Everton will look to bounce back from their defeat at Chelsea when they take on Burnley at Goodison Park on Saturday.
The Toffees were well beaten by the Londoners at Stamford Bridge, even if the game was ultimately decided by an own goal and penalty.
Chelsea are one of the most in-form teams in the league and, in my option, look most likely to finish runners-up to Manchester City so there was no shame in the defeat. It was, though, a sobering reminder of just how big a gap Everton have to try and bridge in order to regularly compete at the top of the table.
Even with those possible extra midweek games Everton’s fixture list is not as hectic as it has been over the past three or four months, which could mean some vital rest time for a squad that has at times been stretched to the limit.
News of Abdoulaye Doucoure’s broken foot that will rule him out for up to 10 weeks is a huge blow as his energy in midfield will be difficult to replace. James Rodriguez’s fitness issues have also shorn the side of some much-needed creativity.
It means the side will likely have to dig in and scrap for results between now and the end of the season rather than return to some of the free-flowing football we witnessed at the start of the campaign. The breathless schedule and the unusual circumstances perhaps lend itself to that sort of style anyway.
Despite the Stamford Bridge disappointment Everton are still in a really strong position in the table, with Champions League qualification still a realistic prospect.
It is important, however, that they bounce back from the defeat quickly, particularly with the huge FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City looming on the horizon.
I have to admit I thought Burnley’s time in the Premier League was up when they began the campaign with five defeats from six, their worst ever start to a top flight season, following a summer of limited recruitment and numerous departures.
Uncertainty over the proposed take-over (which has now gone through) left the Clarets short on numbers and boss Sean Dyche unable to bring in key targets.
He did, however, insist that things would Improve when he could field his first choice centre-back partnership of Ben Bee and James Tarkwoski.
Their first match together again after injury was a goalless draw at Brighton at the start of November which lifted them off the foot of the table. Four months later and the Clarets are up to 15th and four points clear of the relegation zone having lost one of their last seven league games (though they have drawn the majority of those).
Fears of the drop cannot be completely banished, but it certainly seems like the Lancashire club have rediscovered their groove which have made them such a tough proposition in recent years.
We all know how they will set up - it’s old-school 4-4-2 all the way, with a reliance on defensive organisation and strength from set pieces.
There’s nothing wrong with that in my eyes, and it has allowed Burnley to complete in this league on a fraction of the budget of many of those around them.
Everton will certainly have to match the physical challenge of Dyche’s side if they are to secure the points.
Burnley 1-1 Everton, December 5 2020
Everton were on their mid-season wobble, while Burnley were on the road to recovery when the two sides last met at Turf Moor. Robbie Brady’s long-range strike put the home side ahead before a close-range finish from Dominic Calvert-Lewin earned the Toffees a point.
Chelsea (A) Lost 2-0
West Brom (A) Won 1-0
Southampton (H) Won 1-0
Liverpool (A) Won 2-0
Man City (H) Lost 3-1
Arsenal (H) Drew 1-1
Leicester (H) Drew 1-1
Tottenham (A) Lost 4-0
West Brom (H) Drew 0-0
Fulham (H) Drew 1-1
Everton will of course be without Doucoure after he was ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a fractured foot. James Rodriguez is also out until after the international break because of fitness issues, while Gylfi Sigurdsson will be assessed closer to kick off.
There is a boost in defence though with Yerry Mina and Seamus Coleman available to return.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin? Your guess is as good as mine.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “In the last game [Chelsea] we didn’t have a lot of opportunities and we want to be more creative.
“We don’t have to change the style of our play – but play forward more and press higher.
“Chelsea was really difficult… for the next game we can press farther forward and keep our defensive line higher.
“From this, we can have more opportunities.
“If you press a bit higher, you have the possibility to win the ball closer to the opponents’ goal, so we have more opportunities, with two or three passes, to create opportunities in front.
“The quality in the final third has be better and the midfielders need to go forward on the final pass.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche: “They have a class act in their manager and a very experienced manager.
“Look at the players they’ve got and they’re a good outfit anyway. The manager has added to that, quite obviously.
“They’ve had a couple of blips, but often teams do in the Premier League – even the top teams.
“They are a good outfit, so I think nothing other than it will be a tough ask going to Everton to win the game.
“But we’re used to going to these places, so we take it on.
“Going to these clubs is never an easy task, but we’ve certainly been involved with these games and done well out of them and we’ll have to do that again.”
With the race for Europe so tight no team can really afford to lose successive games for risk of slipping back into mid-table. Everton were always up against it at Chelsea so defeat is not a disaster, but failure to bounce back straight away will really sting and may ultimately cost Everton dear should the table remain as tight as it is.