Upwardly mobile Everton chase a third successive Premier League win when they take on Manchester United at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Last weekend’s win at Southampton was just their second league victory on the road in 2022, but it was enough to extend their unbeaten run to six games and put the top eight within sight.
Indeed, a win on Sunday would see Everton leapfrog United and lift them as high as seventh.
It is still early days of course but after so many years of drift it feels like the tanker has been turned and the Toffees are heading in the right direction again.
That revival has started at the back, with Conor Coady and James Tarkowski helping the Blues have the best defensive record in the division.
The midfield – so often slow and sluggish – has been remodelled and revived, providing the perfect platform for our attacking players, with Neal Maupay helping to ease the pain of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s extended absence.
Speaking of Calvert-Lewin, he is available again this weekend, but Maupay’s presence has allowed the club to be extra careful with the England striker.
It is important not to get carried away of course but after the trauma of the Rafa Benitez era and that brush with relegation it is nice to have that togetherness again. There is a genuine bond between the fans and the manager and players not seen since Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge nearly a decade ago.
Another coach welcome is being organised ahead of a Goodison game under the lights (at the admittedly ridiculous kick-off time of 7pm on a Sunday), which should make for another raucous atmosphere at the Grand Old Lady.
You couldn’t have said that 12 months ago, which shows how far we’ve come - both on and off the pitch.
It is coming up to a decade since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement but Manchester United look as far away from recapturing those glory days as ever.
Erik Ten hag is the latest manager to try and revive one of the biggest clubs in the world that has squandered millions and millions of pounds over the last 10 years to try and scramble their way back into the game’s elite.
Damaging defeats to Brighton and Brentford to start the season gave rise to a sense of crisis.
Four straight wins – including a 2-1 victory over Liverpool – steadied the ship and suggested Ten Hag was making an impact. But last weekend’s humbling at an admittedly unstoppable-looking Manchester City highlighted their defensive frailties and was their eighth defeat from their last 10 Premier League matches.
One of those was at Goodison last season when Anthony Gordon’s deflected strike contributed to Everton’s great escape.
United were rotten that day are likely to be much better here (they couldn’t be much worse) but they look at team that remains in transition.
Everton 1-0 Manchester United, 9 April 2022
As mentioned, Anthony Gordon’s deflected first-half strike gave Everton a morale-boosting victory over United in April, just days after that calamitous defeat at Burnley. I have to admit I went into this game convinced our Premier League days were numbered. How quickly things changed.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is fit to return the squad and could make his first appearance since May after recovering from a knee injury.
Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate are back in training but are not yet ready for a return.
Nathan Patterson, Andros Townsend and Ben Godrey won’t be back for some weeks yet.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “We had to dig in and fight against teams like Manchester United and Chelsea to beat them last season – but can we approach games like Sunday’s with a different mentality and think about us and what we can do to compete with teams at this level?
“I think we’re in a different phase now. If we can get our performance right, we’ll have a good chance in this game.
“It’s important for us, when we’re on a good run, to focus on ourselves. If we keep doing things well, we should be able to give a lot of teams problems. We will be confident in what we can do.
“It would be a nice signal [to win the game] in the short-term, not so much to the outside but to ourselves.”
Manchester United boss Erik Ten Hag: “I will give players trust. I will back them when they are in a worse shape. When they work hard, when they give their best in training sessions, when they take responsibility on the pitch, I will back them but also we are United and our ambitions are really high so you have to deliver.
“Every player in the squad has to take that responsibility individually and they have to do it in a team culture. That’s the demand from us, from the coaching staff, to the players.”
There is perhaps a danger of being overconfident for this one as United remain a decent side despite their recent troubles. But win, lose or draw it is fun watching this Everton team at Goodison again. Which I will certainly take for now.