The ambition of Everton and their manager Roberto Martinez this season was to reach the Champions League with a top-four finish in the Premier League. A midweek defeat to Crystal Palace yesterday, though, showed that the Toffees are not quite ready for that level yet or the accompanying schedule that comes with it.
Everton have been on a fantastic run of wins in the last few months, which has boosted their attempts to gatecrash the top four. However, this defeat when it really mattered most has put a dent in all of that. Before Wednesday’s loss to Palace, Everton had won every Premier League game they had played since a narrow 1-0 defeat to Chelsea way back on Feb 22. That run has now ended after seven straight wins, including one against Arsenal; but tellingly, only one game was played in midweek.
When you qualify for the Champions League, it’s the schedule of playing every three or four days which is particularly challenging. Teams returning from midweek action in Europe are always at risk of dropping points the very next weekend, and it has cost many teams many points over the years. There have been questions surrounding the Everton squad and their ability to cope with such a schedule if they were to make it, and the Palace home defeat was perhaps evidence that they couldn’t.
It’s not the first time this season that Everton have dropped points when asked to play more than one game a week. Losses to Liverpool and Sunderland came during midweek games, as did a draw with West Bromwich Albion. Over the course of the season in the Premier League, Everton have played only six midweek games, yet they have only won two of those, losing three and drawing one. Those numbers back up the notion that Everton do not perform as well when their week is broken up with additional games.
Everton are not quite ready for the level of play in the Champions League yet and more specifically, they are not ready for the schedule that comes with it. All in all, it can be a learning curve for the club after what has been very good season for them, and their future looks bright. For at least the immediate future, though, they will not be in the Champions League.