A truly extraordinary 2019-20 season finally comes to an end on Sunday as Everton take on Bournemouth at Goodison Park.
None of us would have believed that when the campaign began at Crystal Palace in August we would still be playing nearly 12 months on, but Covid-19 has transformed the way we live our lives in more ways than one.
At one point it seemed we would never actually reach this stage, with the country in a state of near total lockdown. But credit has to go to the Premier League for getting the teams playing again, even if the absence of fans means things are not totally back to normal.
Unfortunately, that is the only extraordinary thing about Everton’s season, with their guaranteed finishing position of either 11th or 12th a reflection of yet another bang-average year.
However, the biggest reason for optimism is the man in the dugout. Carlo Ancelotti is a proven winner who has already called for an ‘evolution’ at the club this summer.
The seven-week turnaround before the start of the new season means momentum is more important than ever. Wrapping up the campaign with a positive result to make it back-to-back wins would send us away happy and hopeful next season will, finally, be different.
While Everton have nothing more than pride to play for, Bournemouth have their Premier League status on the line at Goodison Park.
The Cherries need to beat Everton and hope Watford and Aston Villa both lose to have any chance of avoiding a return to the Championship.
They have collected just four points from eight games since the restart, all of which were secured at home. Their record on the road is atrocious, losing nine successive away games going back to December.
They have also lost every competitive match against Everton at Goodison Park with an aggregate score of 20-7.
All of this points towards a Toffees win on Sunday. But this is Everton remember...
While Everton have a fine record against Bournemouth at home, the same can’t be said down at the Vitality Stadium. They once again failed to turn up against the Cherries in September, with some truly horrendous defending helping the hosts on their way to a 3-1 victory.
Southampton (H) Lost 2-0
Man City (A) Lost 2-1
Leicester (H) Won 4-1
Tottenham (H) Drew 0-0
Man Utd (A) Lost 5-2
Sheffield United (A) Won 1-0
Aston Villa (H) Drew 1-1
Wolves (A) Lost 3-0
Southampton (H) Drew 1-1
Tottenham (A) Lost 1-0
Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate and Fabian Delph will be missing again through injury. That will mean another start for Jarrad Branthwaite, who impressed at Sheffield United last week.
Moise Kean could also be handed a rare start in order to try and impress his manager. And what of Leighton Baines? The 35-year-old has yet to sign a new contract, so Sunday could well be his final appearance in an Everton shirt.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “I am working in a fantastic atmosphere, in an environment where there is a lot of ambition - where we want to do things properly and there is a lot of love from our supporters. All positive things.
“If I have to say something negative, I would say in some games we were not so good as we wanted to be.
“This can be the step for the future but, in general, I am satisfied, because when I arrived the situation was not so good.
“We moved up quickly from the relegation zone.
“We tried to fight for Europe, we were not able to do so but now the only way is to finish the season well and to prepare for the next season.”
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe: “The only thing we can do is control what we do. We’ve got to try and win a game of football and then hope other results fall our way.
“There is a belief that we can win our game and that’s what we have to do. It’s easier said than done, our away form has not been good for some time.
“A lot of those away games we’ve lost very narrowly, some games we look back on with huge frustration because we should have got more points that we have. For whatever reason we’ve ended up just on the wrong side of it for a lot of those games.
“We have to go to Everton and try and do our bit first, and then who knows? That’s where the unpredictability of football comes in, you’re hoping we get the little bit of luck that we need.”
With nothing tangible on the line, Evertonians will just want to be entertained on Sunday and be given a taste of what hopefully will be brighter campaign next year. They also have a duty to the league to give their all, with Bournemouth in a three-way fight to avoid the drop.
The Cherries’ recent form and terrible Goodison record puts Everton well and truly in the box seat, meaning anything other than a win will be deemed a huge disappointment.