The Champions League is the very pinnacle of modern club football. It is a chance to play the best teams in football on the biggest stage of all. It is a huge draw for players, with clubs able to attract new signings with the pulling power of European football.
This season, England’s top league has no shortage of teams battling for one of the four places that will yield entry to next term’s competition. Chelsea and Tottenham have all but secured their place in next season’s Champions League, while Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are the usual suspect for the remaining two places. However, Everton have emerged as a real candidate for a top four berth this season.
Ronald Koeman’s side have been in fine form this term, winning 16 of their 33 games, scoring 60 goals in the process. While the Toffees do find themselves seven points short of Manchester City having played a game more, it would be foolish to completely discount them right now, considering they are one of the league’s in-form teams, while those above them are dropping points regularly. However, they may have left themselves a bit too much to do with too little time left.
If Everton were to somehow find themselves in a Champions League spot come the end of the season though, how would they fare in the competition come next campaign? While it is impossible to know for sure, there are a number of reasons that point to the Toffees struggling.
First of all, their difficulties start right at the back. Maarten Stekelenburg has played well at points throughout the season, showing that he is capable of putting in high quality performances and pulling off superb saves. However, his injury problems make it difficult for Everton to use him consistently, meaning that he can provide little solidity at the back.
As a back-up goalkeeper in the Champions League, Joel Robles is simply not good enough. In fact, he isn’t good enough for the Premier League, or the Championship for that matter. His distribution is weak, his positioning is poor, his decision-making is awful and he is tentative when trying to deal with crosses. Teams in the Champions League would have a field day against him, meaning Koeman must look to change him if he has serious aspirations of being in the Champions League.
— The Football Social (@footy_social) 3 April 2017
Everton’s best defenders are all ageing warriors that will begin to depreciate soon. It is vital for Koeman to revitalise their defence then, as he looks to build his own legacy at Goodison Park. While Roberto Funes Moris is being blooded into the team, he is not quite a top quality defender, and, much like Robles, the better players in Europe’s top league would target him. This means that only Seamus Coleman holds the banner of being both young and a defender currently playing at a high level, something that must be remedied.
Perhaps most importantly of all though, is the continued uncertainty surrounding Romelu Lukaku’s future. The Belgian striker has been outstanding this season as he leads the Premier League’s golden boot race. 24 goals and six assists is a fantastic return, but it is one that has caused Europe’s top teams to take notice.
It seems, on the surface, that Lukaku’s issues with Everton has always been their lack of European football. With the clubs above them so willing to spend huge amounts of money, it makes it far easier for them to bring in top quality players to swell their side with talent, meaning Everton are always at a disadvantage due to their more modest budget.
However, perhaps the fact Everton aren’t in the Champions League is not the real problem. Maybe they just aren’t a big enough club for where Lukaku perceives he should be. Chelsea are reportedly interested in his services, while Real Madrid and PSG are always willing to splash the cash on big money signings. Perhaps Everton are just a stop-gap for the striker, with his move away inevitable, regardless of Koeman’s side earning Champions League football or not.
The efforts that Everton are putting into keeping Lukaku may be better used in finding a new striker then.
Of course, Everton are a better side with Lukaku, with the striker one of the best in the league on his day. Incredibly, the Belgian revealed his favourite move to the world recently, but he is so good that defenders still can’t stop him even when they know what is coming:
Lukaku shares one of his best moves with the world, yet even after that players still can’t defend it! pic.twitter.com/x8QdmD9u5d
— Socabol Football (@Socabol) 17 April 2017
Everton’s Champions League conquest is likely to take at least another season, and that is a good thing for the Toffees. If they were to finish in the top four this year, they would be exposed for having a number of fatal flaws in their team. They are better served strengthening their side in the transfer market and giving their squad more experience via another league season.
The Toffees are a side that are blooming very quickly. They are no longer an underachieving team, where 10th is seen as a good season. Now they are an outfit of very good players that can beat anyone on their day.
If Koeman can keep the heart of his team and continue to build, then nobody would bet against them breaking into that traditional top six.