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Swansea primed to profit as Everton minds begin to wander

The Toffees have little to play for at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, while the Swans are fighting for their Premier League lives

Everton v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Ronald Koeman will need to summon all of his motivational skills to try and rouse his Everton players for the final three games of the season – starting with Saturday’s trip to Swansea.

Last weekend’s defeat to champions-elect Chelsea killed off any realistic hopes of finishing fifth, with even sixth now an optimistic prospect.

With West Brom a massive 14 points behind us in eighth, it’s little wonder that minds have already started to drift towards the summer.

The West Ham performance was certainly one a side already eyeing up the beach, and although the Chelsea game offered mild improvement, it lacked the zest and verve of earlier in the campaign.

Granted it needed a moment of magic from Pedro to open the scoring but from then on it was very comfortable for Antonio Conte’s side, who took a huge step towards the title with victory in what was arguably their toughest remaining fixture.

Some perspective is needed though. After back-to-back bottom half finishes Koeman’s first season was all about getting the club back into Europe and that has been achieved with relative comfort. The challenge that lies ahead is closing gap on the top six.

We are currently in our own mini-league of just one and need to ensure we catch up with those ahead of us rather than be reeled in by those chasing behind.

Everton v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

That won’t now happen this season, though the remaining three games do provide Koeman with the opportunity to blood some youngsters.

With Europa League football significantly increasing the workload next season academy graduates may be needed to plug the gaps.

Our weaknesses however are already well known and will need to be addressed in the summer, regardless of what happens in the remaining matches.

The news of Aaron Lennon’s battle with mental illness also put Everton’s on-pitch progress in firm perspective.

The club are rightly offering all their support to try and help Lennon make a full recovery, while the fans will have their chance to show their support for him during Saturday’s game.

Some things are just more important.

The opposition

Time is running out for Swansea. With just three games to go Paul Clement’s side remain two points adrift of Hull in the final relegation place.

Consequently Saturday’s meeting at the Liberty Stadium is a game they cannot afford to lose, especially as Hull host already-relegated Sunderland earlier in the day.

Clement’s record since taking charge at the start of January isn’t too disastrous – five wins, two draws and eight defeats from 15 league games. But the Welsh side are paying the price for some poor dealings in the transfer market in recent seasons as well as some puzzling managerial choices.

Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Francesco Guidolin always looked a bad fit when he joined as head coach in early 2016, and although he did enough to keep the Swans up last year the Italian struggled badly this campaign.

Guidolin was sacked in October with the club 17th in the table with just one win to their name since the opening day of the season.

Former USA coach Bob Bradley was immediately appointed as his successor, becoming the first American to manage in the Premier League.

Unfortunately for Bradley and Swansea the American dream turned into a nightmare. The 59-year-old was sacked after just 85 days in charge after overseeing seven defeats from 11 matches.

In came Clement to try and revive a side lacking in spirit and leadership, having failed to adequately replace experienced campaigners such as Ashley Williams.

The ‘new manager bump’ saw Clement win four of his first eight games in charge and lift the club out of the relegation zone.

However, the honeymoon was soon over and a run of just one win from the subsequent eight games – combined with Marco Silva’s revival at Hull – has plunged Swansea back into danger.

Though the likes of West Ham and Crystal Palace are not mathematically safe the final relegation place is now likely to be decided between Swansea and Hull, with the prospect of a relegation play-off – should the sides finish level on points, goal difference and goals scored – a realistic possibility.

Their survival hopes largely rest on the shoulders of Fernando Llorente and Everton target Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Sigurdsson and Llorente have scored more goals between them than the rest of the squad put together, while the Iceland midfielder has also chipped in with 12 assists.

Toffees fans will be watching his display with interest on Saturday.

Team news

Everton will again be without Morgan Schneiderlin as the midfielder continues to recover from a minor thigh injury.

Saturday’s game is also too soon for James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic.

Swansea will be without Wayne Routledge, Angel Rangel and Jefferson Montero for game at the Liberty Stadium but Fernando Llorente is fully recovered from a knee injury.

Final word

I have to admit I fancy Swansea to win this one. They are fighting for their lives while we have little to play for.

Improving Everton’s poor away from is certainly high up on Koeman’s to-do list, but things are unlikely to change before next season.

Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Jagielka, Williams, Holgate, Gueye, Davies, Barry, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.