When Rafael Benitez was announced as the new Everton manager earlier this year, the news was met with shock and, in some cases, anger, not least on these pages.
The Spaniard, of course, had previously won the Champions League with local rivals Liverpool and some Toffees fans considered his appointment an insult to their loyalty.
However, he silenced many of those critics with an impressive start to the 2021/22 Premier League campaign, wherein Everton lost just one of their first seven games, a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa. That run also included a hard-fought draw with Manchester United.
Since early October, though, Everton’s form has taken a worrying dip. After drawing with United, they suffered back-to-back home defeats to West Ham and then Watford, the latter of which was an embarrassing 5-2 drubbing.
They followed that with a 2-1 loss to Wolves on the road, before a goalless draw with Tottenham Hotspur. That means Everton have only won one of their last six games.
The Toffees also crashed out of the Carabao Cup in September after a defeat to Queens Park Rangers, when they lost the penalty shootout. The silver lining to that result is that Everton will now have a less demanding schedule and can focus more on other competitions.
Everton’s hopes for European football
That won’t be of much reassurance to Everton fans, though, as things currently look a little bleak. The latest football odds don’t give Benitez’ side a great chance of securing European football for next season. For those who enjoy placing a bet on the premier league, the top football sportsbooks in the UK currently have Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool to finish within the top four however there odds for Everton are very slim.
Qualification for the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League can get a little confusing, but in its most basic form the top four teams at the end of the Premier League season qualify for the Champions League, and the fifth-placed team go into the Europa League.
Plus, the English side which wins the FA Cup is automatically entered into next year’s Europa League. So, Everton need to finish in the top five or win the FA Cup in order to qualify for European football next season.
With 11 games played in the Premier League so far at the time of writing, Everton currently sit at 11th on 15 points. That puts them five points behind fifth-placed Arsenal, which is not a huge margin to make up. Of course, in that window between Everton and fifth place are the likes of United and Spurs.
Everton’s schedule before Christmas is also not a kind one; at the end of this month they have a winnable game against Brentford, but after that they’ll face Liverpool, Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Chelsea.
All of those teams, apart from Brentford, are currently above Everton in the league table and in their current form, the Merseysiders would be underdogs against most.
There is a caveat to this recent run of disappointing results, though; Everton have been plagued by injuries. Star striker Richarlison has been side-lined for weeks with a knee injury, though is back to first-team action. However, he has shown signs of struggling to produce the kind of performances his side so desperately needs from him.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucoure are also facing lengthy spells on the side-lines; both are important players for the team and their absence has been felt in recent games. The sooner these big names are back to full fitness, the better for Everton overall.
Can Benitez get Everton in the top 5?
What Benitez has struggled to draw out of his players is consistency over 90 minutes. Against Watford, they started well and took the lead, only to throw it away with an abysmal second half showing, with Josh King haunting his former club with a hat-trick.
The performance against Wolves was somewhat the opposite of this, as Everton started slow and went behind. They conceded the second goal thanks to a dreadful back-pass from Ben Godfrey, another highlight of how they have problems in defence.
Everton had been eyeing towering Stoke City defender Harry Souttar to try and help plug those holes, but the Aussie suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a recent international game and will be out for six to 12 months, meaning the Toffees won’t be signing him in January.
Former Blue Ross Barkley could potentially return to Goodison Park in the next transfer window, though. The midfielder left Everton for Chelsea in 2017 but since then has not seen as much action as he’d like and is currently on loan at Aston Villa.
In recent games he’s displayed the tenacity and vision that made him such an attractive target for Chelsea a few years ago, and a return to Everton could be beneficial for both parties.
Dutch star Donny van de Beek could also be scooped up by Benitez in the January transfer window. The former Ajax player is currently at United but is reportedly unhappy with the lack of playing time he’s getting, and Everton are said to be considering a loan offer for him.
The young midfielder is an exciting talent who would almost certainly bolster Everton’s chances of reaching Europe next season.
There is still a long way to go in this year’s campaign and despite a worrying run of form, Everton are not out of the running to qualify for European football. With key players returning from injury and a few notable signings in January, the Toffees could soon find themselves right back in the mix.
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