Following a humbling three weeks, which have seen 4 feeble defeats, 12 goals conceded without reply and Wayne Rooney galumphing around up front like a drowsy toddler, many would expect Ronald Koeman to ring the changes ahead of his side’s League Cup 3rd round tie with Championship Sunderland.
But based on what we’ve seen thus far from the Toffees, the Dutch schemer would be a fool to dismiss the competition, it might well be his only opportunity to turn this season into a tangible success.
From the dismal, one paced showings we’ve seen this last month it’s safe to say Everton are a million miles away from what Koeman was ultimately appointed, and heavily backed financially, to do - challenge for the top four.
Europe is also hardly looking too peachy right now. I know we’re only one game in but the 3-0 drubbing in Atalanta means they’re now comfortably third favourites to get out of a group where Lyon will surely come through strong.
That said, despite currently languishing in the drop zone, it’s fair to say a squad peppered with seasoned internationals possess too much quality to get mired in a relegation battle. Frankly, I’ll eat my hat if they don’t clock up a tenth PL finish between 5th and 9th in the last dozen seasons come May.
In light of this, the man they used to call Tintin at the Camp Nou would be crazy not to seriously investigate the two domestic cups, especially the now luridly named Carabao Cup. Clubs such as Man City, Chelsea and Man United can afford to use the League Cup as a means to blood youngsters and keep squad players interested. They know the next shot at a trophy is only months away. For the likes of Stoke, Southampton and Everton, however, it represents a rare chance for glory that is so frequently sniffed at, despite clubs of this standing often waiting decades between cup finals.
And, in years gone by, it's easy to see why this happened - simply follow the money. Last year, each place finished up the Premier League table was worth just under £2M extra in prize cash (Official PL Stats), whilst League Cup winner’s Manchester United walked home with a paltry £100,000K for their efforts in downing Southampton at Wembley. As a manager with half an eye on his summer transfer kitty, why would you run your players into the ground, at the expense of league form, for such paltry reward?
But things have changed at Everton since Farhad Moshiri’s millions and the ever-escalating foreign TV deals steeled the club’s once wobbly finances. In the grand scheme of things, coming 6th, rather than 9th, is now of far smaller consequence than 5 years ago.
So why not target the League Cup? The draws are frequently wide open with the top six rarely taking it seriously until the semi-final stage whilst Leicester drawing Liverpool will ensure one of the realistic contenders for the title will definitely drop out this evening.
And compared to years gone by, now that they club are financially stable, Premier League prize money is no longer the be all and end all in terms of financing squad improvements at Goodison. Bids for players jump up in dozens of millions these days, an extra couple of million here and there is largely immaterial.
There's also the theory that success breeds success. Jose Mourinho is famous for targeting the competition where others waste less energy on it, in a bid to get his players used to the taste of success and hungry for more. On each of the four occasions he's won it his sides have gone on to win another trophy that season. Aside from the rapidly decomposing Rooney and perhaps Davy Klaasen, none of the current Blues squad know what it feels like to routinely push for titles. Again, the Carabao Cup is a rare opportunity to positively shift the mentality in his squad.
In a season where Koeman already looks highly unlikely to hit his main objective, a trip to Wembley, and the boost to fan morale that a deep cup run brings with it, could be the difference between getting one more shot at Champions League qualification come June and sloping off to the job centre, P45 in hand.
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