As we’ve known positively for weeks and assumed confidently for months, Everton is going to finish seventh in the Premier League this season. It’s left the Toffees with nothing to play for over the last month, and the on-field product has reflected that lack of motivation.
On the red side of Merseyside, however, there’s still an intensely important goal afoot — Champions League football in 2017-18.
As it stands now, Liverpool is one point clear of Arsenal for fourth, the final Champions League spot in the Premier League. If the Reds beat already-relegated Middlesbrough on Sunday, they’ll lock up at worst a fourth-place finish, guaranteeing participation in the Champions League next season.
While Liverpool did win 3-0 at Boro in December, Jurgen Klopp’s side has regularly struggled to impose its will on lesser opponents, with losses to Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Hull City, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace already this season. A loss draw for the Reds is far from an impossible result.
In that case, an Arsenal victory at home against Everton would knock Liverpool out of the Champions League — an undoubtedly tantalizing proposition for the Blues of Merseyside. A full breakdown of the possibilities is below — I’m assuming Manchester City picks up at least a point against Watford on the final day, for the sake of simplicity:
— Liverpool wins: Liverpool guarantees at least a fourth-place finish, qualifies for Champions League.
— Liverpool draws, Arsenal draws or loses against Everton: Liverpool guarantees at least a fourth-place finish, qualifies for Champions League.
— Liverpool draws, Arsenal beats Everton: Arsenal passes Liverpool for fourth place, qualifies for Champions League
— Liverpool loses, Arsenal loses against Everton: Liverpool guarantees a fourth-place finish, qualifies for Champions League.
— Liverpool loses, Arsenal draws against Everton: Liverpool and Arsenal end level on points — tiebreakers as follows:
- Liverpool loses by one goal: Liverpool finishes with a greater goal differential, finishes fourth, qualifies for Champions League.
- Liverpool loses by two goals and Arsenal scores exactly one more goal than Liverpool: The teams play a one-match, neutral-site playoff to determine the final Champions League spot.
- Liverpool loses by two goals and Arsenal scores as many or fewer goals than Liverpool: Liverpool finishes with a more goals scored, finishes fourth, qualifies for Champions League.
- Liverpool loses by two goals and Arsenal scores two or more goals than Liverpool: Arsenal finishes with a more goals scored, finishes fourth, qualifies for Champions League.
- Liverpool loses by three goals or more: Arsenal finishes with a greater goal differential, finishes fourth, qualifies for Champions League.
— Liverpool loses, Arsenal beats Everton: Arsenal guarantees at least a fourth-place finish, qualifies for Champions League.
In short, for Liverpool’s Champions League hopes to reach a perilous position, Klopp’s side must drop points against Middlesbrough, while Arsenal must earn points at home against Everton.
This, of course, brings us to the question of the ages — would you prefer to see Everton lose a meaningless match on Sunday in order to jeopardize Liverpool’s Champions League credentials?
This scenario is not without precedent. On May 3, 2014, Everton hosted Manchester City in its next-to-last match of the season. The Citizens, in second place heading into the day, needed a victory at Goodison Park to move past league-leading Liverpool as the season drew to a close.
With nothing left to play for, Roberto Martinez made the...interesting...choice to utilize a back-three, a system rarely used in the Spaniard’s time at Everton — with the center-backs as John Stones, Phil Jagielka, and Antolin Alcaraz (remember him?).
Predictably, City’s attack pulled apart Everton’s makeshift defense. A late Everton push against an unreliable City defense made things interesting, but ultimately Manuel Pellegrini’s side pulled out a 3-2 victory. One week later, City defeated West Ham United 2-0 on the last day of the season to clinch the Premier League title over second-place Liverpool. City’s final margin of victory over the Reds was only two points.
With absolutely nothing to play for, it certainly isn’t impossible that Ronald Koeman elects to play a young, experimental lineup against Arsenal — even without including the effects on Liverpool in the equation.
All that brings us to one final question though — what do you think? Would you prefer to see Everton lose at Arsenal on Sunday, in order to put the pressure on Liverpool and potentially knock the Reds out of the Champions League? Or would you prefer to see Everton end the season on a high note, impact on Liverpool be damned?
Have your say in the poll below!
What is your preferred result for Everton against Arsenal on Sunday?
This poll is closed
Win! I don’t care about the surrounding circumstances, an away win against a quality side to close out the season would mean more.
Lose or draw! The fate of our season is already determined, let’s see if we can at least hurt Liverpool’s chances.