Premier League 2020/21: Are Everton the title favourites?
Everton FC are one of the most influential clubs in English football history. They have featured in the top flight in a record number of 117 seasons while missing out on only four occasions. Moreover, they have been the champions nine times as well. Yet, they haven't been in the reckoning as a top Premier League club for at least the last couple of decades or so.
The reason for that can be primarily attributed to their failure of winning the title in the last three decades. The 1987-88 season was the last time Everton became the Champions of the top division of English football. The league wasn't even known as the Premier League back then. It was officially renamed as the English Premier League five seasons later in 1992-93. So Everton have gone through a 32-year title drought now and that is long enough a period for people to forget their status as a club, no matter how rich their history or legacy is.
Something different about Everton in the current season?
Everton have gone unbeaten in the five Premier League matches they have played in the ongoing season till now and that has propelled them to the top of the league table for the time being. Yes, we have seen many clubs who enjoyed such initial bursts of form in the past editions but they have eventually gone on to finish mid-table by the end of the season. However, the spark that we have seen in Everton's playing style this season is similar to that of a champion team.
Out of the five matches that they have played so far, two of them have been against top clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Everton faced Spurs in their opening fixture of the Premier League season and registered a clinical 1-0 win over them. And against the defending champions, they put up yet another stellar show as they drew the game 2-2. Such success can be attributed to a number of factors working together for them.
The rise of Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton's 23-year-old English striker, has been in sensational form since last year. He finished as their joint-top-scorer in the last Premier League season with 13 goals to his name. And as things stand five matches into the 2020/21 edition of the League now, he has netted a total seven goals, which is more than half of what he scored last time around.
The forward is far more aware of his abilities right now and has added some nice skills to his style of play as well. His chemistry with Brazilian forward Richarlison up top has always been pretty good but it seems like they have taken it up a notch in this edition. Most defences have found the Everton duo very difficult to contain and a strengthened midfield has only freed them up to do what they are best at.
The arrival of James Rodriguez
The signing of James Rodriguez from Bayern Munich was one of the main highlights for Carlo Ancelotti this season. The Colombian midfielder used to be one of his favourite players during his stint as the Real Madrid manager. Rodriguez had the best time of his career at Real Madrid under Ancelotti and it seems like the same combination is doing wonders once again.
The form of Gylfi Sigurdsson had been a major cause of concern for Everton since the last season. He was neither posing a threat to the opposition in terms of scoring nor was he able to create chances on a consistent basis for the Everton forwards. Injuries have had a lot to do with his dip in form and it left Everton crying out for a quality playmaker in their ranks. That's why the arrival of Rodriguez turned out to be such good news for the club.
Yes, he hasn't had the best of times in the last couple of years but here he had the chance of making a fresh start. And as things have panned out so far, he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands. Rodriguez has not only scored three goals in the Premier League season thus far but assisted thrice as well.
His pitch-perfect passes and through balls have helped the likes of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison a lot and the support he has provided in offence has only taken the load off their backs. Yes, he might not be a like-for-like playmaker as Sigurdsson - the Iceland international is more of a central midfielder whereas Rodriguez mainly plays from the right side - but Everton have tweaked their style of play to accommodate Rodriguez and most of their offenses are now built from the right side of the midfield.
Abdoulaye Doucoure pulling the strings from deep inside the midfield
Even though it was the transfer of Rodriguez that created all the buzz in the transfer market for Everton, the club made an equally good signing by hiring the services of Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford. The defensive midfielder now sits at the heart of Everton's midfield and allows the trio of Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin to unleash all of their firepower on the opposition defence.
He has featured in all matches of the season so far and made some brilliant interceptions and clearances for Everton. He is quite useful in counterattacks as well. Doucoure has accounted for a total of 17 Premier League goals in his four seasons with Watford and will be eager to add more of those to his name while being at Goodison Park as well.
All of these changes have worked out pretty well for Everton so far. They seem like a champion team considering the kind of confidence they have right now and the form they are in. But a lot will depend on how far they can take this consistency forward.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Peter Byrne