25/11/2014 12:11 GMT | Updated 25/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Four Things Everton Need to Do to Break Into the Premier League Top Four This Season

Everton wowed Premier League fans with their displays last season, but narrowly missed out on a place in the Champions League after finishing 5th.

This season Roberto Martinez's team have found it hard to replicate the kind of form that took them to the brink of breaking into the notoriously exclusive top four for just the second time.

Despite an indifferent start, however, the Toffees have improved of late and the tightness of the league table so far means that a similar challenge could be on the cards in 2014/15.

4. Establish a Settled Centre-Back Partnership

Over the last few years, particularly towards the end of the David Moyes era, Everton's success on the pitch has been built around defensive stability. The same was true in Martinez's debut campaign as the Toffees conceded just 39 goals over the whole season - the third meanest defence in the Premier League.

But after just 12 games of the 2014/15 campaign, Everton have already leaked 19 goals, which is the second worst after Crystal Palace. Things have improved slightly of late, but one of the keys to challenging for a Champions League place over the remainder of the season will be significantly tightening up at the back and establishing a settled centre-back pairing.

Phil Jagielka has played every minute of every Premier League game so far, however, the captain has been without a regular partner. Sylvain Distin began the season in the team, but was dropped in favour of Antolin Alcaraz in October. The Paraguayan has since been injured and Distin has returned, but Martinez must try and quickly nurture the solid partnership that existed between the veteran and Jagielka in 2013/14.

Alternatively he could dip into the transfer market in January, but there are no guarantees of immediate success.

3. Keep Hold of Key Players

Everton have struggled to keep their best players out of the grasp of 'big' clubs throughout the history of the Premier League. Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott, Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell have all been snapped up for big money in the last 10 years, but to be in with a chance of competing with the likes of Arsenal, the Toffees simply cannot afford to see their stars leave for would-be 'rivals'.

Over the last 18 months, Seamus Coleman has proven himself to be arguably the best full-back in the Premier League. The Irish international is an able defender, but is also one of the team's most important attacking players. His bursting runs produced six goals last season, while he was involved in creating many more and has made a flying start to this campaign.

Such good form has come at the price of rumoured interest from others. Chelsea in particular have been linked with a £22m bid in recent weeks, but even if a hefty transfer fee were to be received, Coleman's contribution would be extremely difficult to replace and selling him would be a step backwards. The same also goes for Ross Barkley and James McCarthy.

2. Find Some Consistency

When Martinez's team came so close to beating Arsenal to fourth place last season, it was the result of an incredible winning streak in March and April, which included a very good 3-0 win over the Gunners. A similar run took Liverpool to the brink of Premier League glory and countless others have enjoyed success by building such strong momentum.

Unfortunately, consistency has been missing so far this season. In 12 games, the only back-to-back wins have come against Aston Villa and Burnley in October, two of the weakest teams in the Premier League.

Everton have shown in recent memory that they are more than a match for the very best opponents in the country, but if they are to compete this season they need to find a level of consistency that will allow them to go on winning runs. It means eliminating poor results such as the 3-2 home loss against Crystal Palace and the lacklustre 0-0 home draw with Swansea.

1. Believe That They Can Achieve

The ultimate weapon in the quest for success in any sport is having the belief that you have what it takes to get there and when Martinez first walked through the door at Goodison Park he told of how his ultimate goal was reaching the Champions League.

The Spaniard almost masterminded what seemed like the impossible last season. The Toffees accumulated a record points tally, but still fell just short of the all-important fourth place and the manager needs to re-instil the belief in the players that they can match such a level of performance and go one better this time around.

Liverpool have fallen on hard times this season, much more than just the loss of Luis Suarez would suggest, in no small part because the players look mentally broken and Everton can learn a lesson from their Stanley Park neighbours.

Having the steely determination and belief that they can get there will be critical if Martinez's men are to be sitting in the Premier League's top four come May.

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