The competitiveness of the English Premier League is a complicated affair. In seasons past, there was the top 4: United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. In more recent seasons, Manchester City and Tottenham have muscled their way to challenging for honors while Liverpool have reached a point of transition. If asked today, one would say there is a top 6 in England.
Everton have to be considered among the elite. The blue half of Merseyside has consistently finished just under the regular old guard in the table for years unnoticed. David Moyes has significantly overachieved with his now old club under an incredibly constricted budget. Everton have been a dogged and determined team especially on their own patch and even managed to take a large share of points off teams who have finished above them in the table. Now that Moyes has replaced the recently retired Ferguson at United, another man who has worked miracles on a relatively constricted budget will be replacing him at Goodison Park – Roberto Martinez. Unless Everton lose a sizable chunk of their regular starting 11 in the current transfer market, it would be wise not to overlook them when considering the contenders for next season’s top 5 spots in the league table, as well as domestic cup competitions. This team will not fade away gently with the experience it has.
Everton have shown that they are able to battle against teams who Finish above them in the table. Last season, they had home wins against Manchester United, Manchester City, and Tottenham with draws against Arsenal and Liverpool and a loss to Chelsea. The home form guide against the top teams yielded 11 points while the weaker away from yielded a modest 4 points. The table below shows the results of the top 7 teams against each other:
In terms of this mini table regarding England’s top 7 clubs and their points tally against each other, the rankings are as follows:
1. Chelsea – 22 points
2. Manchester United – 20 points
3. Manchester City – 17 points
4 & 5. Everton/Tottenham – 15 points (11 points at home for both clubs = best home points tally for top 7)
6. Arsenal – 11 points
7. Liverpool – 10 points
Everton’s home form in the league has been vastly superior to its away form. At Goodison Park, the readings are P:19 W:12 D:6 L:1 Pts: 42. Away from home: P:19 W:4 D:9 L:6 Pts: 21. Given that this team is known for its grit and team spirit their wonderful home form is of no surprise. This team has matured well as a unit and know how to play with each other. Fellaini has been their top player with 11 goals and 5 assists, with their top 6 scorers accounting for 41 of their 55 goals scored over the season. Their 6th place finish sees them just outside the qualification for continental cup competitions, but they are no strangers to Europe’s elite. A 4th place finish in the middle of the past decade saw them enter the Champions League qualification playoffs with an incredibly modest array of players. This was a huge over-achievement under Moyes in his early days with the Toffees. Everton could possibly make a run into the Europa League in the coming season if Martinez keeps them on the right path. Domestic cup competitions like the FA Cup and the Carling Cup could also be opportunities to flex their muscles.
It is a well known fact that the mini tables of the top clubs facing each other tell a story of the strength of the teams involved in the title race. By this reading, we can see that Everton are comfortably amongst the elite in the Barclays Premier League. With the departure of David Moyes to Manchester United, you can expect his successor, Roberto Martinez, to continue to bring this team forward. Martinez looks like the best successor for Moyes at Everton given his achievements with modest Wigan. However, if Everton are unable to keep their best players at the club for next season, they may very well be the last of the top 7. Safe to say this transfer window is of great importance to Goodison Park.
This brings me to the other team of interest here. The occupant of the 7th spot in the standings, the red half of Merseyside. Liverpool have been in a transitional period for a couple of seasons now but with Brendan Rodgers’ project well underway and now entering its second season, one must look closer at the challenge his team poses. The board of directors at Anfied have done their bit to ensure long term success at the club and are willing to build steadily – as shown by the new ownership in the form of the Fenway Sports Group and the appointment of Rodgers as a long term solution. In Rodgers’ first season, Liverpool finished 7th. Their overall record reads P:38 W:16 D:13 L:9 Pts: 61. Seem ordinary? Let’s put their losses into context: United have 5 losses, City 6, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton with 7, and Tottenham 8. Not exactly incurring a significantly larger amount of losses than their nearest rivals, although still faring worse off than them. Beyond this, the next teams with the fewest losses in the table are Swansea, Norwich, and Stoke with 14. Whether Liverpool are on the right course to bring back the dominance they had achieved before the formation of the Premier League remains to be seen. United have won outright and without a doubt by 11 points, and the difference between 2nd place and 5th place was 6 points, with a huge battle for positions 3, 4, and 5 going down to the final few weeks of the season between Arsenal, Chelsea, and Spurs. Everton and Liverpool are on 63 and 61 points respectively. After them, nobody after Liverpool has managed over 50 points. Even though there is a drop between 5th and 6th places, we must consider the Merseyside teams to be closer to the top than the bottom of the pile given their circumstances. Liverpool have the 4th best offence and the 2nd highest number of clean sheets in the league. This is a surprising figure, given that they have failed to score in 8 matches (the highest of the top 7). For the first half of the season, their form was poor due to poor transfers, injuries and a bedding in period for Rodgers P:19 W:6 D:7 L:6 Pts: 25. For the second half of the season: P:19 W:10 D:6 L:3 Pts: 36. Perhaps we can see that the improvement during the second half of the season might carry over leading to a better start for the next campaign. Either way, for a first season under Brendan Rodgers, and with the team looking to grow, you can expect them to improve steadily in seasons to come and even regain their competitive threat among Europe’s elite.
Critics have cited that Liverpool are a 1 man show, with that man being Luiz Suarez. Suarez has accounted for 23 goals of the 71 his team have scored in the league – a sizable chunk of the goals but an expected amount given he was the lone striker in their formation. The second top scorer is Daniel Sturridge. He is Liverpool’s best recent signing under Rodgers, considering he has given them 10 goals since the end of the January transfer window. The team have steadied themselves and done well with the resources at their disposal. They also have youth on their side, with players like Sturridge, Sterling, and Coutinho looking to bring stability alongside Henderson and Downing. The latter duo have misfired since their acquisitions but should be expected to grow since they are still relatively young. I expect this team to improve in the season to come, because even on their worst day they can show up to a big game and get a result. This team is the only English team in the past decade to get winning results at the Nou Camp as well as the Bernabeu – an achievement that cannot ever be ignored even if these achievements are from the past, the spirit of Liverpool never seems to diminish.
My take on this coming season is that Liverpool will finish above Everton in the standings, but the toffees will make them earn their bragging rights. As gritty and determined as Everton have been, Martinez will want to bring in a fluid attacking style. As Rodgers found out, this takes time to establish. Liverpool also have a little more financial muscle to throw around so their transfer activity should hold them in good stead.
We should be intrigued by the competitive threat from Merseyside for the next couple of seasons. We are in for two juicy derbies. Buckle your seat belts.