According to the traditional Christmas yuletide carol “Deck The Halls”, it is the season to be jolly.
Unfortunately for Everton, there doesn’t appear to be much joviality around as the seasonal festivities march towards Christmas.
Without a win since the 2-0 away victory at Wolfsburg in the Europa League two weeks ago, and with only a solitary win in the Premier League since the beginning of November, it would be simple to assume that Roberto Martinez and his charges would struggle over the festive period – a spell that will see the Toffees play seven matches between 11th December and 3rd January, five of which are to come in the Premier League.
And yet, stringing a number of victories together, as Manchester United and Newcastle United can attest to at this stage of the season, can propel any club into the higher echelons of the Premier League.
Just six points separates eleventh placed Aston Villa and eighteenth placed Hull City, whilst the gap between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, in third and tenth position respectively, is a reasonable seven points, such is the snug nature of the current standings.
It is this kind of congestion that Everton can take advantage of, during the Christmas fixture schedule, should the Blues find some form and confidence.
Normally, this year’s run of fixtures during the Christmas and New Year period would be looked upon affectionately by Evertonians but, such has been the erratic form of the Toffees in the league, it would be reckless to presume that five successive league victories would be forthcoming.
Tough away trips to Hull City, a resurgent Newcastle and Southampton, this season’s surprise package, are sandwiched inbetween home encounters with Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City – the latter two of which, in recent years, could be regarded as potential victories at fortress Goodison, but just two home wins in seven home clashes in the league have proven that, this year at least, Goodison Park is anything but formidable.
Couple this inconsistent form with a spate of injuries and weary legs from an already packed fixture list, and it might be possible to surmise that the upcoming flurry of fixtures could see the Blues further losing pace on the clubs above them in the league table.
With the Christmas and New Year period, however, comes hope anew, and it is also equally as plausible that Martinez and his men could use the impending crop of fixtures to reverse the relative gloom that encompasses Goodison Park.
Since the 2004/05 season, Everton have played 55 league matches in the month of December, winning 24 of those encounters and losing just 14, equating to a fairly impressive 43.7% win rate throughout the typical festive calendar over the past ten seasons.
The Blues can also look forward to welcoming back sidelined stars such as James McCarthy, Steven Naismith and John Stones over the course of the next month or so, which will no doubt aid manager Roberto Martinez in rotating his squad in the coming weeks and months of the season, whilst key players like Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku have shown signs finding their best personal form since the last international break in mid-November.
As for this year’s Christmas fixture list, the Toffees can take heart from the fact that they boast impressive home records over Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City (winning 63% and and 66% of matches at Goodison against each club), are unbeaten in five and four matches against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle and Steve Bruce’s Hull City respectively, and have only lost one of the last eight encounters with Southampton.
With the final Europa League game against FC Krasnodar effectively a dead rubber, after qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition thanks to that victory at Wolfsburg, Martinez also has the opportunity to rest key players such as Lukaku, Tim Howard, Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines ahead of the testing run of league clashes, and thereby allow some of his stars to enter another cramped period with fresher minds and legs.
If Everton are looking to build upon last season’s progress under Martinez and his coaching staff, it is imperative that the club rack up as many points as possible, over the course of the next three weeks, to ascend the Premier League table and garner some confidence and form as the season enters its second half following the turn of the year.
Ahead of the most action-packed time for footballers nationwide, it is make or break time for many clubs, and Everton must make sure that it is themselves that thrive, and not falter.