Wilfried Zaha, Sylvain Distin

Everton in Europa League? I’m not so sure, says Sylvain Distin

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With Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff City and Manchester United failing to secure a point against Liverpool, Everton leapfrogged the Red Devils into sole occupation of 6th place in the Premier League.

It’s a position that, if Everton is to maintain over the next eight weeks, will put the Toffees into the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League. The achievement is one that divides opinion and following Saturday’s win, Everton defender Sylvain Distin made his thoughts heard.

“It’s mixed feelings because you can’t say no to playing in Europe,” Distin said. “As a player it’s impossible to not want that but it’s completely different from the Champions League in terms of finances for the club. It’s a lot of travel and you need a big squad.”

Finances are a major part of Europa League opposition as rewards from the Champions League are generally five times greater. While a group-stage victory in the Europa League will earn a club $279,000 a comparable victory in the Champions League makes a team $1.4 million. Similarly, a semi-final purse in the Europa League will hand a club $1.4 million while a victory on the big stage earns a team nearly $7 million.

The lengthy travel is another well documented issue. Flying to the likes of Lithuania and Turkey on a Thursday only to turn around and play a Premier League match three days later takes a big toll on players.

Distin continued: “Yes, it would be amazing for the club and for the fans to be back in Europe again but for the team, if we’re not going to have a much bigger squad next season, it could be tough. When you play every Thursday and come back on the Friday before playing again on the Sunday it is hard.”

‘Hard’ is certainly what the Europa League has been on English clubs of late. Since the tournament’s inception in 2009, only four of the 12 teams who have competed in the Europa League qualified for Europe in that same season.

Lately, the tournament has been particularly destructive. In 2012, Alan Pardew was named LMA manager of the year after helping Newcastle finish fifth but yet one year later his job was in peril when the club finished 16th in the Premier League, avoiding relegation by a mere five points. In 2013, Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City side won the League Cup and finished an impressive 9th in the league but one Europa League campaign later and the Dane was out of a job.

The flip side, of course, was the incredible Europa League run that Fulham enjoyed in 2009/10, losing in the finals 2-1 to Atletico Madrid. The stunning campaign was a joy to watch for everyone at Fulham and one that didn’t majorly compromise their Premier League season as they finished in 12th place.

For a relatively small squad like Everton, the Europa League would require a number of summer purchases. This would mean that, assuming owner Bill Kenwright continues with his typical summer budget of $10-15 million, rather than buying one to two players he’ll be forced to spend that amount on four or five new bodies. It’s a scenario with the strong potential to both dilute the level of play while also sacrificing points domestically.

Nevertheless it’s a challenge that, despite Distin’s well-founded fears, Everton should happily take on. It’s been six years since the Toffees last competed in Europe and for a club that hasn’t finished outside the Premier League Top 8 in the last eight years, the possibility of European glory far outweighs the potential for domestic doom.

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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