It says much about Everton’s performances this year that most of the attention during the final few weeks of the season will be off the pitch rather than on it.
Once again Everton find themselves with little to play for in the season run-in, meaning supporters are looking beyond this campaign and towards what they hope will be yet another summer of change.
All reports and rumour suggest Sam Allardyce will leave the club at the end of the season, maybe even earlier. The former England boss has done what he was brought in to do, but it’s been an unhappy marriage that has grown more excruciating by the week.
His comments in the wake of last weekend’s draw with Liverpool highlight his determination to self-promote, even if they don’t make much sense under scrutiny.
A few bits on the Goodison grapevine that I picked up last week:— James Corbett (@james_corbett) April 12, 2018
- Allardyce will definitely go at the end of the season, if not before.
- Fonseca is number 1 choice to replace him, but Howe and Arteta in the frame too.
- Elstone to Rugby Super League NOT a done deal
Allardyce is right to point out that he has remained unbeaten in the two league games against Liverpool. But to take that on face value would be neglecting glaring deficiencies in Everton’s play.
We will probably never get a better chance to beat Liverpool than we did last weekend. Jurgen Klopp sent out a second string side with eyes firmly on Tuesday’s trip to Manchester City.
Even those who were classed as first-teamers showed no interest in engaging in any sort of scrap, with such a crucial game only days away.
Meanwhile, their forward line featured Danny Ings, starting his first game since 2015, and Dominic Solanke, yet to score a senior goal.
Yet in Friday’s press conference, Allardyce lauded his defence for “nullifying that outstanding attack.”
Defending deep for 75 minutes was the order of the day. Only in the final 15 minutes did Everton decide to attack, particularly down Liverpool’s left where they had a centre back playing out of position.
Allardyce; "We did a job on Liverpool by nullifying that outstanding attack even though they changed the team around."— paul joyce (@_pauljoyce) April 13, 2018
It’s no surprise then that the Blues then enjoyed their best spell of the game and could have won it. But even that would have papered over the cracks of what was yet another uninspired performance and a huge opportunity missed.
With Liverpool and Man City out of the way the final run-in is mainly against sides battling the drop, starting with Swansea on Saturday.
With little to play for and a manager seemingly on his way out, don’t expect much from the remainder of this campaign.
In fact, if I was a side near the bottom, I’d be hugely disappointed if Everton didn’t feature on their fixture list before May.
The Farhad Moshiri project has stalled badly and it looks like yet another clearout is needed in the summer as the reset button is pressed.
Unfortunately we need to get the formalities out of the way first, which means a few more awkward weeks before we can finally put this disastrous season behind us.
Like Everton, Swansea pushed the panic button over the winter and sacked manager Paul Clement in a desperate attempt to avoid the drop.
When Carlos Carvalhal became the surprise replacement in late December, Swansea were bottom of the table and five points from safety.
Within five matches they had climbed out of the relegation courtesy of three wins, one draw and just one defeat, including victories over Liverpool and Arsenal.
They are currently in 15th place, four points clear of 18th-placed Southampton, with a win on Saturday potentially lifting them as high as 13th.
Things have stalled slightly in recent weeks, with Carvalhal’s side without a win in three games. But all those matches have been away from home, with the south Wales side no doubt relishing a return to the Liberty Stadium.
Carvalhal’s side have won their last four matches at the Liberty Stadium and are looking to win five successive matches at home for the first time since 1981.
Meanwhile the Toffees haven’t won any of their last four visits to the Liberty in all competitions, a run stretching back to 2013.
Given what’s riding on the game for both sides, expect that run to continue on Saturday.
Allardyce has confirmed Idirssa Gueye suffered no ill-effects from his return from injury last weekend and is in contention to start.
Phil Jagielka has received treatment this week but is also expected to be fit. Gylfi Sigurdsson is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t face is former club.
Predicted starting XI
Pickford, Baines, Jagielka, Keane, Coleman, Gueye, Rooney, Davies, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun.
Given where we were in November I suppose I should be grateful that the team is well clear of relegation going into the final throws of the season.
But that doesn’t really give me much satisfaction in a season that promised so much but has catastrophically undelivered.
The only real interest now is whether these pressure-free games can help the planning for next season, which should have already begun behind the scenes.
But given the way this year has gone, I doubt we will even be afforded that.