Europe has to be the aim as the Toffees look to stick themselves in the top-six: Everton half-season review

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After 19 games, Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look Everton have certainly lived up to the pre-season hype. Sat comfortably in the top-eight with two games in hand on the majority of other Premier League outfits and six points off of fourth, Europe is certainly an achievable target.

Five key games

Tottenham 0-1 Everton

On the opening weekend of the season, the Toffees travelled to North London to take on a Tottenham side that were being tipped for involvement in the title race, with  Jose Mourinho entering his first full season with the Lilywhites.

However, Carlo Ancelotti’s side had also been proposed as ‘ones to watch’ after a mouth-watering transfer window that saw the likes of James Rodriguez, Allan, Abdoulaye Docuouré and Ben Godfrey join the Merseyside club over the summer.

The visitors were excellent. Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s second-half header capped a dominant performance away at a traditional ‘big-six’ side. The victory also suggested that there was certainly a chance that the top-six would include at least one new face come May.

Everton 5-2 West Brom

A week after the Spurs win, Goodison Park hosted a five-star performance from the hosts as Everton’s forward-line brought the heat, scoring five goals on the day.

Granted, they were facing a newly-promoted West Brom side who, at the time of writing, have already conceded a half-century of goals after just 21 league games. They also played the entire second-half with ten men after Kieran Gibbs’ dismissal.

The Baggies did provide a scare though, with Grady Diangana opening the scoring as well as Mattheus Pereira equalising early in the second half.

However, James Rodriguez’s first Premier League goal, Michael Keane’s near-post tap-in and Calvert-Lewin’s hat -trick sent the Toffees top and also provided the rest of the league with a statement of intent.

Everton 2-2 Liverpool

Recent seasons have seen some dire Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park, but this campaign’s fixture was quite the contrary.

Having won their first four league games of the season, Everton dropped points for the first time and, arguably, should’ve lost the contest. Reds skipper Jordan Henderson saw a late winner ruled out controversially by VAR, as well as Jordan Pickford lucky escape from a red card after the ‘keeper produced out-of-control karate kick on Virgil Van Dijk, instantly putting an end to the centre-back’s season in just the fifth league game.

Once again, Calvert-Lewin continued his red-hot scoring streak, scoring his seventh league goal in five games to earn the Toffees a point.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side had the rub of the green and saw points escape their grasp for the first time this campaign.

Everton 1-0 Chelsea

After a breathtaking opening handful of games, the Toffees started to look stuck. Going into their mid-December meeting with Chelsea at Goodison, the hosts had recorded just one win in seven league games and were winless at home in the league since 3 October.

However, in-front of 2,000 lucky Everton fans, Ancellotti’s side managed to take advantage of an out-of-sorts Chelsea outfit, scraping a 1-0 victory thanks to a Gylfi Sigurdsson penalty. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

Everton 0-2 Newcastle

Despite being able to produce some exquisite, front-foot football, Everton have shown a slight naivety at times to more robust outfits who take a more defensive approach.

Newcastle United are the best example of their struggles. In their 19th league game of the season, Everton fell victim to a solid Magpies side who ended a 12-game winless streak in all competitions.

Callum Wilson’s second-half brace saw the visitors do the double over their counterparts, with Everton suffering a 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park in November.

This inconsistency will have to be addressed as soon as possible if the Toffees are serious about breaking not only the top-six but the top-four this season.

Star players

Where to start? The forward-line is probably the best area to address first. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been sensational at times for Everton, sat joint-fourth in the Golden Boot race with 11 goals to his name. The 23-year-old is fast establishing himself as one of the division’s top poachers and will certainly make Gareth Southgate’s Euro’s squad should the tournament go ahead in the summer as planned.

New-man James Rodriguez has also been a shining light. Setback from injury has limited the Columbian to 14 league appearances, in which time he’s netted four times in the top-flight; all of which have been marvellous in their own way. Bringing a Champions League winner and an individual who has played for some of Europe’s elite in Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to Goodison Park was a major deal in the summer. The 29-year-old has certainly lived up to the hype.

Richarlison also deserves a mention, a crucial kingpin in the Everton frontline. As well as the Brazilian, Lucas Digne has gone under the radar this campaign. The left-back suffered ligament damage in his ankle and looked set for 12 weeks on the sidelines. Miraculously, the Frenchman recovered in half that time and has been one of the league’s most efficient full-backs. With five assists in 11 league appearances, the 27-year-old sets up a goal for a teammate almost every other game – a vital presence.

What’s next?

Everton’s two games in hand on the majority of the top six needs to be used as an advantage; losing both would certainly be a missed opportunity.

They’ve got an armoury of excellent talent at their disposal, it’s just about using it on a consistent basis in order to pick up enough points that see them qualify for Europe come the season’s conclusion.

One thing is for sure though, Carlo Ancelotti and his men men have to make European qualification their upmost priority for the final half of the season, as missing out will seem an opportunity wasted.

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