THE demands of European football on a team can be great. Players can feel the strain of long-haul flights and squads can buckle under the weight of playing three times a week.
League form can dip and seasons are at risk of fizzling out because sides struggle to cope with a rigorous schedule.
But the buzz and electricity that comes from a midweek game, under the lights against your peers from the continent, is hard to replicate.
This is Everton’s third season without European competition and its absence is a glaring omission in their calendar.
Not that the manager David Moyes required any more motivation to bring such prestige back to the Blues but watching his former club Celtic, and their uplifting victory over Barcelona on Wednesday night, only served to heighten his desires to experience something similar with Everton once again.
Talk of Champions League qualification is only a whisper at present but after 10 games of the Premier League campaign, Moyes’ men are worthy occupants in the top flight’s first four places.
Everton are playing football at a lofty standard and attracting new admirers by the game.
Understandably, Moyes has often been asked whether this side in his best ever.
The manager’s answer remains an indefinite one given the comparison he must make to the last group of players who out-muscled the establishment and planted themselves in the top four.
Moyes recalls with satisfaction the savvy and experience of the side in 2005 which had the ability to be incredibly effective if not necessarily easy on the eye.
The Everton manager wants to find out if his current crop can also marry mettle and steel to their flair and free flowing play.
If they can, then perhaps they will be his greatest piece of work and lead the Blues on another European campaign.
“I remember when we had European football at Everton and I miss it. It was terrific,” said Moyes. “People say playing Thursday-Sunday-Thursday is difficult, and it is. But I miss that. Everton miss that.
“Our first target is always to be safe and then look whether there’s any chance to be in top 10.
“Qualifying for European football would be great if we could get back to that.
“Only people who can understand what it’s like to play at or be at Celtic on a night like that will know how good it was on Tuesday.
“I see a different type of team now (to the one which qualified for the Champions League).
“That team in ‘05 had the ability to grind it out and could win a big game when it needed to as well. They had a lot of experience.
“The team now is more liable to go and play better and probably create more chances. But the team I have now is a really good side and they are performing well.”
But Moyes still believes there is more to come.
Ahead of Sunderland’s visit to Goodison Park this afternoon, Moyes reflected on the opening 10 games of the league season.
A haul of 17 points has only been bettered by both Manchester clubs and Chelsea whlst their total of 19 goals is one more than the defending champions. But four successive draws, including last weekend’s sickener at Fulham, have left Everton frustrated.
“Our start has been good,” said Moyes.
“But it could have been a bit better. We are probably a little bit disappointed that we aren’t further up the league. We could easily be in a higher position.
“That might be down to a lack of experience at times and maybe just giving away silly goals at silly times like we did at Fulham which cost us all three points.
“I remember the year we got the Champions League we had 22 points after 10 games, so we are nowhere near that.
“We’ve not reached that target, but I’m hoping we can stay up near to the top. It might not always be that way all year.
“The players have been excellent and if they play like they did against Fulham in most weeks then I won’t be complaining too much.
“We are trying to hang in there and I think the big thing is consistency. The team that finished fourth in 2004-05 ground out results and we won a lot of games 1-0 that year, but at the moment we have had a few 2-2s which we could have won 2-1, for example. We need to be a wee bit more ruthless. But what the players are doing just now is admirable.”
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