There was so much optimism on the blue side of Liverpool after last season. Roberto Martinez had led Everton to an astonishing fifth place finish, and qualified his side for the Europa League. The offseason only served to fuel the fire of enthusiasm that Everton supporters had as the club managed to sign their top striker Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal from Chelsea, while also bringing in the highly-touted Christian Atsu on loan and fending off interests from Manchester City for their star midfielder Ross Barkley.
Everything seemed to be in place for a historic season this campaign. It did not take long for the Merseyside club to come crashing back down reality. The first game of their Premier League campaign saw newly promoted Leicester City hold the Blues to a draw. This was followed by a disappointing draw to Arsenal where Everton relinquished a 2-0 lead in the final ten minutes of play. The disappointment would follow into the next fixture as Chelsea battered Everton 6-3 at Goodison Park. It was not until the fourth game of the season that Roberto Martinez finally tasted victory.
So far, the longest streak of wins that Everton have been able to string together is a measly two games. Barkley and Lukaku seem unable to rediscover the form that made them one of the most feared young tandems in the league. Tim Howard was forced to miss an extended run of games through injury, and even before the injury the veteran goalkeeper was not his usual self, allowing 41 goals from just 21 games. At the halfway point of the season, Everton sat 12th in the table five points out of the relegation zone, and had been knocked out of the FA Cup by West Ham United.
Since then, Everton haven’t looked any better domestically. The team has dropped down two places in the table and hover only six points away from playing in the Championship next season. Their Spanish manager went as far to say the team’s current situation is a relegation battle. The increased number of games from European competition seems to have taken away from the team’s domestic performances with the short recovery time between games and long travel days taking their tolls on the players. Out of the eight Europa League matches played, Everton have only won the following domestic game twice.
The one bright spot for Everton this season, however, has been the Europa League. Where they lack in the Premier League, they thrive in Europe. No team has scored more than once against the Blues, and only two teams have managed to score while at Goodison Park. Lukaku has managed to put away six goals in only eight matches (compare that to his seven goals in 28 league games). On three separate occasions Everton have won by three goals, with one of those victories coming away to BSC Young Boys in their Round of 32 matchup.
The Blues have conquered the likes of Kevin De Bruyne’s Wolfsburg and Divock Origi’s OSC Lille on their way to the competition’s Round of 16 where they will face Dynamo Kiev. The Ukrainian side currently sit atop the Ukrainian Premier League and have lost only twice during their Europa League campaign, but are yet to face any elite European sides in the competition. Everton will be the biggest test, by far, for Kiev and will provide two difficult games for Roberto Martinez to plan for.
Kiev will travel to Goodison Park today to take on the last English side left in the tournament, and have been uplifted by the news that striker Andriy Yarmolenko has had his suspension reduced and will be available for both games against Everton. Yarmolenko is the club’s top European scorer with three goals and will surely test Howard and the Everton backline who have allowed seven goals over their last four games.
If Everton hope to advance into the quarterfinals, they will have to rediscover their scoring touch. Lukaku and Co. has been held scoreless for the last 228 minutes of play. However, in their last fixture against Young Boys, Everton managed to put away seven goals in the two game span. With this being the club’s only realistic opportunity of winning any silverware this season, I fully expect Roberto Martinez’s men to play their best soccer against Kyiv and continue their fine European form. Prediction: Everton 2-0 Kyiv.
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