By David Lynch
With his side currently third in the Premier League, David Moyes could be forgiven for selecting a weakened team when Everton face Leeds United in the League Cup on Tuesday.
The Toffees have enjoyed a roaring start to their league campaign, posting three wins, a draw and just one loss in their opening five games. However, for purely selfish reasons, the Scot may want to consider continuing to use his big guns for the trip to Elland Road.
The Merseyside outfit's impressive form at the start of the campaign is, of course, something of a rarity. The perennial slow starters of English football are famed for taking months to get going and then regretting their sluggishness later down the line when a timely upturn in form restores them to their customary position in the top eight.
The banishment of such dawdling is not the result of a change in pre-season routine though, it is the culmination of a decade's work by Moyes. Now, he must determine whether the club can capitalise on that or set their sights on a more attainable goal.
Premier League finishes
When handed the reins at Goodison Park back in 2002, Moyes was seen as a risk in some quarters, having just four years' management experience at Preston North End. The Glaswegian had led the Lancashire club from Division Two to Division One, only missing out on a second promotion due to a play-off final defeat to Sam Allardyce's Bolton, but was untested at the very top level.
He quickly allayed those fears, however, taking a fragmented dressing room to Premier League safety in his first two months at the club before posting a remarkable seventh-placed finish the following season.
The drop to 17th which followed the year after that provided one of the biggest tests of a top-flight chairman's trigger finger in some time but, in hindsight, it is one that Kenwright passed with flying colours by sticking with his man. He was suitably remunerated for such faith, as Everton edged out their great local rivals Liverpool to seal fourth in the season after that.
Though that hard work was not repaid with Champions League qualification, due to a cruel draw which saw the Blues come up against a strong Villarreal side, Moyes had effectively sealed his position as one of few unsackable managers in the Premier League.
Everton have never finished lower than 11th since - and all that with a transfer budget dwarfed by several of the clubs who routinely finish below them including, most recently, Liverpool.
Impressive league positions are perhaps scant reward for the work that the Scot has done, though - nobody ever had an open-top bus parade for impressively overcoming a lack of transfer funds.
|11/1||Everton are 11/1 with Bet365 to beat Leeds United 3-1 in the League Cup
Having seen their side denied by Chelsea in an FA Cup final and cruelly defeated in the semi-final of that competition by Kenny Dalglish's Reds last term, Everton supporters deserve a moment of glory as much as their manager. The opportunity to secure that may come with the substantial risk of investing the club's full attentions into cup competitions but it is a gamble with a pay-off which far outstrips the potential downfalls.
In realistic terms, even given their good start and penchant for finishing strongly, Everton are unlikely to break into the top four. The financial strength of Chelsea and Manchester City has all but sealed their places, whilst Manchester United and Arsenal are two mainstays unlikely to be surpassed by plucky upstarts given their squad strength and experience.
Meanwhile, a Europa League campaign may be an enjoyable jaunt for fans but the monetary returns are minimal and the inconvenience of travelling to far-flung destinations will doubtless have a detrimental effect on a squad which is likely to remain tight-knit next season.
So, with all that considered, a trip to face Leeds is the perfect fixture for Moyes to set out his stall for the season. The Yorkshire club are a Premier League-sized outfit with Championship status and possess in Neil Warnock a manager canny enough to ensure that any under-strength Toffees team would see their cup run ended on Tuesday night.
Thus, the team selection for the game will be more insightful than most. It will either underline a commitment to a solid league campaign which has little chance of providing particular cheer come the end of the season, or the start of a fight to end a trophy drought which, for a club of Everton's size, is 17 years too long.
Regardless, after 10 years of brilliant work, Moyes deserves full backing whichever route he chooses.
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