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What would it take for Everton to qualify for the Europa League?

The victory over Chelsea makes the conversation around European qualification a little more interesting

Everton FC v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

International breaks make us ask potentially stupid questions, primarily because boredom sets in pretty soon after we’re without club football for a week.

Unfortunately for Everton, the club’s form since the start of December has been so poor that the question raised in the headline — “what would it take for Everton to qualify for the Europa League?” — seems like a potentially outlandish one. A club with 18 points out of its last 18 league matches should not be in consideration for a Europa League place.

And yet, the Toffees sit just four points out of seventh place in the Premier League — a gap that at least on paper seems possible to close. Coming off a strong win against top-six Chelsea, there’s as much cause for positivity as we’ve seen in months. Could Everton pull off a late scramble into European competition?

I want to answer that question by taking a closer look at the current table and the Toffees’ remaining fixtures, but let’s review one important caveat first.

For Everton to have any chance of stealing England’s last place in the Europa League, Manchester City must win the FA Cup. The Premier League’s seventh-placed team only qualifies for Europe if the winner of the FA Cup has already qualified for Europe via some other channel.

City is the only club remaining in the FA Cup of which that is true. If any of the other semifinalists — Watford, Wolves, or Brighton and Hove Albion — win the competition, this entire exercise is rendered meaningless.

But, it’s still two weeks until those semifinals take place, so for now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Manchester City wins the FA Cup — and therefore that seventh place is good enough to qualify for Europe.

With that out of the way, let’s look at what the table says about Everton’s chances.

Everton is four points back of seventh place, but Wolves and Watford — both FA Cup semifinalists — have a game in hand on the rest of the competition. Because they’re currently in the lead in points and have an extra match to play, we’ll consider Wolves and Watford our front-runners.

I’m not looking to do any complicated math here (it’s Monday morning, cut me some slack) — so let’s assume that those teams more or less finish out the season by picking up points at their current rate.

Wolves and Watford are averaging 1.46 and 1.43 points per match, respectively. Extrapolated out over 38 matches, that puts Wolves at 55.48 and Watford at 54.34. Let’s split the difference and say that 55 points is good enough to take seventh place this season. Burnley finished seventh with 54 points last season, so this seems a reasonable metric based both on the current math and recent history.

Everton sits at 40 points right now, so that means Marco Silva’s side needs to add 15 points before the season concludes. To pick up 15 points over seven matches, Everton will need to average around 2.14 points per match — nearly double its current rate of 1.29 points per match.

There are only two ways through which Everton can attain 15 points over seven matches — either via five wins and two losses, or four wins and three draws.

The Toffees play once a week for seven weeks beginning on Saturday, so there are no fatigue-related questions to take into consideration. With that in mind, let’s take a look at those fixtures.

Remember, we need to find 15 points from the available 21 here.

Let’s go ahead and knock some of the easier matches out first. Fulham hasn’t earned a Premier League point since January 29, so let’s assume Everton finds a way to win that one. Burnley’s form isn’t substantially better — so let’s give Everton three points from that too.

I think it’s pretty safe to knock out another match off this list as well. Everton hasn’t won away to a top-six side since the Cretaceous era (that is literally true, Google it), so we’ll have to assume that the Toffees lose away to Spurs on the last day of the season.

Let’s reset — based on the assumptions from those three matches, Everton needs to take nine points from:

  • West Ham United (A)
  • Arsenal (H)
  • Manchester United (H)
  • Crystal Palace (A)

Needing to win three out of four from this group is a gargantuan task, but let’s look at a couple of positives.

First, West Ham’s final two matches before the international break came against Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, the two lowest-scoring clubs in the Premier League. West Ham conceded a total of five goals in those two matches. That’s not to say I expect Everton to come out and drop 100 goals on Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but it’s cause for reasonable optimism.

The Arsenal match looks to be a tough ask. The Gunners haven’t lost a Premier League match since February 3, operating with impressive attacking efficiency in that time. The only significant bright side to this matchup is that Arsenal faces Napoli in the Europa League quarter-finals just four days after the Gunners play Everton.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester United - FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

There’s similar reason for optimism in the United match, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side plays its second leg against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals five days before the Everton match. Like the Arsenal match, it could mean the Toffees see a somewhat rotated opponent, but it’s still too early to say it with any real confidence.

The Palace match should, in theory, be the easiest of the bunch. Crystal Palace has only three home victories in the Premier League this season, but Roy Hodgson’s squad isn’t one to take lightly — just ask Manchester City.

So is it still possible for Everton to surge up the table and make a late-season grab at seventh place and a possible Europa League place?

The individual pieces are all reasonably feasible — Manchester City is the favorite to win the FA Cup, Watford and Wolves haven’t shown any recent signs of absolutely catching fire, and you can craft a reasonable argument for Everton winning each individual match likely needed to make up the gap in the coming weeks.

Of course, taken as a collective, the situation looks substantially bleaker. Teams rarely manage to double their points per game output at this stage of the season — one good win against a good team doesn’t change that.

But it’s enough to at least keep us interested in the coming weeks. If the Toffees can open the final stretch of the season with a win at West Ham on Saturday — who knows?