Moyes: Finishing fourth is a stretch
Everton manager David Moyes fears his in-form team have left it too late to nick fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League and a place in next season's UEFA Champions League. The Toffees are arguably the form team in the top flight, having beaten Chelsea and Manchester United - the division's leading two sides - in their past two league matches.
They are rapidly closing in on the four teams above them – Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa - who are currently battling it out for the final UEFA Champions League berth. And a win at White Hart Lane on Sunday against Spurs, who headed into the weekend occupying fourth place, would give Everton fans yet more hope their team could achieve a miraculous recovery from their poor start to the season. But Moyes has moved to play down the rising expectations that are now accompanying his side as they dive headlong into the business end of the campaign.
"I think fourth is too far to get to," said Moyes, whose side are eight points behind Tottenham with a game in hand. "I've said this all along - that the start we had to the season makes it too big a catch-up for us.
"Obviously we will keep trying to get as close as we can, but I think to mention coming fourth is a bit too extravagant. But we will see."
Given his team have been flying in the Barclays Premier League, their 3-0 loss to Sporting Lisbon on Thursday - a defeat which knocked Everton out of the Europa League at the Round of 32 stage - came as something of a shock to Moyes. Having taken a 2-1 lead into the second leg in Portugal, and with Sporting struggling in their own domestic league, Everton were expected in many quarters to progress into the competition's second knockout round, but instead they crashed out.
Moyes has now challenged his side to consign that result to the history books and rediscover the form that has served them so well in the league of late.
"We need to get back playing how we have been over the last two or three months," Moyes said. "We have had the odd blip, but over that period we have done really well and the lads have done a great job. We are probably the form team in the Premier League, maybe apart from Manchester United, and overall I don't think the players could have done any more.
"Obviously we had a disappointing performance and result (against Sporting), but that doesn't hide the way they have been playing."
Distin, Heitinga expected
Centre-halves Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga are likely to return to Everton's line-up for tomorrow match, with Joseph Yobo and the injured Philippe Senderos (hip) set to make way. Phil Jagielka made his comeback from ten months out with knee-ligament damage when he came on as a second-half substitute against Sporting, but he is unlikely to figure this weekend, with Moyes insistent he will not rush the former Sheffield United defender back to first-team action.
Louis Saha should lead the line at White Hart Lane, buoyed by his call-up to the France squad after more than three years in the international wilderness. Saha has scored 13 league goals this season and Moyes is delighted the striker's form has been recognised by Les Bleus coach Raymond Domenech.
"I think it's terrific for Louis. Hopefully he can make a late run for the World Cup squad," Moyes said. "We are in form. And when Everton are in form, that's where international managers will be looking.
"Louis has got undoubted talent and he wouldn't look out of place with whatever players they put in that squad, that's for sure."