Can Everton crack the top-four this year?

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A top-four finish.

That was the goal that new manager, Roberto Martinez, boldly set forth for Everton upon his arrival at Goodison Park last season, to which many a pundit shook his head. Fast forward nine months, however, and no one was laughing.

Having defeated the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United (twice) and Arsenal, the Toffees had the look of world beaters. The style of play had gone from Route 1 and rugged under David Moyes to attacking and elegant under Martinez. As the season wound down, Everton pressed Arsenal for that elusive fourth spot before settling for fifth place.

Now, with the UEFA Europa League on the horizon, Everton enter the Premier League once again looking to surprise the competition. And as far as Martinez is concerned, the goal remains the same:

“I think the Premier League this season will be quite unique because of the number of teams fighting to get into the top four,” he told the Metro. “Manchester United will be a force, 100 per cent, the top four of last season will be stronger and I think Spurs will benefit from all the investment of a year ago. But I would like to believe we will benefit from being together for 12 months and we will be stronger. I will never shy away from trying to get Champions League football because that has to be where we’re trying to get to.”

As the Spaniard notes, Manchester United and Tottenham are two sides better equipped to compete for a top-four finish this season. Joining them are the usual characters of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. Seven clubs vying for four prestigious spots. Hardly a walk in the park.

So can Everton do the incredible and crack the top-four for the first time in 10 years?

At the time of publishing, bookies have Everton as the seventh most likely team to finish in the Top 4. The odds of 5/1 don’t seem bad on the face but when you consider that City and Chelsea are 1/50 odds to finish Top 4, Arsenal are 1/3, Liverpool are 1/1 and Spurs are 3/1, it becomes quite clear that the Toffees are huge long shots. Which means if Martinez & Co. are to get it right they must have a near flawless season.

That said, here are five key points that, if achieved, can help Everton achieve their dreams of a top-four finish.

Stop Dropping So Many Points To Lesser Competition

While Everton enjoyed a number of landmark wins last season too often the club dropped points to lesser competition. Drawing with Norwich City, West Brom (twice), Stoke City, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace is inexcusable. Losing to Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Southampton is even more disheartening. Granted, the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world but the best squads avoid let downs and if Everton want to reach the top-four, consistency has to improve.

Win 3-4 Big Matches

While Everton did pull off a few landmark victories last year they only managed to win two of eight matches played against top-four sides. If they’re to prove themselves worthy of Champions League they’ll have to do better than that. Winning four of eight would be optimal but even three of eight would be an improvement that could make a world of difference.

Avoid European Strain Through Squad Rotation

It goes without saying, but Martinez must rotate the squad and the physio team must prepare the players well for the impact of Europe. The strain of playing in Europe can’t be understated and it seems each year Premier League sides involved in the competition fall apart come winter and spring. It’s a fact Martinez is no doubt aware of as he’s done well to bring in new talent on both permanent and loan deals. Cycling through the group will be key as last season saw a rash of long term injuries hurt the club. But now, with the return of guys like Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, and, eventually, Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo, Everton have the depth needed to go deep.

Continue Harvesting Youth Players

Under the Moyes regime, youth players were seldom factored into the squad. But under Martinez last season, youth was king as Ross Barkley (20 y/o), Romelu Lukaku (21 y/o), Gerard Deulofeu (20 y/o), James McCarthy (23 y/o) and John Stones (20 y/o) all blossomed under the Spaniard’s tutelage. This year, Muhamed Besic (21 y/o) should see plenty of time while fellow transferee Brendan Galloway (18 y/o) could make his way into the first team. If Martinez is to continue his good work it will be crucial for an academy product to make a breakthrough as well. Look out for George Green (18 y/o), Hallam Hope (20 y/o), Chris Long (19 y/o), or Luke Garbutt (21 y/o) to be next in line for a debut.

Score Goals

Score goals, win games. A patently obvious point but when a club that’s renowned for tight finances goes out and drops $47 million on a striker like Romelu Lukaku, there had better be a solid return. Last year the Belgian scored 15 league goals while on loan with the Toffees and this year the goal should be to hit 20. A big ask for a big investment. But it’s not all on Lukaku as countryman Kevin Mirallas needs to target double digits, Ross Barkley must capitalize on his big goal capability and, once healthy, Kone has to absorb the role of super sub off the bench.

Michael Bradley has strong views on Crew’s relocation

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Michael Bradley didn’t hold back when asked about the Columbus Crew potentially being relocated to Austin, Texas, by their owner Anthony Precourt.

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The captain of Toronto FC and the U.S. men’s national team had his every touch booed during TFC’s 0-0 Conference Final first leg draw at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium on Tuesday and was asked afterwards about the uproar regarding the Crew’s possible relocation to a city over 1,200 miles away.

Bradley, 30, did not sit on the fence.

“Look, on one hand you feel for the small group of loyal supporters that they have who have been here since the beginning, who continue to support the team and come out week after week. On the other hand, you can’t deny the fact that things here have really fallen behind in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium, the quality of the stadium, what it’s like to play here,” Bradley said.

“I don’t know who’s at fault for that… there’s a lot going on, and I get that – and like I said, as an outsider I don’t know what that falls on. But again, the reality is just that as the league has continued to grow and grow – and this is not the only one, but this is one of a few markets that has not kept pace.”

Does Bradley have a point?

Looking at MLS in terms of average attendance over the past seven years since MLS expansion became rampant, Columbus’ highest average attendance was 17,125 in 2016. That was still over 4,000 below the league average, even if you believe attendance stats in MLS are vastly miscalculated in many markets with “tickets sold” included in many attendance figures.

For the 2017 regular season only Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas are drawing smaller crowds, on average, than Columbus’ average of 15,439, and there’s only a few hundred difference between those three clubs.

When you look at the somewhat recent arrivals of Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, New York City FC, Orlando City and now Atlanta and Minnesota United into the league, you just can’t compare their strong attendance numbers with Columbus and other MLS ever-present franchises such as Colorado and Dallas.

Bradley, on one level, is spot on. There is a distinct, and obvious, difference from the clubs set up in MLS in 1996 who are still in MLS today and the stadium deals those who entered in MLS 2.0 and 3.0.

Of course, his comments will not sit well with Columbus’ fans who are fighting desperately with the #SaveTheCrew movement to keep their club in Ohio with Precourt, MLS and the City of Columbus no closer to an agreement about plans for a new stadium for the Crew in downtown Columbus.

Above all, this is about more than attendances. Plenty of MLS markets have struggled in the past, or are struggling right now, to attract new fans and many Columbus supporters believe having a new owner who has their heart set on keeping the team in the city and improving the team and situation is the key. It’s hard to blame them for wanting that and not rolling over just because their current owner wants to try something different.

This is a tricky situation to see a “winner” from, with Precourt the only one set to benefit if he successfully relocates the Crew to Austin and they become profitable and big crowds turn up.

The situation is an absolute mess and with reports suggesting only two gates were open for Columbus’ playoff game against Toronto on Tuesday to slow down fans entering the stadium, it is become an embarrassing situation for MLS, especially as it appears they had the agreement in place with Precourt for a potential relocation to Austin when he purchased the Crew in 2013.

Once again, what a mess.

Everton announce major step in bid for new stadium

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Everton is edging closer to moving away from Goodison Park, their home since 1892.

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The Toffees released a statement on Thursday saying they’ve exchanged contracts on a lease to buy the land at Bramley Moore Dock where they hope to build their new 60,000 capacity stadium.

It is believed the new stadium would cost over $400 million, while the total for regeneration work in the Bramley Moore area in north Liverpool could be over $7 billion.

The club and Liverpool City Council have worked together tirelessly to make this stadium plan a possibility after several failed attempts to build Everton a new home in the past.

Everton called it a “significant milestone” in their stadium move and added that the club “effectively now controls the land upon which a new stadium would be built.”

This is a huge moment for Everton and their owner Farhad Moshiri who has made building a new stadium his top priority since buying a 49.9 percent share of the club in February 2016.

Below are more details from the statement released by Everton, which you can read in full here.

Everton Stadium Development Limited (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Everton Football Club) and Peel Land and Property (Ports) Limited have formally signed an agreement for the Club to lease land at Bramley Moore Dock, Liverpool Waters.

The lease, which is conditional upon gaining planning consent for the proposed new stadium and securing funding for its construction, will run for a period of 200 years at a peppercorn rent.

The signing of the agreement is a significant milestone in the project and means Everton effectively now controls the land upon which a new stadium would be built. This follows several years of searching for a new site and is the culmination of an exhaustive search across the city.

Robert Elstone, Chief Executive at Everton Football Club, said: “Clearly, this is very positive news. Gaining control of the site was essential for us to be able to move forward with the next stages of the project – finalising the funding agreement with the Council and preparing for the submission of a planning application – both of which we hope to do in the new year. I’d like to thank Peel as well as Mayor Anderson and his colleagues at the Council for their support in getting us to this point.”

The proposed new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock will be a catalyst for the £5.5bn regeneration proposals for North Liverpool which is set to be one of the largest and most transformational in the city’s history.

Premier League clubs send Thanksgiving wishes to USA

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Premier League clubs have been spending today wishing their fans and followers in the USA a Happy Thanksgiving.

That’s nice of them.

With several clubs having strong connections to the U.S. via current or past players, plus ownership groups based in the States, the bond is close between the two nations.

Here’s how plenty of PL clubs sent their wishes across the Atlantic on Thursday. And, oh yeah, have a great day everyone!


Tottenham took a look back at their Stateside trip in the summer


Everton saluted their former U.S. internationals with a moment to remember from Tim Howard


Man City went full on Fall


Arsenal kept it simple


So did Southampton, albeit with a photo of a delicious turkey in the background very tempting…


Stoke City have a strong band of American players over the years


Swansea’s American owners will have been pleased with this message


Bournemouth sent their best wishes too

Antoine Griezmann reveals desire to play in MLS

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Antoine Griezmann is being chased by the biggest clubs in Europe and is the main attacking talent for the French national team.

He just signed a new deal with La Liga giants Atletico Madrid through the 2022 season and despite Manchester United and Barcelona, among others, linked with a move for the predatory striker, nobody really knows where the Frenchman will be beyond this season.

But which league does he want to play in, for sure? Major League Soccer. Yep. That’s right.

In his new book titled “Behind a Smile: The life of the Little Prince” Griezmann says that he wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol, David Beckham, and finish his career in MLS. Griezmann also stated his love for NBA star Derrick Rose and his admiration for David Villa, captain of NYCFC.

Given the fact that Griezmann is 26 years old, it could be some time before he arrives in MLS but maybe he will do so in time to become one of Beckham’s first handful of Designated Players at his long-awaited Miami franchise?

Given the fact that whenever he discusses a potential move to Man United he cites the cold weather as an issue against the transfer, it’s likely Griezmann would want to be in a warmer climate in MLS. His good friend from their time together at Real Sociedad, Carlos Vela, is swapping Spain for Los Angeles in a few months as LAFC’s first DP.

Take your pick, Antoine. LAFC? Miami? NYCFC? LA Galaxy? Atlanta United?

I’m sure anyone would want to sign in a few years on DP-level money if you keep scoring goals like this one last night against AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League…