Can Everton finish top four?
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises this Premier League season has been the play of Everton under new manager Roberto Martinez. While expectations were relatively low among Evertonians heading into the campaign due to the departures of rising midfielder Marouane Fellaini and longtime manager David Moyes to Manchester United, the former Wigan manager has brought a more aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer to Everton, and the team currently ranks fifth in possession at 56.3 percent, a significant upgrade from the 52.9 percent that it enjoyed last season.
However, this enlightened style of play has not necessarily translated to more wins. Everton finished in sixth place last season in the Premier League, and currently sit in sixth place, 10 points away from the top four (and with it, Champions League qualification). Meanwhile, Everton has technically averaged slightly more goals per game last season under Moyes, while also conceding fewer goals per game in the 2012-13 season.
This does not necessarily mean that Everton has not improved its long-term outlook, and impressive young attacking players like Ross Barkley are a sign that Martinez has the club moving in the right direction. However, the structural issues with this particular Everton team -- specifically the lack of depth at striker, the increased workload on Tim Howard and Everton’s back line and the team’s inability to take advantage of its home field -- present challenges in terms of securing a top-four finish.
Here’s a detailed look at the keys to Everton’s success this season, an examination of the challenges confronting the club and whether the Toffees will finish in the Premier League’s top four....