Everton can climb into the top four, for a few hours at least, with victory against second-bottom West Brom on......whoah, hold on, Wait. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
Yep, there’s distinct ‘beat Villa we go top’ vibes as we head to the Hawthorns to take on Sam Allardyce’s struggling Baggies on Thursday.
Everton’s inability to take that giant leap in the table when the opportunity presents itself is yet another of those annoying vices Carlo Ancelotti was charged with shaking off when he was brought to the club 15 months ago, just like he did with their Anfield hoodoo last week.
Do so on Thursday and Everton will be right in the hunt for a Champions League place, something I didn’t think was possible even just a few weeks ago after that Fulham defeat.
They got the job done – just – against Southampton on Monday, though it wasn’t pretty.
After getting the early goal you wanted the team to press home their advantage as you always felt a second would finish the game off given Southampton’s lack of form and confidence.
But the longer it went still at 1-0 the more the Saints edged their way into the game and you just knew they would get at least one chance. In the end they had two, but flashed one effort wide when well placed before Jordan Pickford made a great save in the final minute.
That’s what good goalkeepers are there for of course, but I can’t help but feel Everton were sailing close to the wind and on another day could have been punished.
But they weren’t, and taking three points from a game where they did not play very well is what good teams do. And as this excellent piece of analysis from my RBM colleague Matthew shows, it looked to be all part of Carlo’s tactical plan.
I’m sure we would all take a repeat on Thursday.
After two years away, West Brom boinged their way back into the Premier League last summer with a second-placed finish behind champions Leeds, though that did disguise a late-season drop-off that very nearly let Brentford sneak in ahead of them.
The Baggies’ reputation as a yo-yo team is slightly misplaced given they had spent the eight years in the top flight before their relegation in 2018, but it does seem like they are set for a few more bumpy years crisscrossing the divisions.
The Black Country side are currently second bottom and nine points from safety. They were second-bottom and two points from safety when Sam Allardyce replaced Slaven Bilic in December.
Yes, Big Sam is back (with little Sam), but his record of never having been relegated from the Premier League is going to be sorely tested here.
He has won just two of his 14 games in charge, one of those coming in Saturday’s bizarre meeting with Brighton, which saw the Seagulls miss two penalties and have a goal from a quickly-taken free kick controversially ruled out.
That made it three games unbeaten, which includes credible draws against Manchester United and Burnley. Early signs perhaps that Allardyce is starting to turn things around.
But given they have just 12 games left, you wonder whether there are simply not enough points left for even a survival specialist like Big Sam to avoid the trapdoor to the Championship.
Everton 5-2 West Brom September 19, 2020
Everton were in fine goalscoring form the last time the two sides met at a sunny Goodison in September. Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s hat-trick, a first Toffees goal for James Rodriguez and a Michael Keane header secured a thumping win.
Southampton (H) Won 1-0
Liverpool (A) Won 2-0
Man City (H) Lost 3-1
Fulham (H) Lost 2-0
Tottenham (H – FA Cup) Won 5-4 AET
Brighton (H) Won 1-0
Burnley (A) Drew 0-0
Man Utd (H) Drew 1-1
Tottenham (A) Lost 2-0
Sheff Utd (A) Lost 2-1
Carlo Ancelotti says he will check on James Rodriguez, Tom Davies, Seamus Coleman and Robin Olsen in training on Wednesday before deciding whether they can return after the quintet sat out the Southampton game.
Fabian Delph definitely misses out again, Yerry Mina is still sidelined for a couple more weeks with a calf injury, while Jean-Phillipe Gbamin has yet to start full training with the team.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “The Champions League is the top competition, so the motivation of the players to be involved is really high… it is a step forwards for their careers.
“The players are really focused on what we can achieve.
“They understand it can be an important season, not only for the future of the club but for the future of every one of us.
“We want to be there [in fourth after the West Brom match], just to see how it feels. Three points are important to stay in that fight.
“The situation of the European positions, I think, will be decided in the last game and we want to be there until the end.”
West Brom boss Sam Allardyce: “I thank my lucky stars for the rub of the green [against Brighton].
“Our disappointment was that what with our capabilities, we should have seen through the Fulham game, and beaten Manchester United because of the gilt-edged chances, Burnley with 10 men was a heroic performance.
“We are in a must-win situation now. After Everton and Newcastle, we have a huge void of almost four weeks without a game.”
Given he is a former Toffees manager, we know exactly what to expect from Allardyce’s teams. They will be well-drilled, aggressive and will look to defend in numbers in order to stay in the game as long as possible before trying to nick something at the other end, probably from a set piece.
It is unlikely to be as open as the last meeting between the sides in September, so it will be all about matching them physically and scrapping their way to victory.