We are now finally into the last week of this bizarre and infuriating season, with Everton still holding faint European hopes despite their best efforts to disappoint us.
They head into the weekend in eighth place, behind Tottenham on goal difference, with a minimum of a seventh-place finish enough for a spot in Europe next season.
Expectations have been raised and dashed at frequent intervals throughout this campaign, none more so at Goodison Park, with the Toffees’ dreadful home form the principal reason why they are not challenging for a Champions League place.
Pandemic football has led to a loss of home advantage across the board, but some of Everton’s results at home this year cannot be completely excused by the lack of fans.
However, with Sunday’s game against a side bottom of the table and without a manager, and the midweek clash with Wolves set to be played in front of 6,500 supporters, surely this is the time for Carlo Ancelotti’s side to rediscover their Goodison mojo?
After a fine ninth-placed finish last time out, things have come off the rails quite spectacularly for Sheffield United this season.
Pandemic football has not been kind. The Blades were in contention for a place in Europe for much of the 2019-20 campaign before eventually finishing ninth after struggling during the restart.
This year things have gone from bad to worse. They didn’t win a game in any competition until an FA Cup third-round victory at League One Bristol Rovers in January and have collected just 17 points from their 35 Premier League matches so far, with relegation already confirmed.
Chris Wilder, the man who guided the club from League One to the top flight, left the club last month with Paul Heckingbottom placed in interim charge.
Heckingbottom is unlikely to be given the job full-time and he admitted earlier this week that the speculation about the new manager was not helping the players.
All in all, it is a campaign United just want to finish and then forget.
Sheffield United 0-1 Everton, December 26, 2020.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s late strike decided a turgid encounter when the teams last met at Bramall Lane on Boxing Day.
Aston Villa (A) Drew 0-0
West Ham (A) Won 1-0
Aston Villa (H) Lost 2-1
Arsenal (A) Won 1-0
Tottenham (H) Drew 2-2
Crystal Palace (H) Lost 2-0
Tottenham (A) Lost 4-0
Brighton (H) Won 1-0
Wolves (A) Lost 1-0
Arsenal (H) Lost 3-0
Carlo Ancelotti says James Rodriguez is in contention to feature after resuming training following a calf injury that has caused him to miss the last three matches.
However, Yerry Mina is still sidelined with what the club say is a minor adductor problem.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: ”We’ve had two difficult away games and got four points.
“Of course, we would like six points but we are still in the fight for Europe.
“We have three games to play – maybe we need three victories but we will try to do it.
“We moved up the table and now we have this great opportunity with two games at home where we hope to get six points.”
Sheffield United interim boss Paul Heckingbottom: “Everyone is talking about next season, and I understand why. But I don’t agree with that personally, or like it, because there are games to win now. And if you are talking about next season now, then you won’t have the right focus.
“I’m expecting us to go out there and give everything to get the three points. If you look at the physical data, there’s only Leeds that have outdone us in terms of high speed and high intensity runs.
“So for me, it’s subconscious. It’s that extra bit of aggression, it’s that extra bit you might put into a tackle, that extra bit of adrenaline. If this was a Wembley play-off final, everyone would be fit and available and there’d be a real buzz.”
No offence to Sheffield United, but this is the fixture you would hand pick if you needed a win at this stage of the season.
However, the old cliché of teams playing with more freedom once they have been relegated often rings true. If that proves the case here, then Everton will have to improve on recent home performances significantly if they are to take the points.
Whatever the result, let’s hope this is the final game Everton play behind closed doors. Football just hasn’t been the same.