The £50m question: Could Everton steal Liverpool's hopeful top 4 spot?

A race for a lucrative place in next season's Champions League place is already heating up between the Merseyside rivals.

'We are certainly aiming high,' said Everton midfielder Leon Osman, as quoted by Sky Sports today, following the club's 2-1 victory over Southampton on Sunday, December 29.

Currently fourth in the Premier League table, Everton have now upset what had slowly been threatening to be the consensus top four teams in England, pushing local rivals Liverpool out of a possible entrance into next season's Champions League competition.

It may be a temporary turnaround, but considering Everton's ambitions, the current roster of players and the burgeoning credence that Roberto Martinez enjoys, their stay inside the top four positions may be no bonny sojourn but more a permanent residency.

A 1-0 blip to Sunderland aside, Everton have had quite a month… with four wins in the division (one of which was scored against Manchester United at Old Trafford), as well as a 1-1 draw at Arsenal's manor, a game in which a number of Gunners lauded Everton as their toughest test in all competitions up to that point.

On their current position and whether they can maintain it, Osman continued: 'I think you have to aim for it - if you are not, you are not really setting yourself any targets. We are certainly aiming high. We are still up in the fight and we are aiming to try to get as many points as we can.

'We are ticking along nicely.'

Positional occupancy in the Premier League can often reside on slim margins but secured by big players.

For Liverpool, they come no bigger than Luis Suarez, undoubtedly one of the greatest footballers in world soccer at present, who is assisted by fellow strike partner Daniel Sturridge and chance creators Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho.

Everton, though, also brag game-changers: the brand of football adhered to by Martinez is helped by James McCarthy, while youngster Ross Barkley is in the midst of a breakout season, Gareth Barry has been a revelation in midfield and Romelu Lukaku is a physical nuisance for opposition defenders and a near constant goal-threat.

Barkley, if Manchester Evening News reports are to be believed, could be the subject of a £50m bid from Manchester United and, while the majority of clubs fans would cherish the Englishman's continued service, could a sale of that magnitude benefit the Goodison Park outfit in both the short and medium term?

At Swansea, Martinez oversaw the development of Joe Allen and recruited Ashley Williams from the lower leagues before acquiring Victor Moses at Wigan Athletic. He understands the Spanish market, is a successful negotiator on a budget… particularly when dipping into the loan market and, it stands to logic, that he could do wonders with a heftier budget, but should that come at the expense of Barkley?

image: © zachleat

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