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How Everton can still make it out of the Europa League group stage

Despite miserable results thus far, the Toffees still have a feasible path to qualification for the knockout round

Everton FC v Olympique Lyon - UEFA Europa League Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Everton’s first three Europa League matches couldn’t have gone much worse.

The Toffees got obliterated 3-0 away to Atalanta, conceded a late equalizer to 10-man Apollon Limassol at home, and lost 2-1 to Lyon also at Goodison Park. With one point in three matches, Everton sits in last place in Group E, behind even Cypriot side Apollon Limassol.

The group table is pretty ugly.

Group E

Team Wins Draws Losses Points GD
Team Wins Draws Losses Points GD
Atalanta 2 1 0 7 5
Lyon 1 2 0 5 1
Apollon Limassol 0 2 1 2 -2
Everton 0 1 2 1 -4

Despite how bad it looks though, the Toffees actually have a pretty manageable path back into knockout-stage qualification, at least on paper.

In the most basic terms, to qualify for the group stage, Everton will have to:

  • Catch Lyon by gaining five more points than them in the final three matches, OR by gaining four more points than them and making up five in the goal differential column

OR

  • Catch Atalanta by gaining seven more points than them in the final three matches, OR by gaining six more points than them and making up nine in the goal differential column.

On the face of it, those sound like two tough asks, but remember that Everton has matches against both of those clubs still left to play — so a win in the head-to-head match between Lyon or Atalanta would guarantee a three point swing to start with.

Still, the most difficult part of these considerations is the obvious — for Everton to pull off this turnaround, the club will almost certainly have to win each of its last three group stage matches.

I know that on current form that’s unlikely, but the other three clubs in the group are all beatable given the raw talent the Toffees have. The toughest remaining match is probably Thursday’s, a trip to France to play Lyon. After that, Everton hosts Atalanta in November and finally finishes the group stage with a trip to Cyprus to play Apollon Limassol.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to ask you to assume that they pull off the perfect finish — because if they do, a top-two finish in the group is eminently possible.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios in which Everton would finish top-two in the group, assuming a nine-points-from-nine conclusion to the group.

Scenario 1

This scenario seems the most likely of possible Everton success stories. The Toffees win out, finishing with 10 points in the group.

Atalanta, the top team in the group as things stand, loses to Everton at Goodison Park, but holds form against Apollon and Lyon, winning both of those matches. Atalanta would then add six points to their existing seven, ending the stage atop the group with 13 points.

At that point, a victory for Lyon against Apollon wouldn’t be enough for the French side to climb back into second. They’d end with eight points, two back of Everton for second place.

Without a doubt, the least likely part of this scenario is Everton winning out. The other results simply assume that the current form of the other clubs in the group remain constant.

In short:

Matchday 4: Everton defeats Lyon, Atalanta defeats Apollon Limassol

Matchday 5: Everton defeats Atalanta, Lyon defeats Apollon Limassol

Matchday 6: Everton defeats Apollon Limassol, Atalanta defeats Lyon

Group standings end as:

Scenario 1

Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Atalanta 4 1 1 13
Everton 3 1 2 10
Lyon 2 2 2 8
Apollon Limassol 0 2 4 2

Note: A draw between Lyon and Atalanta would also be sufficient for Everton to qualify, in this scenario.

Scenario 2

It is, in fact, relatively possible for Everton to even enter Matchday 6 in control of their own destiny in the group. Assume the following results in Matchdays 4 and 5.

Matchday 4: Everton defeats Lyon, Atalanta defeats Apollon

Matchday 5: Everton defeats Atalanta, Apollon draws (or beats) Lyon

Apollon has been a tough side to play so far, so the idea that they’d nick a point off Lyon isn’t particularly far-fetched.

In this situation, Everton would actually enter Matchday 6 with seven points, while Lyon would only have six — meaning an Everton victory over Apollon would guarantee the Toffees a top-two spot, regardless of what happens in Lyon v. Atalanta!

The final table in this scenario, at its closest, would look like this:

Scenario 2

Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Atalanta 3 1 2 10
Everton 3 1 2 10
Lyon 2 3 1 9
Apollon Limassol 0 3 3 3

Scenario 3

This one is my personal favorite — because it ends with Everton actually winning the group! Assume the following Matchday 4 and 5 results.

Matchday 4: Everton defeats Lyon, Apollon draws Atalanta

Matchday 5: Everton defeats Atalanta, Lyon defeats Apollon

In this scenario, Everton would enter Matchday 6 on seven points, while Atalanta and Lyon would both have eight. Because Atalanta and Lyon play against each other on the final day, an Everton victory would actually guarantee the Toffees a spot in the knockout round.

Everton would jump up to 10 points, while only one of Lyon or Atalanta could theoretically top that — and if the French and Italian clubs played to a draw, they’d both finish on nine points, leaving Everton atop the group!

The final standings would look like this:

Scenario 3

Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Team Wins Draws Losses Points
Everton 3 1 2 10
Atalanta 2 3 1 9
Lyon 2 3 1 9
Apollon Limassol 0 3 3 3

After Everton’s home loss to Lyon, I had assumed that the Toffees were completely out of knockout round contention, even if they took nine points from their final nine available. A quick run of the numbers, though, revealed that actually isn’t at all true.

A perfect finish from Everton combined with any number of potential results from the other clubs in the group, included several not mentioned in this post, could definitely put Everton into the next round in the Europa League.

Of course, a perfect finish seems incredibly unlikely with the way things are going at the moment, but if results turn around, hope definitely still remains.