Four things inconsistent Everton need to get back on track
Everton, 5/1 for a top six finish, must hope they can rally in the second half of the season and snatch a Europa League spot.
It is all a far cry from Roberto Martinez’s maiden campaign with the Toffees, when the Merseyside men threatened to upset the status quo and topple the established order by gatecrashing the top four.
Swashbuckling football and sensational scalps were on the menu at Goodison Park, with Arsenal and Manchester United among the giants schooled by Everton.
Now, we consider the Toffees’ dramatic drop in form and what they need to achieve a respectable finish to this term.
Not for sale
Everton fans have long been used to other clubs circling for their star players, but last season’s success and big spending summer was supposed to herald a new era.
While it may be tempting for the Toffees to cash in again to raise funds to refresh their own squad, the Merseyside men must hold firm and resist any offers in the winter window.
Stability will be key to the club’s performance after the frenzy of the festive period has passed. Those who may be top transfer targets, including the likes of Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, must be retained until the summer if Everton are serious about their aspirations.
While short term stop gaps are usually a last resort, Everton have been plagued by injuries over recent weeks.
Super stopper Tim Howard has been sidelined for around six weeks with a torn calf, which is surely one of Martinez’s most pressing problems.
The Catalan coach’s former charge, Wigan custodian Ali Al Habsi, has been linked with a temporary switch, but the Oman international is due to depart for the Asian Cup shortly.
Perhaps more fitting, and top quality, choices to plug the vacancy between the posts could be Chelsea back up keeper Mark Schwarzer or an audacious attempt to land free agent Victor Valdes.
After spending big on Romelu Lukaku in the summer, there may be little left in the Goodison Park coffers for January reinforcements.
Martinez’s recent loan moves have largely disappointed, but the Toffees boss should dip back into the market with more potential available.
Nick Powell has returned early from a lacklustre loan to Leicester City, but Martinez could be just the type of manager to kick start the youngster’s stalled career.
Fellow Manchester United starlet Adnan Januzaj may be a much more reliable option, however, as could Chelsea wideman Mohamed Salah, who would both bring an extra spark to the club.
As for permanent signings, defence is certainly an area that could do with being strengthened. Ron Vlaar may be of interest to several Premier League giants, but the Toffees could offer the guarantee of first team action, so the Dutchman should surely be worth a punt.
Shutting up shop
Martinez, 14/1 to lift the Europa League with Everton, has illustrated he has enough tactical nous to turn the functional Toffees into an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining team.
Now his challenge is to place his attacking philosophy slightly to one side and help his men find some of the resilience and grit they were once renowned for under David Moyes, allowing them to pick up points and confidence.
A little more focus on defensive organisation, plus a strong central midfield pairing of Muhamed Besic and one of Gareth Barry or James McCarthy should do the trick.
Leighton Baines may have impressed centrally last time out, whilst Ross Barkley also looks brighter in a deeper role, but Martinez must prize solidity over sparkle for the moment.