Never has a Premier League table so early in the season so closely resembled the way most of us expect it to finish in May. Yes, Liverpool will climb and West Ham will slip, and Arsenal have had a difficult fixture list. The mid-table teams will shuffle around according to form. But by and large, the top and bottom five include four of those you would expect to be in there. There is no Hull (or Norwich, or Wigan for that matter) flying in 2nd place on enthusiasm and adrenalin — in fact, this year’s candidates for such a feat, Southampton and Reading, are already languishing in the relegation zone.
The team that does occupy 2nd place is Everton. Are they the Newcastle of last season? You certainly don’t get the sense that they’re just keeping the spot warm for a bigger club.
It was clear they meant business in the opening fixture against Manchester United. Players and fans alike were fired up with energy levels high and atmosphere both electric and intimidating at Goodison. After that win, they deflated Michael Laudrup’s high flying (at the time) Swans with a 3-0 away victory, were extremely unfortunate not to beat Newcastle, and took all three points from Villa. They disposed of Southampton quite easily last weekend, and only stumbled away at West Brom. It is fair to say they are a team in form.
Latics meanwhile, have had a topsy turvy start to the season. The thumping 4-1 League Cup wins over Nottingham Forest and West Ham have cushioned the disappointment of missed opportunities in the Premier League. If the kind of finishing we saw in the confident and stylish win at Southampton had been on show against Stoke, Fulham and Sunderland, Latics may well have picked up 9 points and be in that top five. Instead, poor finishing from Wigan has left the side in the bottom five.
Jakarta Jack called for a shake-up in his article earlier this week. Not necessarily wholesale, but a few fresh faces to liven things up. I suspect we might see one or two. For one, I think Mauro Boselli will be involved. His form and finishing in the League Cup and reserves has been sensational. Arouna Koné has been unlucky but really should have scored one or two more than he has, while Di Santo’s form interrupted by injury.
Jordi Gomez’s suspension has been repealed, but Di Santo’s return to fitness should in turn signal a return to the bench for the Spaniard. Ryo Miyaichi and Callum McManaman have been used as impact subs in the last two matches but must be in contention. Antolin Alcaraz can’t return soon enough in defence.
Everton are looking scary. Leighton Baines is practically a playmaker at left back, and an excellent one at that. His partnership with Steven Pienaar down the left is extremely dangerous and Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis will have to be alert. Kevin Mirallas looks a quality player. Nikica Jelavic has continued last season’s form with three goals in five league matches. Marouane Fellaini is attracting interest from bigger clubs. Their defence is one of the most established in the league having played together for a number of seasons. And with Victor Anichebe, Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith on the bench, they have depth.
But Latics need three points to arrest this slump of late — I suspect there will be a real urgency around the DW tomorrow. If they take their chances, they can get them.