A turbulent, compressed season of serious highs and lows for Everton is nearing its closing chapter, with just ten league games left to play.
With Carlo Ancelotti’s side now out of both domestic cup competitions, European qualification is all that’s left to play for when they return from the current international break.
Everton are still in the running for this, and this season has undoubtedly been an improvement on last term, when they finished 12th.
But much work is to be done after two straight league defeats has seen the Blues slip to eighth.
Everton - remaining 2020-21 fixtures
Apr 5 - Crystal Palace (H)
Apr 12 - Brighton (A)
Apr 17 - Tottenham (H)
Apr 24 - Arsenal (A)
May 1 - Aston Villa (H)
May 8 - West Ham (A)
May 11 - Sheff Utd (H)
May 15 - Wolves (H)
May 23 - Man City (A)
TBC - Aston Villa (A)
We took a look at what to expect and what we hope for in the final two months of Everton’s 2020-21 campaign:
With ten league games left, I am feeling...
Calvin: Nervous. I don’t think we are playing well enough now to sustain a run that will be required to get us into the top six.
Pete: Like we’ve missed a big opportunity to gate-crash the top four, but still confident we’re on the right track.
Matthew: Relaxed. We’re only three points off matching last season’s final points total of 49, which is an indicator in itself that progress has been made. Important to always look at the bigger picture, especially after this run of three straight defeats.
Ian: Confident (famous last words, right?). I think Everton have a favourable string of fixtures that could see them end the season with far more wins over their final ten fixtures than losses.
Trent: Confident and optimistic about what Everton can do over the last months of the campaign.
The most important Everton player in the run-in will be...
Calvin: Richarlison. The goals have dried up somewhat for the Blues and Richarlison going on a tear right now will really help.
Pete: Richarlison. We need a bit of magic to win the tight games and he could provide it.
Matthew: James Rodriguez. Everton look one-dimensional in attack without him and I think Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both play better when he’s on the pitch.
Ian: James Rodriguez. We all know how important the Colombian magician is to Everton’s success. When he’s on his game, the Toffees look like one of the most threatening teams in the league. He can hit long balls, pick defences apart with his pinpoint passing and hit the occasional screamer. He is the key to unlocking what can be a potent Everton attack.
Trent: James Rodriguez. When he returns from his nagging injury, he will have to show real class on the right side of the pitch and offer another real threat for opposing defences to mark.
The Everton player who needs to improve the most after the international break is...
Calvin: Andre Gomes. With Abdoulaye Doucouré out, Gomes’ role as a link between defence and attack becomes even more critical.
Pete: Andre Gomes. He’s on the cusp of being a terrace target with too many anonymous performances.
Matthew: Alex Iwobi. Running out of patience with him. There’s talent there but he urgently needs to decide where he wants to play. End product needs massive improvement, too.
Ian: Allan. He is returning from a lengthy injury spell, so this is less of a criticism, more a hope that the Brazilian rediscovers the form that made him one of the stingiest number sixes in the league at the beginning of the season. Allan holding the defence together allows for the more creative players (see previous answer) to work the ball up the field.
Trent: Tom Davies and Allan are important figures to watch; how we continue to function without Doucouré as he recovers from injury is massive.
The formation I would play most often for the rest of the season is...
Calvin: 4-4-2 diamond. It was our undoing against Burnley, but we won’t meet too many sides like them in the last ten games.
Matthew: The 4-3-3 we started the season with.
Ian: 4–3–3, and here’s what I would like to see (given everyone is fit): Pickford; Digne, Godfrey, Keane, Coleman; Sigurdsson, Allan, Doucouré; Richarlison, Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin.
Trent: I think both the 4-3-3, as well as the rarer 5-3-2, offer advantages depending on the personnel choices and opposition. The latter offers great defensive organisation, with runs by Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman during counter-attacks, while the former can leave Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez with space to attack and create in front of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Allan, Davies and the rest.
The number of points Everton will finish with is...
*Everton are currently on 46 points
Calvin: 63. 17 points in the last ten from five wins, two draws and three losses.
Matthew: 65. A kinder set of fixtures and a slightly more spaced-out schedule should help a terribly depleted squad.
Ian: 71. Let’s go hyper-optimistic and say - with the utmost confidence - 71 points, which means a record of 8-1-1 (25 points) in ten matches. I can dream, can’t I?
Trent: 65. Everton need, at the very least, six wins out of the final ten matches to make it into a top five position. I think they are capable of as much.
This season, Everton will finish...
Calvin: Sixth - trying to stay positive.
Ian: Top six. Based on my hopeful answer of 25 points through the final ten games, Everton would surely be the most in-form team in the league, which would be good for at least a Europa League spot.
Lastly, suppose Robin Olsen is fit again for the Crystal Palace game but Jordan Pickford isn’t. Should Joao Virginia keep his place?
Calvin: No. Olsen back into the starting line-up as soon as he’s fit.
Pete: No. He made a couple of great saves against Manchester City, but Olsen is a much safer pair of hands for now. Get Virginia out on a League One loan next season to see where he’s at.
Matthew: Yes. I like Olsen a lot but we should be developing our own players first. I was really impressed by Virginia’s confidence and general performance against City. It was only one game and may prove a flash in the pan, but I’d give him another chance if it’s either him or Olsen.
Ian: Yes. I am a firm believer in riding the hot hand, and Virginia has done well in the two games he’s played since Pickford went down. Olsen is a capable goalkeeper, but throwing him in cold over the youngster, who has earned this opportunity, would be a mistake.
Trent: Yes. Virginia was not responsible for the loss to City. For the purposes of better understanding the player’s potential, I think it would be good to demonstrate further trust in the player in a game that Everton should be able to win.