It's easy to forget how important squad depth is. Well, it¹s easy for most top tier teams to forget how important squad depth is, because they have it. But, all you¹ve had to do the last few weeks is watch Everton limp towards the finish line with tired heavy legs, and sub-standard performances and it¹s clear exactly what the team is missing.
The tired legs are no surprise when you consider that according to Opta Sports, Everton have used fewer players this year in the Premier League than any other squad. And what¹s worse, of the 22 players manager David Moyes has run out there, four of them have played less than 60 total minutes (Duffy 1, Barkley 32, Gueye 49, Vellios 54).
In effect the squad is only 18, and those 18 players have been forced to play many more minutes than their counterparts on the two other squads in the competition for fourth place. Everton have had five different players play over 2200 minutes this season (Howard, Baines, Osman, Pienaar, Jagielka), Arsenal and Tottenham by comparison only have one player each who've amassed that many minutes. Now, to be fair those other two teams have also had European competitions to worry about meaning they've played seven games so far in competitions that Everton don't have to worry about, but that difference doesn't make up for just how hard David Moyes has been forced to ride his starters.
In addition to Tim Howard in goal, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines have played every single Premier League minute this season, and Leon Osman has only missed 19, and Steven Pienaar 133. (The vast majority of Pienaar's missed minutes came from picking up a second yellow 29 minutes from time against QPR and being suspended the next week against Liverpool). That's almost half the team's first choice who, outside of a single game for Pienaar, have been ever present.
And it's not like the other half of the team is any less indispensable. Fellaini has obviously been the star of the team this year, and Kevin Mirallas and Darron Gibson have been sorely missed during the time they've spent out injured. Even Sylvain Distin can ill afford to miss games, given the mystifyingly poor form of Heitinga behind him. The only time they don't play is when they physically can't (which has been often in the case of Gibson and Mirallas). That's nine players that Everton need on the field to have a chance at approaching their top level of play. That's just too many.
It's undeniable that Everton have had a strong season to date. If the magic doesn't continue though, and they can't somehow scratch and claw their way up to fourth place it won't be because their starting 11 aren't good enough,
they are. It will be because the lack of depth on this team has forced players to play too many minutes, and those minutes are catching up to them. There's ample opportunity for Everton to turn this season around, if only their legs would let them.