Everton’s European hopes will be severely tested in the coming days with two games against sides who share the Toffees’ continental ambitions.
First up is a home game against third-placed Leicester on Wednesday before a Monday night trip to Tottenham, who currently occupy the final European qualification place (depending on Man City’s European ban and/or Arsenal’s progress in the FA Cup).
They are the two toughest games remaining in the schedule and a failure to win at least one would probably kill off any realistic hopes of Europa League football next season, given the Toffees are four points behind Jose Mourinho’s side in 12th.
The Blues have been solid if unspectacular in taking four points from games against Liverpool and Norwich since the restart, though rustiness is understandable given the circumstances
The seven-day break since the trip to Carrow Road should have helped the players edge closer to full match fitness. They will certainly need to dig deep into their energy reserves, with Wednesday’s game kicking off a gruelling run of seven games in 26 days to complete the season.
Leicester looked like being Liverpool’s closest challengers to the title during the autumn thanks to a thrilling eight-game winning run.
A stumble in form meant those title hopes were short lived, but the Foxes have comfortably occupied a top-four place since and look almost certain to qualify for the Champions League.
That remains a likely outcome, but Brendan Rodgers’ side have struggled to get going since the restart, drawing with Watford and Brighton before meekly bowing out of the FA Cup against Chelsea.
A resurgent Wolves and Manchester United have put a further squeeze on Leicester, who are now just three points clear inside the top four and have won just four of their last 15 Premier league games.
They are looking to complete just their second Premier League double over Everton, having triumphed 2-1 in December. They also won the Goodison meeting last season, though they go into this game without an away win since New Year’s Day.
Carlo Ancelotti says Yerry Mina is available after recovering from a thigh injury but Fabian Delph remains sidelined.
Djibril Sidibe is due to resume training on Friday with Theo Walcott set to return after abdominal surgery next week, with Everton’s injury situation belatedly beginning to ease ahead of the run-in.
Having lost 2-1 in the league just two weeks earlier in the dying embers of Marco Silva’s reign, the Toffees took on the Foxes at Goodison Park in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals, this time under the caretaker stewardship of Duncan Ferguson.
After falling 2-0 behind in the first half, Everton hit back through Tom Davies, before a Leighton Baines thunderblaster sent the game to penalties. Sadly for Everton the Toffees succumbed on spot-kicks and Leicester edged through to the last four.
Norwich (A) Won 1-0
Liverpool (H) Drew 0-0
Chelsea (A) Lost 3-0
Man Utd (H) Drew 1-1
Arsenal (A) Lost 3-2
Chelsea (H - FA Cup) Lost 1-0
Brighton (H) Drew 0-0
Watford (A) Drew 0-0
Aston Villa (H) Won 4-0
Birmingham (FA Cup) Won 1-0
Everton have edged their way slowly into project restart, but another positive result here would genuinely put them mix for European football. Leicester may have struggled recently but remain a tough prospect under Rodgers, who need the points just as urgently. To that end, this has draw written all over it!