Everton can follow Spurs model but top four must wait - Danny Murphy

By Danny MurphyMOTD pundit
Match of the Day

Danny Murphy will join Gary Lineker and Martin Keown on Match of the Day on BBC One and the BBC Sport website at 22:20 GMT on Saturday for highlights of seven Premier League games. You can watch highlights of Tottenham v Everton on MOTD2 at 22:30 on Sunday.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman says his side are still chasing a top-four finish as they prepare to face second-placed Tottenham on Sunday, but I would be amazed if the Toffees made the Champions League spots this season.

Even if Koeman's side maintain their current form during the run-in, which is a big enough ask, they are relying on not one but three of the six teams above them falling away.

All the sides chasing leaders Chelsea have had blips in the past few months, but something that dramatic is just not going to happen.

I still think Evertonians will be really pleased with what is happening at their club at the moment, however.

My feeling earlier on in the season was that they were not getting the rewards they deserved. They drew and lost a few games in October and November even though they were playing really well, and lost a bit of confidence.

But in Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman, they made a couple of good additions in January that have strengthened their squad and given them some competition for places.

On top of that, their manager has had more time to work on what he expects and how he wants them to play, and it is working.

Do it the Spurs way - with a young squad of hungry players

Everton's unbeaten run
Everton have not been beaten in the Premier League since they lost out to Liverpool's injury-time winner in the Merseyside derby nine games ago - only Manchester United, who have gone 16 games without defeat, are on a longer unbeaten run in the league

Everton have built this momentum over the past couple of months and there is a real positivity about the place that we have not seen from their fans for a while.

The quality of football is good, the squad is getting better and the ambition is there too - the owner has promised to put more money into the club and there is still talk and hope of a new stadium somewhere down the line to give them the extra revenue they need.

With so much of a feel-good factor around Goodison Park, I can understand why Koeman is setting such ambitious targets but, being realistic, cracking the top four will be very difficult in the short term, and it is likely to stay that way.

For starters, Everton are competing against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United - three clubs who can buy any player in the world, and pay the best wages in the world too.

Arsenal do not generally spend as much but they still made a massive outlay to sign Alexis Sanchez (£35m in 2014) and Mesut Ozil (£42.4m in 2013), for example.

Like Liverpool and Tottenham, Everton have not changed the philosophy of their recruitment to try to compete. They are not at the same level financially, so they have to do it in a different way.

The Spurs approach has been to try to build a young squad full of hungry players and sprinkle it with proven quality.

It looks like Everton are trying to do something similar but both teams face the same problem while they seek to progress, which is keeping hold of their best players - and maybe their managers too.

Everton are too reliant on Lukaku to score their goals

Romelu Lukaku goals
Lukaku has scored 17 of Everton's 42 Premier League goals this season. At the other top-seven clubs, Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored the next highest % of his side's league goals with 39% then comes Harry Kane (Spurs) 34%, Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) 31%, Diego Costa (Chelsea) 29%, Sergio Aguero (Man City) 22% and Sadio Mane (Liverpool) 20%.

Spurs will be a real test for Everton and their long unbeaten run, but they are also a good example of what they can achieve as a club and how to build to achieve it.

There are already similarities in how both teams play, with a solid defence, attack-minded full-backs, some talented young English players and a prolific goalscorer up front.

Like Koeman, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino wants his teams to be difficult to beat, asks his players to defend in numbers and wants them to play decent football when they go forward.

I would say Tottenham are a better defensive unit than Everton but the biggest difference between the two teams is that the Toffees are too reliant on Romelu Lukaku to score their goals. That is what they are lacking in comparison to the rest of the top six too.

You could argue Spurs are the same with Harry Kane but they do have Dele Alli to chip in as well. When Lukaku is not at it, Everton do not look as threatening, full-stop.

His future, and whether he will sign a new contract at Everton, has been talked about since the start of the season.

Lukaku is hugely important to the way they play but he is probably even more important as an asset, and they have to protect that.

If he signs a new deal, they can protect themselves without standing in his way if he gets an offer and really wants to leave because, then, if someone comes in for him they will get what he is worth.

Why digging in is the way forward for Everton too

Koeman after Middlesbrough draw: Everton clean sheet really positive

Statistically, Everton are strong defensively but that comes at a price. They have created fewer chances in the Premier League than all six of the teams above them.

Of course Koeman will be looking to make them more of a threat but you cannot always be good defensively and, at the same time, create lots of chances.

Everton in the Premier League (and rank) 2016-17
Goals conceded: 27 (4)Goals scored: 42 (6)
Shots faced: 303 (8)Shots: 261 (8)
Shots on target faced: 97 (7)Shots on target: 134 (5)

For where Everton are at right now, their approach is the right one. They have made themselves hard to beat, and are building from there.

Would they get more creativity by pushing more men forward and playing with more freedom? Maybe. But committing more players to attack would leave them exposed, and they do not have the same calibre of attackers as the teams above them.

Everton line-ups
Everton have named an unchanged side in their past two games - a draw with Middlesbrough and a win over Sunderland - and kept two clean sheets

Tottenham actually have a similar problem because, behind Kane, I still feel they are missing the kind of high-end quality creative player their rivals have got.

I rate Christian Eriksen and Alli but Moussa Sissoko and Erik Lamela do not really compare to the options at City, Arsenal or Chelsea.

What Spurs have instead is an ability to dig in during games when they are not playing well.

That allows them to get results because of their team togetherness and defensive organisation, and it is the way forward for Everton too.

What next? Target a Rooney return?

Wayne Rooney during his Everton days
Rooney made his name at Goodison Park before joining Manchester United for £27m in 2004

As well as talking about the top four, Koeman spoke this week about how bringing Wayne Rooney back to the club from Manchester United this summer would "make Everton stronger".

I am not so sure.

I do not doubt Rooney has got the quality to do a great job for Everton but my question to Koeman would be, whose place in the team is he going to take?

Everton have just spent £11m on Lookman, a 19-year-old kid from Charlton. If you do that, you want to work on him and give him the game-time he needs to progress.

They already had Ross Barkley, one of England's best young players. If Koeman wants Barkley to stay, to build him up to the quality player he can be, then he needs to play too.

Ronald Koeman says Everton expect a lot from new signing Ademola Lookman

What is Koeman going to do with these guys - sit them on the bench? How does that fit in with the club's philosophy?

Don't get me wrong, I know the value of an experienced head to help young players, and the England captain would definitely be great at that.

But he will want to play as well - if he leaves United then, wherever he goes, you would think that would be the whole point.

At 31, Rooney is a brilliant footballer and I understand why people want him back at Goodison Park.

But him being there would ultimately mean a young player does not get as much football, and their development would be hampered.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.


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