With the victory against West Ham United over the past weekend, Everton remained within shouting distance of the fifth place Hammers on the league table; Liverpool sat just a point behind them in sixth. Climbing to either of those positions, with just four matches left would’ve been anything but simple, and would’ve required the unwilling assistance from the other clubs that are vying for these European qualifying positions as well. A victory against Aston Villa less than two weeks after suffering the most serious blow to the Toffees’ European dreams to date was to be so important towards all of this.
Yet it was not to be. While the 0-0 draw saw each team leave Villa Park with a point, it was a disappointing point and a disappointing draw. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had multiple chances across the 90’ plus, as did others; Richarlison too had opportunities that were simply lost in the moment as well, which ultimately cost the club two additional points on this day. Others had chances to change the match as well, like Gylfi Sigurdsson and his replacement Andre Gomes later in the match. Yet despite an improved second half the Blues were unable to find the winner.
It was a complicated game, in the midst of a complicated time, which leaves Everton in a complicated position. Manchester City are already champions of the Premier League, while Manchester United sit in second; Leicester City grabbed three points just the other day from the Red Devils to sit in third, while Chelsea are surging (despite their Arsenal loss) at the right time across all competitions. The fifth, sixth and seventh spots remain open to four ambitious yet unsteady outfits - West Ham, Liverpool, and Tottenham alongside Everton; that means that the Europa League and Europa Conference League remain the only viable option for European play next season.
With this new draw to Villa behind us, coinciding with the Liverpool rout of Manchester United, there will now be only three matches remaining in this Premier League campaign, which ends with the Blues taking on this year’s champions. The standings are tight, with only five points separating ninth and fifth positions; can the Toffees still really be considered one of those clubs with a real chance at European play?
Everton and Europe: So close, yet so far
In my piece following the lamentable loss to Villa that preceded the victory in London against the Hammers, I flatly stated both that I believed that the dreams for Europe had been dashed, and that three points against David Moyes and his new club could do wonders towards rejuvenating those chances in a reasonable way. I stand by both of those statements, and happily hoped (at the time) to be proven incorrect by further performances from the Blues.
Defeating Aston Villa at Villa Park would’ve given the club a crucial three points at this stage of the season, setting the team poised to run off a string of victories leading up to the final game of the season. It was never going to be simple of course, with the quality and organization the team has, plus the return of maestro Jack Grealish after his long injury absence, Everton surely knew they would have a real fight on their hands.
The Toffees however, were able to manage a Villa squad that did much more damage in their 2-1 victory. The defense played well, whether we’re discussing the backline or the midfield. Getting Abdoulaye Doucoure back after his two-month injury absence was an obvious innovation for the Blues, and he teamed up very easily and fluidly with Allan in the middle of the pitch. Doucoure’s play helped to drive the teams offensive and defensive success for large stretches of this season and if we could have two of him, I would advocate for that straight away as well.
It was also apparent that without James Rodriguez for yet another match, there was a lack of quality in the final third throughout the game. The Colombian’s creativity and innovation while on the pitch truly helps our lineup properly function when he is playing with the likes of Allan and Doucoure, aiding DCL and Richarlison at every possible opportunity. Without the depth that further transfer windows will hopefully provide Everton, all of the teams best pieces will have to, as we’ve seen on occasion this season, be available and working most optimally for the Toffees to have any real shot against the better clubs of England, or for a position in a European competition for that matter. Efficient and effective players like Doucoure and Rodriguez are crucial towards relieving pressure from both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, who simply cannot solely be relied on to provide for this team all the time; plenty of positive options will be available to sign this summer I’m sure.
While DCL has shown brilliance in front of net without too much help at times, he missed a multitude of chances versus Villa, where the ball came off funny, was played poorly, or was stopped by Emi Martinez; his young attacking partner Richarlison meanwhile, hasn’t felt as authoritative with his success this season, despite that he too as played well across the year. To me, the Brazilian seems to play at his best when he can be an ancillary option for his club, not it’s primary. This is no slander at all, but a fact that would be best to understand when inserting him into a lineup or position.
While he has not thrived as a number nine in relief of DCL, he has been immense on the wing across stretches of this season, and usually looks a fine partner when Don Carlo is playing two up front as was the case in both the West Ham and Villa matches. With just one or two differently hit balls in this particular matchup, it may have been easy to praise the work of both of these young men, yet without any tally, all that is left to do is mourn the lost opportunities.
Jordan Pickford, has played like a man possessed recently, and rumors that he could see some high level goalkeeper competition seem a luxurious prospect for Everton should he continue this current form. Although not all of these performances have been wins over the last month, such as the most recent draw on Thursday, it not because of the effort of England’s number one.
He has been superb during the last month plus, and were it not for a curling effort less than two weeks ago, another draw might’ve been curated; despite his best efforts, this save and draw was not to be, yet he has not let such disappointment hurt his performance against either West Ham or the Villa rematch. Everton will need all of the stellar performances that they can get from him in these final three matches, as well as from his mates in front of him, like Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate or Michael Keane; it is a luxury that Ben Godfrey and Lucas Digne are worry free options, yet they too will have to play stellar offense and defense to take another road victory on this strange season.
Everton have no choice now, but to beat both Sheffield United and Wolverhampton at Goodison Park in order to have any hope of pulling some type of final day, road victory miracle out of nowhere. Are these things all possible? Surely, but they needed a victory against Aston Villa first, not a draw.
The Europa Conference League is now more plausible in the best case scenario, two wins and a draw, while three victories could mean a last day coup of legendary proportions would have to occur for even a chance at the Europa League; any chance for any European competition next season means that no draw against either the Blades or Wolves could suffice. Everton now desperately need more help from others, yet first they must start helping themselves before it is too late.