Everton sit in eighth-place in the Premier League table with a game in hand on all the sides above them, and five points out of fourth place. A top six finish would virtually guarantee the Blues European competition next season, whether it’s in the Champions League (UCL), the Europa League (UEL) or the new Europa Conference League (UECL). The process of who qualifies for what can be pretty convoluted but there’s a good explainer here from the Premier League.
With the international break currently underway, Carlo Ancelotti has some time to prepare his side for the ten games left in the campaign that will determine the Toffees future. Speaking to evertontv, the veteran manager is looking forward to the battles the Blues will have to face.
“It will be a big fight for that [European qualifying] position because a lot of teams are involved.
“This break can help us recover some players who are out – James and, maybe, [Jean-Philippe] Gbamin. We will have a more complete squad and can fight by maintaining the same spirit and attitude [as against Manchester City].
“James can put more quality in the squad, for sure, and with a good condition can help us try to reach our target.
“We are not going to lose a lot of players [on international duty] and have to be focused on those who are here. The physical condition of the players is good – [it is important] to have a rest because some players are a little bit tired, then prepare well for the next game.”
With no fans allowed into stadiums, Everton have done well on their travels, but have struggled to replicate that form in home games where they have traditionally been strong. The ten remaining games are a mix of five home and five away, so the Blues will need to ensure they are at their best for the Goodison Park clashes against Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, while maintaining their current away standard at Villa (still unscheduled), Brighton & Hove Albion, Arsenal, West Ham United and the season-ender at Manchester City.
The Blues have now lost two home games in a row, going down to Burnley in the league and then holding on valiantly until late in the FA Cup quarter final against City over the weekend. Ancelotti is choosing to remain positive despite the defeats.
“We competed and have to be pleased, our supporters have to be proud of the team. With this kind of spirit in the next 10 games, we can get good results and fight for Europe until the end of the season.
“We were really focused and tried some combinations but it was not easy because the pressure was so high. We spent a lot of energy defending.
“We could be luckier with some opportunities but that was the game we wanted to play. We were focused and in control and for 80 minutes we didn’t concede opportunities.
“They [players] did their best and for this game there is no regret. The regret is for the other [recent home] games where we didn’t have the same attitude.”
West Ham and Spurs are among the gaggle of teams contending for Europe, with the Gunners and Villa long shots to make it in - while these five games will make all the difference in who makes it into the top six and who doesn’t, unfavourable results in the other five games might make it moot for the Blues who will need to approach each of the ten remaining games as a Cup Final.