Don’t say it too loud, or you’ll wake up the neighbourhood – but Everton are in a very strong league position, and there’s no reason to assume they are just going to fade away later in the season.
Yes, they may be back to fifth pending the result of Tottenham v Liverpool. But as it stands, whether they are fourth or fifth come Monday morning, Roberto Martinez’s side are in the thick of what is once again becoming a tight race for the Premier League crown.
While it’s easy to assume sides with the cash of a Chelsea or Man City or the championship pedigree or an Arsenal or Liverpool will inevitably outlast the unfancied Toffees, there are a few reasons to think otherwise based on their professional putting-away of Fulham – as well as their other fine performances this season.
1) They can turn tight situations into comfortable-looking results
Right up there with ‘getting three points from suspect performances’, something Everton have also managed a couple of times this season, this is the mark of a side who can go the distance. The 4-1 win over Rene Meulensteen’s side was a great example of the sort of game that separates the winners from the teams who are merely giving a decent account of themselves.
2) No ‘big name’ hangovers
The man credited with Everton’s strong showings for a decade heads off to United – but look who’s thriving from the split. Star player Marouane Fellaini? Ditto. Leighton Baines injured for a while? Bryan Oviedo shows talent and hunger only the Toffees backroom staff knew he had to fill the gap. Gerard Deulofeu out for a spell too, now? They subbed him off for Kevin Mirallas on Saturday and benefitted. Romelu Lukaku grabs headlines as a world-beater – and yet, you don’t see them rely on his goals.
3) Loans done right
Speak of the Belgian devil: Lukaku and especially Gareth Barry sum up what the club are after when it comes to borrowing players from bigger clubs. The most common problem you see with player loans is that the smaller team is wowed to have such a player turn out in their kit while the player’s owners want them back as soon as they’ve run off some rust (or a sulk at the parent club). Everton have found loanees who want to play, and are out to prove a point. They’re doing just that.
4) A team effort
Every top Premier League side has had that old 'one-man team' caper launched their way by embittered rival fans looking to save face. Can even the staunchest anti-Toffees supporter make even a half-serious case against Everton in that department? Lukaku gets many headlines, as does Deulofeu. But everyone is putting in a shift at present. Coleman, Barry, Tim Howard, Ross Barkley, Leon Osman... the list goes on. If one player has an off night, there's at least half a dozen to pick up the slack so few notice.
5) Fear? What’s fear!?
Perhaps Everton’s best chance of a genuine title challenge is to stay where they are in the table until April, remaining within arm’s length of the front-runners.
So far, they’ve oozed confidence playing the Martinez way without the pressure on them – whether staring an upset in the face against Fulham until three late goals made it look rather easy, or visiting the league leaders and playing their fabled style of football with even more panache than Arsenal.
Should they, one week, end up creeping ahead of the rest of the title-chasers, perhaps the magnitude of their season so far will dawn on them. For the sake of an even more exciting title race, let’s hope not.