Everton take on Newcastle at Goodison Park on Tuesday knowing a victory could lift them back into contention for the European places.
Given the Toffees usually stumble just when they can make serious headway in the league I’m not getting my hopes up. But to even talk about the top seven is an impressive achievement given they were in the relegation zone six weeks ago.
Ten points from 15 available is an impressive haul from Carlo Ancelotti, especially as injuries are starting to bite. Everton badly missed Richarlison at West Ham on Saturday, while the team continues to operate without any semblance of a central midfield.
The one bright spot was another goal for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, that’s 11 for the season for him now. With Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford out injured the 22-year-old may well be playing his way into the England squad for the European Championship.
Thanks to their early cup exits, Tuesday’s clash is currently Everton’s final midweek match of the season. An 11-day gap awaits before the Watford game, while there is also the inaugural winter break lying in wait in February.
That should allow time for any knocks and niggles to heal, while Ancelotti will also have the chance to properly work with the players on the training ground.
While Everton can point to injuries in key areas, that is nothing compared to Newcastle.
Steve Bruce’s side are without nine first-team players, with Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett the last to fall, with the duo out for the rest of the season with knee and leg problems respectively.
That has lifted the Magpies level on points with Everton, meaning they also harbour outside hopes of a top eight finish if they can also find some elusive consistency.
Newcastle 1-2 Everton, December 28, 2019 (match report)
A brace from Dominic Calvert-Lewin either side of Fabian Schar’s leveller secured a second win in charge for Carlo Ancelotti in the space of three days.
West Ham (A) Drew 1-1
Brighton (H) Won 1-0
Liverpool (A - FA Cup) Lost 1-0
Man City (A) Lost 2-1
Newcastle (A) Won 2-1
Chelsea (A) Won 1-0
Rochdale (H - FA Cup third round replay) Won 4-1
Wolves (A) Drew 1-1
Rochdale (FA Cup third round) Drew 1-1
Leicester (H) Lost 3-0
Richarlison again misses out as he is still struggling with a knee problem, despite returning to training on Monday. Gylfi Sigurdsson also misses out with a groin strain while Alex Iwobi is not fully recovered from a hamstring injury.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We had problems against Newcastle away and I think we will have the same problems on Tuesday.
“We have to be focussed on the match, not look at the table. We have to do our best to get three points for our confidence.
“Confidence is really important, it keeps the atmosphere good. The atmosphere round us now is really good.
“We had some good results and need to continue having positive results. It is important to keep the spirit of the team high.”
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce: “He’s a hugely talented manager so he’ll eventually put his own stamp on what he’s got. Since big Dunc (Duncan Ferguson) went in and revived them a little bit, Carlo’s done the same sort of thing – nothing much has changed in that respect.
“But I would think over time, when he gets his feet under the table, he will want to evolve it his way, and as I say he’s a very, very talented and successful manager.
“They’ve got good players – they always have had – and they’ve invested a hell of a lot of money. It was close at St. James’, and we’ll have to play well again and see what we can do.”
Tuesday’s game marks the end of a breathless seven-week spell that has seen three managers in the dugout and a relentless of matches. If Everton can get the win here is would set a solid platform for the final third of the season.