WEEK 15. FOR EVERTON, IT'S KIND OF A BIG DEAL
Everton fans are a mess.
As last season trudged along, and another mid to bottom table finish became unavoidable, Toffee fans were left wondering if their fortunes were ever going to change or if they were destined for Premier League purgatory forever.
Then it happened.
Or better yet, he happened.
Everton finally had a sugar daddy! (Or at least an owner willing to front the money necessary to compete with (most) of the big boys.)
After assessing the dire situation at Goodison, he and the board decided to part ways with the Toffees slightly too affable Spanish skipper Roberto Martinez.
"Rejoice!", screamed Everton supporters. With their new money, imagine the possible gaffers!
The hunt for the face of the new big spending era at Everton was on.
Plenty of names were bandied about, but it was soon evident that the new leadership at Goodison were circling their wagons around Southampton's Ronald Koeman.
Quick background: Dutch, center back, REALLY good at soccer. (Like win Euros and Champions Leagues with Holland and Barca good), and has quickly climbed the coaching ranks from Feyenord to Ajax and eventually to Southampton. Known for his calm demeanor. Fierce.
After initially rebuking Everton's approaches, the Dutchman eventually warmed up to the idea of signing onto a club strapped to a rocket ship filled with cash (or something like that) and after a few holidays that seemed to stretch on forever, he finally joined the Toffees and the rebuilding effort was underway.
Days operating a manager-less club: 33 days.
The late start to the transfer market would prove a mighty hurdle. The GREAT hire of Steve Walsh from Leicester to head up player scouting and recruiting added to the voices in the room as the new staff hustled to get settled in and assess their new sqaud.
However, most Toffees supporters took the club's unwavering drive to nab Koeman as sign of a club with a clear goal, purpose, and strategy of getting there.Thus, any adverse effects in the short-term would be palatable with the long-range goal of being a perennial top four team the carrot keeping the club, players and fans pressing forward.
Eternal optimism abound, the summer transfer period allowed Everton fans around the world to have what were perceived to be legitimate discussions concerning possible squad additions, most of whom would have been considered fantasies a mere twelve months ago.
Witsel, Brahimi, Gabbiadini, Koulibaly...the names were thrown out like toys in December. If this many names are among those in serious considerations, the club will surely nab at least one, if not two, of these big names and send a notice of intent to the Premier League that their was another heavyweight to be dealt with!!
But as the calendar rolled over and August became reality, the names being added were key cogs, but not the type of names that Toffees fans had hoped for.
While Idrissa Gueye looks like the steal of the season (joining for comfortably less than 10 million pounds and leading the league in tackles) Maarten Stecklenburg has had his ups and downs (and isn't Joe Hart). Ashley Williams is solid but not a long-term solution, Enner Valencia is breathing, and Yannick Bolasie was really looking like he was buying in before........ :(
Toss in the embarrassing (though maybe long-term BLESSING) transfer-day debacle involving Moussa Sissoko and the close of the transfer window felt more like a guillotine dropping. At least things were going well on the field
The Premier League season began with a bang, as the Toffees started the season unbeaten in their first five matches, with four wins included in the run.
Since then though, the Toffees have only been able to muster one win in their last nine matches. This includes losses to Premier League low-hangers Burnley and Bournemouth, as well as a particularly demoralizing 5-0 loss to Chelsea right before the international break.
After the Toffees showed some resilience last weekend in a 1-1 draw with Man United (keeping them unbeaten at Goodison), Everton fans were counting the days until January 1st and the assumed arrival of some well needed reinforcements.
Then the news broke.
COURTESY: THE MIRROR
It was like a bad dream. It seemed as if all the process being made in the off season was being slowly undone by poor timing and bad luck. One step forward, one step back.
The team had certainly shown better team spirit this season, and while the team sits in 8th, you'll excuse Everton fans for being pessimistic.
You see, the Toffees have been here before.
Compare the current table to the same time last year:
Sure, after fourteen matches last season, Everton was one spot lower than their current spot (8th/9th), but if you look closer they had actually scored one more point than their current total, scored 10 more goals, and had a goal differential +7 better than this year's mark.
Add in the fact they were four points closer to the Champions League spots and you begin to understand why there is a fair amount of hand-wringing going on around Goodison.
After a wild 3-3 tie with Bournemouth in Week 14 of last season, the Toffees won just 4 out of their next 20 matches!
It was this abysmal run of form that cost Roberto Martinez his job and left Everton fans with their faces in their hands, wondering how they had fallen so far. They were in the final 16 of Europa League just two seasons ago.
Fast forward to this season, and Everton fans are left unsure whether to be wildly optimistic, mortally terrified, or both.
This weekend's matchup at Watford is anything but straightforward, however, and anything but a win and 3 points against the Bees and the journey between now and the hopeful January arrivals gets a lot scarier. Check out Everton's run of games before the New Year.
After this weekend the Toffees will defend their unbeaten home record when they welcome a red hot Arsenal side.
The Everton side then greet their neighbors in a MASSIVE Merseyside Derby.
Once they do have to get back on the road, the Toffees spend Boxing Day in the house of the League Champions, who will be playing with their back against the walls, hoping to rediscover their form before Champions League restarts in the New Year.
Finally, 2016 mercifully comes to a close with a tricky trip to Hull, where a relegation-battle tested side will be smelling blood, especially if already thin Everton come in beat up following the aforementioned run of matches.
If Everton doesn't get their house in order, the next month could see them extend their pitiful run and be mired in the lower part of the table.
On the other side of the New Year lies hope, possibly.
Assuming the month proves fruitful in the transfer market, the fans will be frothing at the month for updates on the newest possible addition and cheering each with the vigor of three points. Momentum can be built.
On the field, 2017 opens with two home league matches, albeit against tough opponents, sandwiched around a favorable home match up against Leicester in the Cup.
Survive the first half of the month and Everton could be peaking heading into a run of tough, but winnable matches.
Stoke, Bournemouth, Middlesborough and Sunderland make for a February a newly invigorated team will be chomping at the bit to take on.
While Leicester and Sunderland have disproved the "bottom of the table at Christmas gets relegated myth" the last two seasons, there is no escaping the mid table doldrums if you find yourself there come Valentine's Day.
Everton can't afford to sit back and take punches for the next few weeks, hoping the January transfer window provides all of the answers.
Everton reeks of desperation, which means players in other countries will use the Premier League's inflated wage scale to scare their current employers to reach new deals with them.
Like anything in life, any deal too good to be true probably is. Any top level player available in January is either at the tail end of the contract (do they re-sign before the end of the season?) or a player who has fallen out with their managers for some reason or another.
Just as important as the player that is being brought in, however, is the environment up on which they enter into.
A new player joining a Toffees side relishing in success will find the transition easier, the pressure to succeed immediately will disappear, and their every contribution will be lauded as just the cherry on top of an already great season.
Limp through the winter period though, and anyone entering into Goodison in January will have the 'SAVIOR' tag hung around their neck, and as any player who has ever felt that pressure can tell you, it doesn't make settling in any easier.
If those players struggle, then the off season finger-pointing begins, fans lose faith AGAIN, Goodison gets a bad name causing players to stay away, the club slowly sinks lower down the table under finally succumbing to the warm embrace of relegation, just like one time big shot Aston Villa, and the club becomes a second-rate operation as the mighty investors pull out.
Or, Everton wins this weekend at Watford, gain a ton of momentum heading into the winter period, and none of that awful stuff above happens.
See. I told you Match Week 15 was kind of a big deal.