen to provide cover for both Leighton Baines and Phil Neville in both full back positions with the Costa Rican international having the ability to play further up the field in the wide areas of the midfield.

Everton then took advantage of Rangers’ perilous financial situation with the signing of attacking midfielder Steven Naismith whom has had a significant impact so far on Everton’s season providing an element of control and technical ability when brought on from the substitute’s bench. Everton’s summer spending was taken over the £10m mark with the signing of Belgian international Kevin Mirallas who had been heavily linked with a move to Anfield all summer long. Mirallas had just been awarded the Greek Premier League golden boot following his twenty goal haul which aided Olympiakos’ route to the Greek championship joined Everton for a fee rumoured to be around £6m.

He has taken no time at all to settle into the Everton team with the former Olympiakos man adding a touch of international quality to the Everton side and he scored his first goal for the club in Saturday's convincing 3-0 victory at the Liberty City stadium, the Belgian’s pace and technically faultless close control has added a new dimension to Everton’s attack with him playing in any position across the attacking midfield area, almost as if he is a modified ‘false nine’ and with Fellaini’s ability to win most aerial challenges Mirallas could feed off this to contribute a lot more goals this season.

Everton under David Moyes have previously tried to sign a player to play in this role with Diniyar Bilyaletdinov being the most recent acquisition to have tried and failed to succeed at the club bar a few fleetingly impressive performances but it seems as if Everton in the form of Mirallas have finally got the man to take them forward into Europe with him being a potential transfer target for bigger clubs in the future.

Louis Saha is undoubtedly one of the most natural finishers to grace the Premier League scoring goals wherever he has gone from Fulham to Manchester United and in his time at Everton was moderately successful scoring twenty seven goals, following his departure from the club last January to Tottenham Hotspur Everton lacked a natural goalscorer and this has often been a criticism of Everton in the more recent years under David Moyes however this season it looks as if the club have found an answer to this problem in the form of Nigerian forward Victor Anichebe.

The physical presence of Anichebe has caused defences problems throughout his career at Everton which began in 2006 although the Nigerian has found it increasingly difficult to cement a place in the Everton first team on a consistent basis with Tim Cahill occupying the second striker role alongside either Saha or Yakubu for the last few years.

As well as this injuries have not aided Anichebe with the forward missing eleven months in 2009 following a horror challenge from Kevin Nolan which saw Anichebe’s development halted sizeably before the Nigerian suffered a groin injury last year which kept him out for three months.

This season however Anichebe is in with a shout of being David Moyes' first choice striker with both him and Fellaini causing defences problems with their physicality which appears to be a main feature of Everton’s style of football this season complimenting the pace of Baines, Pienaar and Mirallas very nicely indeed. Anichebe as well as strength has pace in abundance and this was seen against Swansea with Anichebe creating several opportunities to score for himself and others in the first half.

Anichebe got Everton off the mark with his second league goal of the season and it was well deserved following an opening twenty minutes of tricky movement and brute strength with caused Swansea’s defence considerable discomfort throughout the opening exchanges. Should Anichebe manage to keep fit there is no reason as to why this can’t be his breakthrough year at Everton with the players around him being fantastically well suited to his game.

Nikica Jelavic who missed out yesterday through injury also gives Everton another option going forward to either partner Anichebe or play instead of the Nigerian and these striking options are a luxury that Everton have not had at their disposal in recent years and this can only serve to aid Everton in their quest for European football once again this year.

Everton’s defence seems a lot more resolute than at this point twelve months ago with the club conceding just five goals in their opening five games, John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin provide a sense of steel at the back which only increases the size of the task teams face when visiting Goodison Park, the central defenders complimented by Phil Neville and Leighton Baines in the wingback roles Everton’s defence will be hard to break down for most teams as Manchester United found out on the first Monday Night Football of the season when the quality of Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia was not enough to break down the stalwart Everton defence.

Tim Howard is as safe a shot stopper as ever with the American already producing the saves he has become so well renowned for so far this season however with the former New York MetroStars man being thirty three years of age now it may not be long before Moyes begins to sound out a potential replacement with Birmingham’s Jack Butland being a much talked about player amid reports of some interest this past transfer window which Blues manager Lee Clark moved swiftly to deny, but as we know, money talks.

Everton’s early season form has not only served as a factual mark of improvement upon last term but it also shows a considerably greater level of team chemistry which is unusual for Everton at this stage of a season. The players all seem to be in tune with one another and as a result of this going forward Everton look dangerous every time they are in possession, in the 2-2 draw at home to last season’s surprise package Newcastle United the Toffees created numerous chances and were unlucky not to come away from the game with all three points, Fellaini was once again causing problems and the ease at which they cut through Newcastle’s defence was yet another positive sign for Everton fans and David Moyes alike.

In every game so far apart from the defeat to West Brom in which the side struggled from start to finish in a performance that in recent years has become synonymous with Everton in the months before January, Everton have looked tremendous going forward breaking through defences with ease. Against Swansea, Everton tore apart a side that had won every one of their Premier League games bar one so far on Swansea’s own ground and were unlucky not to win by an even greater margin. This new brand of attacking football combined with a steely determination at the back can only give David Moyes confidence for the rest of the season however with the Scot stating that he would not look at the table until after the opening ten fixtures there is no chance of complacency among the Everton squad which is yet another quality of a successful team.

The difference this term is that Everton it seems will not be playing catch-up to the other side’s around them in the race for European football next season as they so often have been following a poor start in years gone by and should Everton achieve this the financial benefits and possibilities of bringing in even better players can only serve to improve Everton as a club even further.

David Moyes who celebrated his tenth year in charge at Goodison last season sees yet even more room for improvement despite this good start to the season with Mirallas, Anichebe and the new advanced role for Fellaini having revolutionised The People’s Club style of play from previous years and with Everton having to play Southampton and Wigan Athletic in their next two matches The Toffees could well find themselves in the top four into late October which would leave Moyes feeling content with the teams start and possibly more confident in his team’s ability to stay in that position.

To close, Everton fans somewhat tongue in cheek broke into a rendition of "We're gonna win the league” at Swansea yesterday and whilst this is a more than unlikely scenario there is little evidence so far this season to suggest that Everton can’t have as big an impact on the Premier League as Newcastle United did last term and whilst this is looking significantly far into the future this positive start to the season could well serve to be the sowing of seeds that secures the successful future of  Everton and this could well be the year they consolidate themselves in the Continental qualification places.

image: © isirya

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