Everton are back and the run-in is here. There are just 10 games left in this most curious of seasons as the Toffees strive for a final flourish that will secure a place in Europe next year.
After a jam-packed schedule the season has now finally caught up with itself, making up for its late start in September, meaning the final few weeks should resemble something closer to normal (whatever normal is these days).
The international break seemed to come at a good time for the Toffees, who have lost their last three games in all competitions.
Only nine senior players joined up with the countries due to a combination of cancellations, injuries and omissions (you won’t hear Everton crying about a player being dropped from their international squad, though), meaning the majority of the squad were able to gain some much-needed rest.
The pause can act as something of a reset, with the Toffees now facing a 10-game season to try and secure a place in either the Europa League or Champions League next year.
The top four dream is still alive after defeats for Chelsea and Leicester on Saturday, again reflecting the unpredictable and inconsistent nature of the league this year.
Whoever can string together five or six wins in the run-in will put themselves in a strong position.
Frustratingly, Everton have been unable to so that recently. But with the team refreshed and revived, and with key players back to fitness, the chance is there to replicate their blistering early season form to ensure we end the campaign on a high and allow us to dust off those passports.
Despite the absence of their boisterous home support Crystal Palace look set for another comfortable mid-table finish, though there is also a distinct end-of-an-era feeling about the team.
Manager Roy Hodgson and more than 10 first-team players are all out of contract at the end of the season, meaning some big decisions will need to be made about the direction of the club in the coming months.
Hodgson, at 73, may choose to retire and understandably so, though he would leave on good terms given the fine job he has done at Selhurst Park.
Picking up the wreckage of the brief Frank De Boer era, the former England boss steadied the ship and led the club to three mid-table finishes, free from the stresses of a relegation battle. He also picked up some memorable results along the way, including victories at old Trafford and the Etihad.
They need just 12 more points to equal their best-ever Premier League points tally and could eclipse their highest Premier League finish of 10th.
They do, however, have a poor recent record at Goodison, losing their last three. Everton are also unbeaten in their last 12 meetings against the Eagles, stretching back to a Yannick Bolasie-inspired 3-2 home defeat in September 2014.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton September 26, 2020
Everton’s fine start to the 2020-21 season continued the last time the two sides met at Selhurst Park in September, with goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison securing the Toffees’ fifth straight win in all competitions.
Man City (H – FA Cup) Lost 2-0
Burnley (H) Lost 3-1
Chelsea (A) Lost 2-0
West Bromwich Albion (A) Won 1-0
Southampton (H) Won 1-0
West Brom (H) Won 1-0
Tottenham (A) Lost 4-1
Manchester United (H) Drew 0-0
Fulham (H) Drew 0-0
Brighton (A) Won 2-1
Jean-Philippe Gbamin could make his first Everton appearance in more than 18 months after finally recovering from those nasty thigh and achilles injuries.
James Rodriguez is also fit after a niggling calf problem. Jordan Pickford is not yet ready to return from a side strain but Robin Olsen is back and likely to deputise in goal ahead of Joao Virginia.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “Roy is a fantastic guy, a football man with huge knowledge. The energy and passion he has for his work is clear.
T”he match we played earlier this season was competitive and it will be the same [on Monday].
“Crystal Palace are organised in defence, with a solid structure, and really dangerous on the transitions.
“They had some excellent results away from home and if our focus drops, they will take advantage, no doubt.”
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: “Any time you go to Everton, you’re going to face a very very difficult game. They are a good team, well coached and the players they’ve brought in have made them much stronger. We have to prepare as well as we can and have faith that if we play as well as we know we can do, we can get a good result.
“I think it will be a very different team [to the last meeting at Goodison Park]. Carlo [Ancelotti] is working with them and improving them all the time. Almost a year has gone by so that’s another year of working with Carlo.
“He’s brought in players that have strengthened the players even more. We know it will be a tough game, but unfortunately almost every game in the Premier League is a tough one.
“I don’t think the game on Monday night will give me any respite from that. There will be plenty of suffering on the touchline but I think our aim is to give them suffering too, so I hope my anxiety on the touchline is matched by Carlo’s.”
If Everton are to reach Europe then they need to correct their woeful home form, starting on Monday.
A rested and refreshed squad means there will be little excuse if they yet again fail to perform against a side they should be beating if they want to finish in the top six.
We said similar against Burnley last month of course so it would be no surprise if they flatter to deceive once more. But with games rapidly running out there are only so many times they can get away with it.