The noise was deafening as the players came out from the dressing rooms at the King Power Stadium just before kickoff. You could be forgiven for thinking that a trophy was on the line on the day, not just a regular old league game towards the tail end of the season.
Some 3,500-odd traveling Everton supporters generated enough noise and passion to sound like a crowd ten times that size, and with Leicester City’s home colors daubed all over the ground, this looked and felt like a home game for the Toffees. Certainly the effort and result was something the Blues have enjoyed at Goodison in recent weeks, given that this was only their second away win in the league of the season, the first one coming back in late August.
While an even bigger away crowd showed up at Vicarage Road, the grind of the fixtures seemed to have worn down an Everton side that often doesn’t look like they quite know what to do with the ball when they have possession and are playing against a side more defensive than themselves. The scoreless draw in the end was a disappointment for many Blues with the win there for the taking, and the knowledge that three points would have virtually secure safety.
Frank Lampard might say what he will, but at the end of the day he has shown he doesn’t trust too many of the players in the squad handed to him, and his rotation (or lack thereof) during this hectic period has indicated that. Some players he has been forced to lineup because of a lack of choices, but others have won his belief and have become fixtures on the teamsheet.
This squad as it is remains unbalanced and no one can really blame the manager for not trying to play an expansive, attack-minded game in an attempt to get goals when the defence has proven time and again that it is still capable of making the most mind-numbing errors. Were it not for Jordan Pickford’s heroics really, we would be sitting in a much worse position than we are now.
With three games to play, two at home against Brentford and Crystal Palace, Everton are in a good position to ensure safety even before the last weekend of the season when they travel to Arsenal. The Toffees sit two points clear of both Burnley and Leeds United, though the Clarets like the Blues have three games left to play while Leeds only have two games left.
Burnley — still under caretaker manager Mike Jackson — saw their run of wins broken last weekend when they lost at home to Aston Villa, allowing Everton to leapfrog them. The Blues sit just two points ahead of the Clarets now on equal footing in terms of games played.
Despite sacking long-term manager Sean Dyche and dealing with a raft of injuries, Burnley remain in a good position to ensure Premier League survival for another season with the ‘easier’ set of fixtures to close out their season, after this weekend at least. In Sunday’s early game they go to Tottenham who are coming off a big win in the North London Derby and now are just one point behind Arsenal in the chase for the last Champions League spot. Spurs will come out firing for that one in the knowledge they could overhaul their bitter rivals until Monday night at least. After that, the Clarets have to go to Aston Villa (who just beat them handily), and then end with Newcastle at home.
Leeds’ situation seems grimmer. American coach Jesse Marsch hasn’t been able to get too much of a ‘new manager bounce’ since joining the club and a murderous closing schedule has not helped his cause. Three big losses in a row to Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have seen them plunge into the danger zone, and now they have just two games left to play.
They are at home against a Brighton side that tends to play expansive football without actually scoring too many goals (the two sides had drawn 0-0 at the Amex earlier in the season), and then go away to Brentford on the last Sunday of the season. Marsch has lost a number of dependable players due to injury and red cards in successive games, and has his work cut out for him.
Everton’s task is a bit more straightforward at this stage - four points from their last three games should secure safety. First up are Brentford coming to Goodison Park, where the Blues have already hammered them 4-1 under Frank Lampard in the FA Cup. However, that was a much-rotated Bees lineup too, and since then the newly-promoted side have tightened up defensively.
After that the Toffees have another home game, hosting Crystal Palace who in turn had spanked the Blues in the Cup at the quarter final stage. The Londoners have little to play for and that game should be one for Lampard to go out all out in an attempt to win should it be required, because the Blues close the season at the Emirates. If Arsenal are still in the chase for fourth place on Sunday, Everton will have a big, big task at what has been a pretty unhappy hunting ground to try and get points to avoid relegation.
Luckily, it might be all over this weekend. Norwich City and Watford are already confirmed relegated. Burnley play the early game on Sunday, Leeds then go at the regular 2p kickoff slot with Everton playing the late game at 4:30.
If Leeds lose, a draw should be enough for Everton considering the 19 goals separating the sides in goal difference. Should Leeds draw or win, then Everton will need to win tomorrow to virtually secure safety. There is a chance if both Burnley and Leeds win on Sunday then Everton will be back in the relegation zone before their kickoff, and the pressure will be back on Lampard’s side - mentally at least - to ensure they don’t end the night still there.
Everton remaining fixtures -
Sun May 15th - vs Brentford (13th), Home
Thu May 19th - vs Crystal Palace (11th), Home
Sun May 22nd - at Arsenal (4th), Away
Burnley remaining fixtures -
Sun May 15th - at Tottenham (5th), Away
Thu May 19th - at Aston Villa (12th), Away
Sun May 22nd - vs Newcastle (14th), Home
Leeds remaining fixtures -
Sun May 15th - vs Brighton (9th), Home
Sun May 22nd - at Brentford (13th), Away