• 'He's as good as anybody around in the things he does'
• David Moyes expects offers for Belgian during transfer window
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David Moyes believes his Everton team are the best he has assembled in 10 years as manager but their hopes of hanging on to fourth place in the Premier League depend on keeping Marouane Fellaini, who may be a target for Chelsea and Manchester United when the transfer window opens in January.
Moyes expects the offers to come for his most gifted player, who is under contract until 2016, but thinks he will stay until the end of the season in the hope of leading Everton into the promised land that is the Champions League. Unbeaten in eight league matches after Saturday's hard-earned victory, Everton are well equipped to build on an impressive start throughout which they have not looked back since beating United on opening day.
Moyes accepts that they have played enough games for a meaningful assessment to be made of their potential and favourably compares this team with the one who finished fourth in 2004-05. He is confident that the class of 2012 have the edge in terms of individual ability and collective cohesion, and consequently in the quality of football they are playing.
Moyes said: "We've got players now who can come up with something special when we need it. Sometimes it's Leighton Baines, [Nikica] Jelavic can do it and now Fellaini is. When we need somebody to come up with something, as we did against Sunderland, he's the one we look to.
"We've not got as many points as we had at this stage of the season when we qualified for the Champions League [20 now, 23 then] but it's still a pretty good return. I'm a wee bit disappointed that we have not taken more points because I think we should have. We dropped four in the 90th minutes of games against Fulham and Newcastle, so we could be further ahead than we are but I'm sure other clubs will be saying the same."
Fellaini's future is clearly key to continued progress. The hirsute Belgian is not only the club's leading scorer, with six in 10 league appearances, he is also their cleverest provider, their powerful target man and when required their midfield tough guy. For all-round ability and versatility, he has no peers.
Moyes knows it and said: "I've been saying for a while that Fellaini is as good as anybody around in the things he does." Can Everton keep him is the £30m question. Moyes again: "Everybody knows where he is, if clubs want to come and watch him they can but there will be a big price on his head. I'm not in the mood to keep the fight going all the time because I've had to do it with a lot of players over the years. You might say Everton have lost good players but have actually gone on and improved. We sold [Mikel] Arteta and others and we all felt really down when they went but we've had to pick ourselves up and find others, and the players we've got here at the moment have shown that we can. Fellaini knows what I think and vice versa. More than anything he'd love to take Everton into the Champions League and that's what we're both trying to achieve."
Man of the match by a distance, Everton's own Muscles from Brussels scored their equaliser with a classy finish from 17 yards then set up Jelavic's winner with a backheel. Poor Sunderland's crest was well and truly fallen. Until Fellaini's late intervention they appeared to be on course for only a second win of the season, courtesy of Adam Johnson's first goal since his £10m transfer from Manchester City.
It was also the league's lowest scorers' first for nearly nine hours but it wasn't enough. Martin O'Neill said: "We were very unlucky. We should have won the game. It's probably true that not taking our chances is the story of our season so far, and the ones we had here were clear cut. But we'll turn it around. Next week, when we play at Fulham, we'll have played 11, seven away and only four at home. Given a reasonable amount of fortune, things will turn when we level that up."
Man of the match: Marouane Fellaini (Everton)