Everton should be wary: the Premier League mid-table is littered with false dawns

Michael Regan

Roberto Martinez has earned plaudits for his tenure at Everton, but while he's done a good job, it's highly debatable as to whether matters have improved at all at Goodison Park.

As good as Everton looked in their last two games, they were not fantastic at either Old Trafford or the Emirates. The result at the former was a classic smash-and-grab, having relied on some poor finishing and very close shaves to withstand Manchester United's attacks, while at Arsenal, they also looked fairly toothless and created little for their time in possession. It's harsh criticism, but when gauging the progress made by Roberto Martinez, people seem to overlook just how far Everton have to go.

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There's a good deal of ill-warranted revisionism over praising Martinez and burying David Moyes - Everton hardly played dour, negative football under the Scot, and the fact that most of those citing the Spaniard's superiority tend to be unable to do so without using the meaningless word "tactically" - the world's worst adverb - speaks volumes. Everton have started well, but there is not much we can tangibly point to to suggest that Everton will be any better off.

The club currently sit in fifth, one place ahead of where they finished last season. They are ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, so in order to not finish in exactly the same position they'll have to hope that their current form continues for the entire season and that Spurs and United continue to be awful until May. One of those occurring is unlikely, and all three is a virtual impossibility.

It's also questionable whether Everton have the capability to build on their current situation when almost half of their goals have come from loanees. Martinez obviously can't be criticised for thinking in the short-term when it benefits the club to such a great extent, but West Bromwich Albion have struggled to replace the goals of Romelu Lukaku alone. Unless loanees of the same calibre can be identified once more next season - again, unlikely - then Everton will have to make two very good signings in order to remain at exactly the same level.

West Brom looked like going far under Steve Clarke, with a team built on the solidity of the Claudio Yacob-Youssef Mulumbu midfield pairing, but proved over-reliant on Romelu Lukaku's cameos, with Shane Long failing to maintain his form and Peter Odemwingie succumbing to age and idiocy. It is a familiar tale, and many clubs have had similar false dawns in just the past three years.

Swansea City were hailed as the model of the perfectly-run football club, and yet since adding Pablo Hernandez, Michu and Wilfried Bony to their ranks, along with a glut of talented younger players to boost their depth, they've not made any genuine progress beyond looking very unlikely to be relegated aside from a fortuitous cup victory. Meanwhile Newcastle United had a remarkable season under Alan Pardew before remembering they were managed by Alan Pardew and almost suffering relegation with a squad containing thrice the talent as the one that went down under Tyneside's other Alan. Now, they're doing well, but the narrow, unconvincing nature of many of their wins suggests they're unlikely to maintain their form for long before slipping into mediocrity or worse once again.

Aston Villa were rewarded for keeping faith with Paul Lambert with some excellent performances from developing younger players and some smooth counter-attacking football - performances have been good this season, but results have frequently gone against them, leaving them unlikely to mount a challenge for Europa League football. Then there are the likes of Norwich and Fulham, who appeared to sign attacking talent beyond their status, only for both to struggle to get enough out of them or sufficiently organise their team in a way that the effects of their Championship-level players elsewhere could be negated.

Usually, the way that promising teams fail has been to get hold of a good group of players, then lose them to poaching by bigger clubs and fail to reinvest the money successfully. Interestingly, none of the above teams have fallen foul of that scenario - everybody that was hailed as being the foundations of a bold new era still remains at the clubs, but the future dreams seem crushed. Even the managers have remained, and yet none of the revolutions ever really got underway.

Generally, teams have gotten better at reinvesting money into their squad over the years. Most clubs spend much more wisely than before, securing underrated and unheralded talent, or players that can be picked up cheaply due to being from smaller clubs or their contract status. It hasn't helped anyone to build a dynasty, though - every potential new challenger seems to disappear in a puff of bad form and injuries within a season.

Partly, it's the desire to construct stories and praise dynasties while they're barely a twinkle in the manager's eye, but there's also hype beyond what can realistically be achieved. Aside from Everton, none of the clubs in the top seven places in the Premier League are punching above their weight - they're there by sheer weight of historical and financial advantage. That usually tells over the weight of a 38-game season, let alone over a few years. Newcastle are in better shape than Everton, but that's about it - and the latter are managed by Roberto Martinez while the former are manned by Alan Pardew.

Indeed, for all of the other teams mentioned above, the hope was that they might take themselves to the next level - the Europa League. In other words, they might replace Everton in a top seven that is looking increasingly as hegemonic as the Sky Four of old. Everton, though, can't replace Everton, largely because they already are Everton. Instead, to take themselves to the next level, they'll have to replace Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester City. Simply playing slightly better football isn't enough (and even that is vastly overstated - was Kevin Mirallas' goal on Moyes' final game really so long ago?)

Usurping the current title challengers simply isn't going to happen on the current budget - Martinez is doing a very good job, but the desire to rewrite history from Goodison Park means that people have decided to ignore or refute the fact that David Moyes did a very good job too. Unless Martinez can do something spectacular, they'll have made the right appointment, but still be stagnating for it.

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