Could Everton qualify for the Champions League?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: An Everton flag flies above the stadium during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Everton and Blackpool at Goodison Park on February 18, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

Okay, before you all go attacking me in the comments as a nutter, know that the title of this post is meant entirely tongue in cheek. But hey, I got you reading this far, didn't I?

Anyway, I do want to take a look at what Everton still has to play for in the league this season. While we took a weekend off to root for Cardiff City in the League Cup Final, it's as good a time as any to take a look at where Everton could end up in the table come May 13. Mike already did a great job evaluating the team's recent form, so now I'll take a stab at analyzing the near future. Most of the current optimism for the rest of the season revolves around the FA Cup (and rightly so), but there are still thirteen Premier League games left to contest and it would be nice if they actually meant something. Could Europe be in the Toffees' future, and what sort of form would they have to hold to make that goal a reality?

Remaining Fixtures

Before we get into possible targets for the final two and a half months, let's take a look at the rest of the schedule:

Home (6): Tottenham, Arsenal, West Brom, Sunderland, Fulham, Newcastle
Away (7): Liverpool, QPR, Swansea, Norwich, Stoke, Man United, Wolves

Analysis: At first glance, there appears to be a decent mix of quality level amongst the remaining opponents, with current league positions of 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17. However, notice that only two of the bottom six are listed and none of the bottom three. The teams still waiting to travel to Goodison Park are probably a tougher bunch than the teams Everton will be visiting, but the schedule is littered with tricky fixtures everywhere. Based on current form, I'll go ahead and predict that Everton will take 10 of the 18 possible home points and 11 of the 21 possible away points to finish with 54 points (the exact same total as last year!). Where will that leave us?

Avoiding Relegation

First things first, before we can turn our attention to loftier ambitions the Blues have to deal with the small formality of confirming safety. Of course, avoiding relegation seemed all but a formality as recently as a month ago, but if we're all being honest Everton are indeed going to play in the Premier League next season barring a monumental collapse. However... this is Everton we're talking about. You just never know. Let's look at it statistically:

Current points: 33
Estimated points needed (this season): 32 (already safe!)
Estimated points needed (historically): 37 (high 43, low 31)

Analysis: Basing the points needed on this season means that I simply projected the end-of-year standings based on the current standings (i.e. the current team in 18th has 21 points, which projects to 31 points, so 32 points are needed for safety). Basing the points needed historically takes an average of the past ten Premier League seasons to determine the necessary total.

So yeah, I think Everton is safe, and I feel safe myself in saying that.

Europa League

The most obvious route into the Europa League for Everton is to win the FA Cup, or else lose in the final to a team already qualified for Europe. However, there is a long way to go before that happens, so in the meantime we have to work under the assumption that the Toffees will need to secure the required league position.

Current points: 33
Estimated points needed (this season): 60 (assuming both FA Cup finalists are already qualified for Europe)
Estimated points needed (historically): 58 (high 64, low 54)

Analysis: While watching Liverpool take home a trophy earlier today kind of made me want to vomit, it was actually a huge boost to Everton's Europa League ambitions. Now, it may only take a seventh place finish to qualify through the league. Taking 28 of the 39 possible remaining points to finish with 61 isn't terribly realistic, so the best hope for Everton may be for Newcastle to fall off their current pace considerably. The home game with the Magpies is crucial here, and in all honesty it would take a minor miracle for the Blues to finish as high as seventh.

Champions League

Haha. Why not, eh? We can dream.

Current points: 33
Estimated points needed (this season): 68
Estimated points needed (historically): 69 (high 77, low 61)

Analysis: Despite all the talk this year about the Champions League spots being wide open, it's actually looking like a pretty typical year in terms of how many points are going to be required. Everton have 39 possible points left to play for, which means that even if they won all of their remaining games they would have 72 points, barely topping the necessary total of 68. So basically, we can lose one more game. That's not too much to ask, right?

Conclusion

So... what I just rambled on about for 836 words can basically be boiled down to this: Everton have virtually nothing left to play for in the league this season, aside from the slim chance of tracking down Newcastle for seventh position and a possible Europa League berth. Otherwise, all we have to hold onto is the always exciting "finish as highly as possible in order to receive the most financial benefit" rallying cry.

My heart wants to believe seventh place is possible, but my head tells me it may be FA Cup or bust this year.

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