Mersey tide turning towards Toffees?

TEAMtalk guest Rich Kitto ponders whether the tide has turned on Merseyside following yet another good season for David Moyes' Everton outfit.

Last Updated: 19/04/13 at 07:00 Post Comment

David Moyes: Top-four finish still in Everton's sights

David Moyes: Top-four finish still in Everton's sights

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A hard-fought and well-earned point away against Arsenal on Tuesday night drew Everton fans ever closer to once again naming the current interim manager at Chelsea, and former leader at rivals Liverpool, as 'Rafa Beneath us'. But more importantly it reaffirmed their rightful position and status amongst the elites of the English game.

Whilst the blue half of Merseyside have maintained their consistency to keep themselves in with a shot of Champions League qualification, the red half seem likely to finish in mid-table obscurity after another disappointing campaign.

Is it genuinely time to say the tide has turned? Regardless of history, and focusing on the here and now, can Everton fans rightfully claim that theirs is a better team than neighbours Liverpool?

Somewhat unassumingly amongst all the talk of the 'Big 4' and Spurs, Everton have gone about their job this season without much complaint. Never one to demand the limelight but certainly deserving more of it, David Moyes and his team have recently shone in what has been a rather meagre period for many others.

With a real break from the norm, the Toffees started the 2012/13 season with real vigour upon winning four of their opening six league fixtures, before seven draws in nine from October through to December seemingly slowed things down. But four wins in their past six games, including positive results against both Manchester City and Spurs prior to the Arsenal game, has given them a genuine chance of a second bite at the Champions League cherry.

As the wheels appear to have fallen off this season for Tony Pulis and Stoke amongst growing criticism from supporters, much has been said of creating a rod for your own back and becoming a victim of your own success. Previously such clich├ęs have been thrown at Moyes, who on countless occasions (including during the difficult results in the run-up to Christmas last year) has had to defend his methods and ability to continuously improve his small Everton squad that consistently punch above their financial weight.

Whilst his club may not always get the praise they deserve, Moyes is very highly regarded within the game - perhaps none more so than by his close friend Sir Alex Ferguson - and many see Moyes as the natural replacement to Sir Alex when he finally decides to hang up his pleats.

He has done an absolutely superb job of turning Everton from relegation battlers to European contenders in his 11 years at the club.

Former Toffees keeper Neville Southall described Moyes' financial work at the club as 'juggling dust', a very apt description for the manner in which he is forced every year to toil on with a tiny budget and depleted squad.

Following in the footsteps of Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott and Mikel Arteta, Jack Rodwell departed Goodison Park last season with a hefty price tag round his shoulders, leaving another gap to fill in the team.

While Rodwell has struggled at City through injury, Everton have flourished with Marouane Fellaini - the all-or-nothing super stylish Belgium frontman - taking up a role between midfield and attack. Though many sense that the transfer pattern will continue come the end of the season as Fellaini continues to show unrest as the heavyweight teams circle.

But Moyes accepts that is the situation, and has proven time and again that what little money he gets is typically reinvested well. In fact, despite of the tight purse strings around Goodison, the Scotsman believes that this is the best Everton side he has ever assembled, saying: "This is the best team since I've been here, albeit the team who got to the Champions League was tough, resilient and worked hard. This team have a little bit more flair."

Never a truer word has been spoken. The Toffees have always played with a fairly consistent approach in recent years - ensure they're defensively sound, be strong in midfield and use a tough central striker to feed a willing runner or two.

Now the return of Steven Pienaar, the experience of Leon Osman, the exuberance of Seamus Coleman, the trickery of Kevin Mirallas, and sheer quality of Leighton Baines has ensured that not only will they stay tight at the back but also pose a real threat going forward.

Of course out of the aforementioned list, it is the mod-looking left-back Baines that is the real standout performer. Having always been regarded as a solid substitute to Ashley Cole at international level, many now argue that the 28-year-old from Kirkby deserves to add to his lowly 15 caps after he became the first player in Europe's top five leagues to create 100+ chances for his team-mates in a single campaign. Whilst Luis Suarez or Gareth Bale will likely take the major plaudits come the end of the season, Baines certainly merits recognition for his efforts.

Of course the season isn't over yet, and many Liverpool fans reading this will point to Sunday May 5, when the Evertonians make a short journey across the city to face their friendly rivals. Prior to that Toffees fans should be expectant against a resurgent Sunderland team, and a Fulham side playing for nothing other than a top-half finish.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have tough games against Chelsea at home (a win-win for Everton) and Newcastle away, so realistically could face the points gap remaining at six going into the crucial derby with only three to play.

For Everton, Champions League qualification could go right down to the wire, as they visit Stamford Bridge for a reacquaintance with an old foe on the season's final day.

Moyes admits that 'not everybody's got the tools, not everybody has the ability' when it comes to winning trophies, but a return to the European main stage and another finish above their city rivals would certainly be cause to reach for the champagne.

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