Everton head to Burnley on Wednesday in a titanic clash that will go a long way towards deciding their Premier League fate, and potentially therefore the direction of the club in the next few years, or even decades.
Yes, there are still nine games to go after this one. But at the end of the campaign we will likely look back on this clash as being pivotal to the Toffees’ eventual fate, be it the agony of relegation or survival by the skin of their teeth.
Win and Everton are six points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand. Lose and Burnley move to within a point of the Toffees ahead of a trip to bottom side Norwich at the weekend.
The thought of this game makes me feel sick.
I thought there were a few reasons to be optimistic after Sunday’s game at West Ham, despite the eventual defeat. It was a low bar I admit, but they at least they did not capitulate like at Tottenham and Crystal Palace.
They competed well during the first half only to fall behind to a free-kick into the top corner, that happens. But they showed some welcome resilience to fight their way back into the game after the break.
They looked the more likely side to score next at this stage, but then a sloppy mistake was ruthlessly punished – though there was also a touch of fortune about how the rebound fell perfectly to Jarrod Bowen and his shot bounced over the sliding Vitalii Mykolenko.
Another brain fart, this time by Michael Keane, saw Everton reduced to 10 men for the third straight game and the contest was all but over. It means another suspension for Wednesday’s game, to go with a crippling injury list that has robbed the team of so many key players throughout the season.
They are just two factors that have contributed to this miserable campaign. But there is no time to sulk, they have to roll up their sleeves and get ready for a battle. Their Premier League lives depend on it.
Burnley are enjoying their best run of top-flight football since the 1960s, but their Premier League status looks in more peril than it has at any time in the last six years.
Sean Dyche has done a remarkable job to lift the Clarets from the Championship and establish them in the Premier League, taking in a run in Europe in 2018. And it is that resilience that makes them such a threat, even in their lowly position.
The figures, though, make grim reading (a bit like ours really).
They have won just three times in the league this season, fewer than any other side, They have lost their last four league games by an aggregate score of 10-0, and have won just two of their last 24 Premier League matches.
Something has to give.
Everton 3-1 Burnley, September 12 2021
A rare bright spot in the campaign, Everton fought back from a goal down to beat Burnley 3-1 in the reverse fixture at Goodison in September, including an absolute rocket from Andros Townsend and a fine breakaway striker from Demarai Gray.
Everton’s injury list got worse with the news that Nathan Patterson needs an operation on an ankle problem and will be out for up to 10 weeks. Donny van de Beek is also sidelined with a thigh issue picked up in the warm-up at West Ham.
Michael Keane and Allan are suspended, but Seamus Coleman and Fabian Delph are fit to return to the squad.
What they said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “We have to be up for the basics of the game, in terms of physicality, and do those things [compete and work off ball] right to get the result.
“Solidity is a trademark of Burnley’s, they are never easy to beat, they don’t concede many goals and are very effective in what they do.
“But I don’t want to undersell them, they have individual qualities and good individual players.
“Our mental approach is very important, the game is a big deal.
“We are fighting... To try to stay in the league and with every game that goes, it becomes more intense.
“The mental and physical preparation is key and the squad will be very focused and understanding of what we’re going into.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche: “It’d be a big thing for us to beat them. We certainly want to get something from the game and winning would obviously be another shift forward.
“We’ve got to earn it, I can’t reinforce that idea enough. We’ve got to work for it, show the desire, the commitment but also the quality of performance to go and win.”
“We’ve had to earn every inch of our life in the Premier League [so far] and we’re going to keep doing that over the next seven weeks and 10 games.”
I may be drifting into hyperbole, but this really could be the defining 90 minutes of Everton’s season. I just don’t want to contemplate defeat, because that would also mean having to contemplate something else.