Can Kevin Mirallas help Everton leapfrog Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea for a Champions League spot?

Could Mirallas miracles help Everton Edge out two of the London giants for Champions League football?

Behind Manchester United and City in the Premier League, the other big name clubs find themselves scrapping it out for European football and primarily a top-four spot, which grants entry to the glamour of next season’s Champions League. A first glance at how things currently stand would have most people reckoning on two from three of the big London sides, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal joining the Manchester pair in the top four positions come the final day. Everton though, remain within touching distance and with games against both Arsenal and Chelsea still to come, have to an extent, their destiny in their own hands. While Spurs have just lost Gareth Bale for a couple of weeks, the Toffees by contrast, have an exciting player who may just be hitting top form at the right time.

Kevin Mirallas arrived at Goodison last summer amid what could be described as little more than modest optimism. £6 million isn’t really a figure that sets pulses racing these days in the transfer markets, although by Everton’s standards this could be described as David Moyes splashing the cash, if not maybe even getting a bit reckless. The player was signed on the back of a successful campaign in the Greek Super league with Olympiacos, where he scored 20 times. The problem was though that at that time Mirallas, then 24-years-old, had never come close to that sort of goal tally before, despite having several seasons in the French top flight under his belt. He has also only netted six times in over 30 international caps. Moyes however, rarely gets it wrong with his acquisitions and it seems he may now be placed to begin seeing a return on his investment having shunted the player to a wide attacking role.

Kevin Mirallas

Much has been said of the promise on the horizon for Belgian football and the current talented crop migrating from that small nation to Europe’s big leagues. Eden Hazard was the most high-profile acquisition in the summer and he has certainly made an impact. Jan Vertonghen has consistently impressed for Spurs and Mirallas has even been overshadowed by a fellow countryman at Everton thanks to the swashbuckling antics of Marouane Fellaini. The 25-year-old is now though beginning to revel in his role cutting in from the wing and is starting to look as dangerous as anyone in the league.
Early in the season the Belgian showed promise but injuries soon hampered his debut campaign. His comeback stuttered and he impressed only with a cameo here and a dribble there. The last few weeks however have seen him threaten defences consistently and produce two stunning individual goals against Stoke and Spurs.

Granted the Standard Liege youth graduate did land on Merseyside with a poor goal-scoring pedigree but the Greek goal haul and his exploits in the last fortnight suggest he can finish. Despite this it could be that if Moyes continues to deploy him wide he may get the best results. The 25-year-old boasts pace, excellent close control and has the look of a player who can threaten defenders when cutting inside to run at the backline. He also gives Everton a nice balance with his skill on the right to compliment the link- up between Baines and Pienaar on the left. Getting the ball wide to Mirallas could well be another option Everton can deploy when searching for a breakthrough, an alternative to hoisting the ball onto the chest of Fellaini.

Moyes’ men are certainly outsiders for a Champions League berth as they currently trail fourth-placed Tottenham by six points, albeit with a game in hand. They are also though, perennial over-achievers who have finished strongly in recent years and if Mirallas can continue his sparkling form they should not be counted out. A surprise win in their next away fixture at the Emirates would blow the race for the Champions League wide open.

Is it time for Everton and David Moyes to part company?

Is the time right for Moyes to move on?

Next week marks the 11th year anniversary of David Moyes taking charge of Everton but after Saturday’s 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Wigan he may feel it is time for a change for both himself and the club when his contract runs out in the summer.

After such a lacklustre performance in such a big game for the club, Moyes may wonder how much longer he can continue getting so close to that elusive first trophy only for his players to seemingly freeze when the opportunity presents itself. Just like last year when they held a 1-0 half-time lead over Liverpool in the semi-final; they seemed to go into their shells and not have the belief to grasp the chance of glory.

He will certainly not be short of offers if he does decide to call time on his tenure at Goodison Park. His record in the league has been outstanding considering the budget he has had compared to the teams he has been competing with. For the last six seasons Everton have finished no lower than eighth and they are likely to finish higher than that this season as well. Add into that Champions League qualification once and three times qualifying for the Europa League and Moyes has unquestionably regalvanised the club.

David Moyes

Moyes has completely rebuilt the team as well to include players who are now coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs. His record in the transfer market has been exceptional. The likes of Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic have all had an impact to make Everton an attacking force, not forgetting the now departed Mikel Arteta. He has also turned Everton into a solid defensive unit with the consistent Tim Howard in goal, the experience of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and the ever improving Leighton Baines at left back.

Having these good players though may provide another reason for Moyes to consider his future in the summer. Fellaini seems almost certain to leave in the summer with Chelsea rumoured to be preparing a bid. Baines also seems certain to attract interest in the summer having been the league’s most consistent left-back this season. Manchester United continue to be linked with him, and a move could especially be on the cards if Patrice Evra makes his way to PSG. If these types of players are sold and with no news on the horizon of new investment, Moyes may feel there is no more that he can achieve.

A couple of months ago Moyes already stated his ambition to manage abroad at some point, citing Germany as his ideal destination.

“I always had the hope of being a coach abroad. If I had the choice, I would probably go to Germany, in part because of the mentality, which is similar to mine. I’m also fascinated by what happens in German football.”

Decision time is inching closer and closer for Moyes. There is no doubt that the board and fans want him to stay, but is the constant saga about whether he will sign or not beginning to have an unsettling effect on the players? Does a defeat like the one on Saturday make him even more determined to come back fighting next season? Or does it just confirm to him that enough is enough and he now needs to seek a new challenge?

These are all questions that need to be answered quickly, ideally with a decision from Moyes himself, otherwise Everton may find themselves wasting their good work from the first three quarters of the season.

By Chris Newman

Manchester United will be wary of Everton after last season’s fixture at Old Trafford

With Manchester City slipping up against Southampton yesterday to be beaten 3-1, current Premier League leaders Manchester United have a glorious opportunity to push their lead at the top of the table to a considerable 12 points with a win over Everton. With only 12 games to play after this afternoon’s fixture at Old Trafford, this lead would be almost unassailable, however Sir Alex Ferguson will be wary of the travelling Evertonians.

United found themselves in a similar position last season, with a sizeable points advantage over cross-town rivals City. However poor form towards the end of the campaign ultimately allowed Roberto Mancini’s charges back into the title race, with the blue side of the city celebrating on a nail-biting last day of the season.

One of the fixtures on football results that will stand out in the minds of United fans will be the 4-4 draw against Everton at Old Trafford. The Red Devils relinquished 3-1 and 4-2 leads over David Moyes’ men that day, which ultimately proved costly at the end of the season.

Steven Pienaar scores against Manchester United

United have suffered no such downturn in form this time round, with an excellent record of picking up 35 points from a possible 39 over their last 13 league games. With Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in form, the hosts will be confident of matching the four goals they scored in the fixture in 2011-12.

Everton showed a never-say-die attitude last season in the fixture, and Moyes’ charges have improved again over the last couple of months. The Toffees are eager to contend for a top-four berth and Champions League qualification, however with Tottenham and Arsenal winning on Saturday the Liverpudlians need to pick up points to maintain their ambitions.

Marouane Fellaini’s future has been constantly questioned in the press after impressive performances this term, and the Belgian will be a key man if he shakes off injury to feature. Along with the in-form Steven Pienaar, Nikola Jelavic and Kevin Mirallas, Everton have the potential to make it difficult for a less-than-solid United rearguard. After a 1-0 win over United at Goodison Park on the first day of the season, the hosts would be foolish to underestimate their opponents today.

Both teams want the three points; if Everton manage a shock win it will show the Premier League that they are a real contender for Champions League qualification, whilst if United win the title race could well be over.

Jelavic, Cisse and the Premier League’s top five January 2012 transfers

Gylfi Sigurdsson -Swansea

The perfect signing for Brendan Rodgers – the Icelandic playmaker and set-piece specialist is a bright prospect and since signing from German side Hoffenheim on loan, Sigurdsson has gelled straight into the midfield three alongside Joe Allen and Leon Britton, scoring seven goals and claiming two assists in 14 Premier League appearances. His fantastic free-kicks and long-shots makes him a joy to watch and keeping the 22 year-old Scandinavian at the club on a permanent deal will be high on Rodgers’ to-do list.

Steven Pienaar – Everton

30 year-old Steven Pienaar has made a stunning return to Everton, once again acting as a vital asset to the Goodison Park outfit. With his slick ball control and vision, the South African is a player of quality and experience, fitting smoothly on the left of David Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 formation. After a disappointing year with Tottenham, a loan spell with his former club is exactly what he needed, and it will be interesting to see if the north London outfit will want the attacking midfielder back in the summer, or whether he will get a permanent deal with the club that seems to suit him the best.

Nikica Jelavic – Everton

The Croatian hitman has become a fans’ favourite after bagging ten goals in 13 games for the Toffees, including a brace in the magnificent 4-4 draw with Premier League champions Manchester United. After signing from the financially-endangered Rangers, Nikica Jelavic has been vital in Everton’s Premier League campaign, and although still failing to beat bitter rivals Liverpool, David Moyes will be hopeful that they can finish above the Reds for the first time since 2005.

Pavel Pogrebnyak – Fulham

Although suffering a brief injury spell, the Soviet powerhouse, nicknamed Velikiy Po – Po the Great – became the quickest player to reach five goals in Premier League history, scoring five goals in three consecutive matches, including a perfect hat-trick against Wolves. Pogrebnyak has fitted straight into Fulham’s aesthetic style of play, leading the front line with his muscular strength and a fantastic eye for goal. After the departure of veteran Bobby Zamora, Pogrebnyak was the perfect replacement; Martin Jol will want to keep the Russia international at Craven Cottage, but his stint could potentially end in the summer.

Papiss Cisse – Newcastle

After setting the record for the highest scoring African player in a single Bundesliga campaign, Papiss Cisse joined Newcastle from Freiburg for around £10m. Since signing for the Tyneside club, the 26 year-old has made a scintillating partnership with international comrade, Demba Ba, and they will be looking to bag a spot in Europe’s most prestigious tournament next season. There is no doubt Cisse was keen to get to work alongside his Senegalese counterpart and the two upfront have become a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League – in particular Cisse, who has scored eleven goals in eleven games for Alan Pardew’s men.

By Jacob Tucker

Liverpool vs Everton: Merseyside bragging rights on the line in FA Cup semi-final

Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton go head-to-head on Saturday at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, in a massively important match for both sides. Kenny Dalglish will be eager to replicate the team’s heroics in the Carling Cup and draw attention away from under-par league form, whilst David Moyes knows that he is 180 minutes away from lifting his first trophy for the Goodison Park club.

Liverpool ended a terrible run of six defeats from seven games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn on Tuesday night, with Andy Carroll heading the injury-time winner. Despite inconsistency in the league this campaign, the Reds have been more determined in the cup competitions, and have eliminated both Manchester clubs and Chelsea from the FA or Carling Cup this term.

Triumph in the Carling Cup has only papered over the cracks of a mediocre campaign for the Anfield outfit, with director of football Damien Comolli given the axe earlier in the week. King Kenny is now under pressure to deliver, and with ambitious American owners eager for success, a defeat to bitter rivals Everton would put a question mark over the Scottish manager’s future. With Liverpool also behind their cross-town neighbours in the Premier League standings, Reds fans are becoming impatient and frustrated.

Everton meanwhile have had a strong second half of the season, and David Moyes’ men have looked like a dangerous and difficult opponent since the turn of the year. The Toffees are up to seventh place in the league, and have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham over the last three months. Comprehensive victories over Sunderland both in the league and the last round of the cup will see Everton enter the fixture with confidence. However two derby defeats to Liverpool this term will stick in the memory, and spur Moyes’ men on.

A clever January transfer window has been a key factor in the club’s rejuvenation, with the additions of Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, temporarily Landon Donovan and especially Nikica Jelavic adding quality to an already able squad. The Croatian striker in particular has impressed, and the travelling Goodison Park fans will pray the ex-Rangers forward can inspire his team to victory on Saturday. Everton have not lifted a trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1995, with a solitary Paul Rideout goal ensuring a 1-0 win over Manchester United.

A number of factors will be important in deciding the outcome of the fixture, with key personal battles all over the pitch. With Pepe Reina and Doni both unavailable, Brad Jones will start in goal for Liverpool, with their opponents sure to test the inexperienced stopper early on. The clash between England colleagues Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson could also play a part in the result, as both full-backs play an important role going forward for their sides.

In any Merseyside derby there will be passion, and the midfield battle between Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing, Darron Gibson and Marouane Felliani will dictate possession. Finally, Luis Suarez and Nikica Jelavic will look to build on promising individual campaigns, and pose the biggest threat to goal.

Published – Soccerlens

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