Everton are now in the final straight of the season, but with their European hopes eviscerated and the team disintegrating before our very eyes, are their remaining games now nothing more than a box-ticking exercise?
The performance levels in their last three games, against Tottenham, Southampton and Wolves, have got progressively worse, which is some achievement given the Spurs display was already at a horrifically low level.
The glaring holes in Carlo Ancelotti’s squad are well known, and he has wrung the changes in both personnel and formation to try and come up with a workable solution to see us through to next week. But whatever the Italian attempted, it just didn’t work.
But perhaps what was more worrying was the apparent lack of effort, commitment and desire at Molineux on Sunday. As Ancelotti said in his pre-match presser, such attributes are in Everton’s ‘DNA’.
There is some mitigation, the hectic schedule being one. There is also little to play for, while some players are unlikely to be still at the club next season. But basic professional pride should be ample enough motivation. It was conspicuous by its absence on Sunday.
The Toffees therefore are likely to be a welcome sight for their final three opponents, all of whom have something to play for.
But after making his displeasure clear following the Wolves defeat, Ancelotti will be demanding some sort of response. Otherwise the list of players on the ‘to sell’ list will grow still further.
Villa’s promotion last season meant a resumption of the most-played fixture in English top-flight history, with Thursday’s game set to be the 204th meeting between the two sides.
Villa looked to be on their way out of the division following a run four defeats from six since the restart. But Sunday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace has given them a shot a salvation.
Dean Smith’s side head to Goodison Park in 19th place, one point behind Bournemouth and four points behind Watford and West Ham, who play each other on Friday. A win on Merseyside therefore will mean the Villans will be at least two points adrift of safety going into their final two matches of the campaign, depending on the result at London Stadium.
A home game with Arsenal follows before a possible relegation shootout against the Hammers on the final day.
A win on Merseyside will also be their first league double over Everton since 2000-01, after they triumphed at Villa Park in August. It would also be their first away win at Goodison in all competitions since a dramatic 3-2 victory in December 2008.
Everton, infamously, could have gone top with a win at Villa Park on a balmy Friday night in August. But they once again froze when it mattered most, with Wesley’s first Villa goal and Anwar El Ghazi’s stoppage-time finish sealing the points for the Midlands side.
Crystal Palace (H) Won 2-0
Man Utd (H) Lost 3-0
Liverpool (A) Lost 2-0
Wolves (H) Lost 1-0
Newcastle (A) Drew 1-1
Wolves (A) Lost 3-0
Southampton (H) Drew 1-1
Tottenham (A) Lost 1-0
Leicester (H) Won 2-1
Norwich (A) Won 1-0
Everton have been boosted by the news that Andre Gomes and Mason Holgate have been passed fit after missing the defeat to Wolves. Yerry Mina is absent though after suffering a thigh injury at Molineux, while Fabian Delph is also not yet ready to return.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We expect a reaction from the bad game we played against Wolves. Different attitude, different mentality and different character.
“I understood in my period at Everton, a big part of the DNA of this club is everyone wants to see players fighting.
“This is the most important part. We have to fight, then try to play well and win games.
“If there is no fight, it is not in the DNA of this club.
“[You can change over] a period of time where you have to work hard on the pitch, increase your knowledge on what you want to do on the pitch”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “I’m feeling the same as before the Crystal Palace game because not a lot has changed. We needed to win because the teams around us had won their games.
“We managed to get that win and it will give everybody a lift, but we’re still in the same position. We can go and get some scoreboard pressure on Watford and West Ham who play the following evening.
“We’ve got to make sure we concentrate on our own game and put in a good performance. We certainly won’t get complacent after one win.”
Win or lose, Everton’s season is done. But it would be nice to have a few more reasons to cheer before we all start worrying about transfer incomings and outgoings. A strong end to the season would boost morale and provide a positive backdrop for what is set to be yet another critical close season. But given what we have witnessed over the past week, I’m not holding my breath.