Of all the Premier League teams to surprise us within the first seven games of the season, (for better or worse) little has been made of Everton's poor start to the Premier League. This may be attributed to the back page focus given to Manchester United's early seasons ups and downs. Moreover, Liverpool's stuttering start has only helped steer attention away from the Toffees' slow start to the season.
Nearly a fifth of the way through the league campaign already and Everton are sitting in 17th with just one win. It's not what fans would have expected after such a bright first season under Martinez. However, there are still 31 more games to play and they're only five points behind Swansea, Tottenham and Man United who sit in the fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively. Everton are aiming for at least some sort of European qualification this season, and there is a sense that any more dropped points within their next few games could cause them to take a step back on building upon their promising previous season under Roberto Martinez.
Leighton Baines missing his first penalty in the Premier League against Manchester United was yet another bad omen. An injury list that includes influential players from last season in Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas hasn't helped and neither has a tough fixture list that saw them play Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in their first seven games.
In previous seasons they'd have expected to get at least one scalp in there, most likely Arsenal at home. Instead, two draws and two losses have given an early indication that they are unlikely to be top four contenders. Especially with a resurgent Manchester United, improving Tottenham and a solid Liverpool side that could cause Everton to struggle for a top six position. The loss to Crystal Palace at Goodison Park was the biggest shock though.
Goals haven't been a problem for the team, with 13 in the league so far, but they've let 16 in at the other end. Record signing Romelu Lukaku has yet to truly ignite after making his move permanent and with his only competition coming from Samuel Eto'o, who looked good in the Europa League, but is otherwise likely to always be a substitute, complacency could become an issue.
Steven Naismith has been the standout player so far with four league goals and impressive performances to accompany them. Baines has been as reliable as ever, but without his partner in crime (Coleman) for a few games, and while Jagielka scored the goal of his life against Liverpool the stats themselves show that with 16 goals conceded in seven games something's not going to plan at the back.
In midfield Gareth Barry is the only player to have started every league game with James McCarthy usually partnering him. Otherwise due to injury or form, Roberto Martinez doesn't seem settled on his best midfield. Besic, Atsu and Gibson have made a couple of appearances each, Pienaar looks less effective and the usual suspect Leon Osman has barely featured. The international break should give Roberto Martinez enough time to mull things over and hope no further players suffer any injuries while playing for their countries.
The age-old Europa League debate can (and will) of course be brought up, as Everton have made a good start in the competition and should progress to the knockout stages. The worry is that if things don't drastically improve in the league, they will prioritise chasing fifth place, allowing their Europa League campaign to fizzle out and end up outside the European places in the league with no decent cup run either. With their current batch of players (admittedly it would help if they were all fit) they have a good shout for Europa League success. Fulham made it to the final with an arguably weaker squad, and last season's winners Sevilla were far from intimidating, so if by Christmas fourth or even fifth place in the league is out of their reach they may as well mount a serious challenge in Europe.
Everton's next five league games will give the best indicator of how they will fare for the rest of the season as they are all winnable games by Everton's usual standards. Anything less than victories, especially in their next two fixtures at home to Aston Villa and away at Burnley, will just not do.
The hope remains that Everton can now kick on, to move up the league table one game at a time.
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