Everton face a potentially season-defining clash on Friday when they welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Goodison Park.
The Blues sit eighth, a point and a place behind Spurs, who have played a game more than them. Seventh would ensure Europa Conference League qualification, with fifth and sixth making the Europa League.
But despite their four-game winless run in the Premier League, they should take heart from the fact they have beaten Tottenham twice already this season; at Spurs on the opening weekend, and in that 5-4 FA Cup thriller at Goodison in February.
José Mourinho’s side were top in December, but have fallen away pretty miserably, and were outplayed by both Manchester United on Sunday and Newcastle the previous weekend.
Ahead of Friday’s match, we spoke to Sean Cahill, deputy manager of SB Nation’s dedicated Spurs site, Cartilage Free Captain:
RBM: Firstly, for our Q&A before February’s FA Cup game, you said you weren’t behind José Mourinho anymore. Presumably, that opinion hasn’t changed since?
Sean: You presume correct and the last couple of months have only solidified my position. I’m not really hiding it anymore: I want him gone.
The players don’t seem to have a drive. They look bored, maybe not as much as I am watching them play, but almost every match feels like a slog to get through and I absolutely hate that feeling.
RBM: Are there any Spurs players who have significantly improved or regressed under Mourinho so far?
Sean: It’s hard to argue this, but Harry Kane is having his best season even if he’s playing a role that has him essentially as a false nine. The man just loves scoring goals and setting people up for them. After that, maybe Lucas Moura - he’s playing centrally now and has been overall pretty good, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone else.
Regression is a different story. Sergio Reguilon came out of the starting blocks with jet engines strapped to his back and was amazing. The last two months, though, he’s been bad. We’re hoping it’s just a tough run of form but the tactics seem to be handcuffing him too. Our entire defensive back line is a revolving door of suck, though Joe Rodon seems to look very good.
RBM: Spurs have lost 18 points from winning positions this season, the second-most in the league. Why?
Sean: Let’s look at Spurs’ match against United on Sunday. The first 45 minutes were arguably the best they’ve played in more than a month. They held possession, worked the ball forward, and while VAR took away a United goal, they were ahead at half-time.
They came out in the second half flatter than week-old soda. Sitting back on their heels, waiting to spring forward or try not to give up the lead, they ultimately gave up the lead and the match. Moussa Sissoko came on when our midfield was playing well and, to no-one’s surprise, the midfield dominance disappeared. I have no idea how Dele Alli can’t break into this side and, truly, it’s incredibly frustrating and mind-boggling.
The bottom line is that we’re playing crap. This team gets a lead and decides to set up shop unless they’re gifted an attack, and our manager goes shocked Pikachu face when we lose. Rinse, repeat.
RBM: Some see the Europa League (and the new Conference League, presumably...) as detrimental on league form. Do you subscribe to that? And if so, would you rather Spurs finished eighth than between fifth and seventh?
Sean: Spurs should be in Europe, so I want them to finish in a European slot. I’ve warmed to the idea of the Conference League, but we’ll see how it’s received by fans.
As for midweek matches, I don’t think so, so long as you have a deep enough squad and actually use them. Spurs were doing this during the group stage of Europa and handling it pretty well. It keeps players fresh, gives others a chance to shine to perhaps more time.
I know the fixture list has been packed because Spurs are in the League Cup final and went into the fifth round of the FA Cup, but that happens.
RBM: Recent reports suggest Harry Kane, now 27, wants to leave Tottenham this summer. If so, can you blame him?
Sean: I have a hard time disagreeing. I don’t want to sell him because I know how much it’s going to hurt, even if Spurs get a Brinks truck filled with cash for him. Seeing him in another kit would be weird and painful.
Given the Erling Haaland sweepstakes are already starting, I find it difficult to see a timeline where Kane actually does get sold. Daniel Levy will not sell to an English club (unless his hand is forced by Kane) and the only club on the continent I can think of would be Paris Saint-Germain to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino.
Real Madrid might make sense, but I don’t think they have the funds for it currently. They’re in better shape than Barcelona, but it’s not a big gulf.
RBM: Lots of Everton fans feel this game will be critical in determining the destiny of our season. Does it feel as important a match to Tottenham?
Sean: It’s an important match for Spurs, but I think it’s more important for Mourinho. It’s a six-pointer against a club vying for Europe. Spurs are six points off fourth and cannot drop any more points if they want to get past Liverpool, Chelsea and West Ham.
The Hammers have a stupidly easy run-in, with the lone exception of facing Chelsea. Losing to Everton on Friday is the final nail in the coffin for Spurs’ chances at Champions League football. Mourinho could win the League Cup and still get sacked if that’s what happens.
RBM: How do you expect Tottenham to set up on Friday?
Sean: We’ve had so many different defensive alignments I feel like I could draw names out of a hat and be at least 75 per cent accurate. Mourinho hates Toby Alderweireld for some reason, so I’d be stunned to see him in the lineup.
(4-2-3-1): Lloris; Aurier, Rodon, Dier, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Ndombele; Lamela, Lo Celso, Son; Kane
RBM: Kane and Son Heung-min aside, who else do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Sean: If Lucas plays, he’s been very good centrally. Given that Giovani Lo Celso isn’t up to 100 per cent fitness just yet, it’s almost a lock that he’ll make an appearance in the second half.
Tanguy Ndombele is still a wizard and is certain to make someone look stupid.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Friday’s game?
Sean: Pain. If you’re looking for a score, I have little confidence right now and I hate it. Everton win 2-1.
Our thanks to Sean for his time.