This has been a dreadful Premier League season for Everton Football Club. Our record is 7 wins, 12 defeats, and 10 draws. For the first time in years, we have genuine relegation worries. In fact, until Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle, Everton was only three points above the drop zone.
Nonetheless, Everton is the last English club playing in European competition. Mighty Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal were all eliminated from the Champions League in the Round of 16. Tottenham exited the Europa League in the Round of 32.
Liverpool managed to crash out of both tournaments. The Red Shite dropped into the Europa League after failing to qualify for the knock-out stage of the Champions League, and then lost their Round of 32 match on penalty kicks.
This leaves only Everton. Not only have we advanced in the Europa League, we have done so with style (though probably to the detriment of our Premier League campaign). In the group stage, we twice rather easily defeated Wolfsburg, the second best team in Germany this year. In the Round of 32, we crushed a decent Swiss side 4-1 away and 3-1 at home.
Our opponent in the Round of 16 is perennial powerhouse Dynamo Kiev. In the first leg, played in Liverpool, we came from behind to win 2-1. Tomorrow we play the second leg in Kiev. (Dynamo is the only Ukrainian team that has been able to play its European matches in its home stadium; several other clubs were unable to do so for security reasons).
Despite our success in the first leg, Everton will have a difficult time advancing. Kiev is, I think, a slightly better team, and it excels at home.
Moreover, Kiev, despite losing the first leg, scored an away goal. Away goals are the tie-breaker in European club competition (Arsenal and Chelsea both lost this tie-breaker and, accordingly, were eliminated by Monaco and Paris St. Germain, respectively).
Thus, if the Ukrainians win 1-0, not an improbable result, they will advance. Everton will advance on a win, a draw, or a one goal defeat in which we score two or more goals. If Dynamo wins 2-1, the match will go into extra time and, if necessary, penalty kicks.
The playing surface at Dynamo’s stadium is said to be in very poor condition. This won’t necessarily be to Everton’s disadvantage, since Dynamo relies on passing rather than power. Everton can play it either way, and it was the sheer strength and determination of Romelu (“Big Rom”) Lukaku that turned the first leg our way.
The absence of an English team from the Champions League’s final eight is a major blow to the prestige of the highly touted Premier League. Success by Everton tomorrow would hardly compensate. However, failure to put a team into the final eight of the Europa League would compound the humiliation.
Success tomorrow would also mean that, uniquely among Premier League teams, we will have to continue carrying a double load of matches. But with our relegation fears reduced after Sunday’s win, it’s a burden we very much hope to shoulder.
UPDATE: Everton crashed out of the Europa League by an aggregate score of 4-6. Our defense today was awful, with much of the blame resting on Atolin Alcarez, whom manager Roberto Martinez started instead of the superior John Stones, for some reason.
Everton is the last English team to exit Europe this year and I’m almost certain that we will be the last of the teams mentioned in this post to return to Europe. I fear that it will be many years before we return.
Congratulations to Dynamo Kiev. They deserve to advance. I hope this victory brings widespread joy to this embattled nation, whose president attended today’s match.