If Everton are to somehow survive in the Premier League this season there are certain games they simply have to win.
Saturday’s meeting with Fulham feels like one of them.
With the table so congested at the bottom one result can have a huge impact on a team’s position in the table.
Everton’s defeat in the early game at Old Trafford last weekend meant a nervous wait as all their relegation rivals played their matches. Those results could have been better - with West Ham, Wolves and Bournemouth all winning - but they also could have been worse, with Leicester, Forest and Leeds all losing.
It means only goal difference is keeping the Toffees out of the bottom three. The whole bottom half of the league feels like a perilous version of musical chairs. We just have to hope Everton are above the line when the music stops.
This weekend does feel like a pivotal one, with Nottingham Forest and Leicester –two teams below Everton – playing Manchester United and Manchester City respectively. Two defeats and an Everton win would open up some vital breathing space in what is becoming a suffocating battle at the bottom.
Fulham’s 2022-23 season will still be viewed as a success whatever happens in the next few weeks, but the wheels are threatening to come off.
After being tipped to go straight back down the Cottagers go into this game 10th in the league but also off the back of five straight defeats. That includes losses against Everton’s relegation rivals West Ham and Bournemouth and that now infamous FA Cup clash at Old Trafford that saw Alexsandar Mitrovic and manager Marco Silva sent off.
Both are still suspended for Saturday’s game, though I’d like to think Silva will still get a warm reception from Evertonians he encounters.
There has been plenty of revisionism of his tenure in charge of the Toffees in recent months in light of his great work at Fulham and Everton’s recent struggles.
Out of all the managers sacked by Farhad Moshiri he is the one who perhaps deserved more time, though it is easy to forget just had bad the team was playing in his final weeks in charge and few were arguing against his dismissal at the time.
What is clear though is there are other factors at play at Everton that hamstrung Silva, his predecessors and successors.
I wish him well – just not on Saturday please, Marco.
Fulham 0-0 Everton, October 29 2022
A pretty forgettable meeting back in October, though given Everton’s away record is dreadful a point on the road shouldn’t be sniffed at. Things came off the rails spectacularly after that though, with Everton losing eight of their next nine matches.
Everton will be without Seamus Coleman after the skipper tweaked a hamstring against Manchester United last weekend.
Nathan Patterson could make his first appearance since January as a direct replacement, or Ben Godfrey could switch to the right and Vitaly Mykolenko come in at left back.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been training with the group all week, though Sean Dyche would not confirm whether he is available for selection.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: “We want to build that mentality at home, that fortress created by the fans and the way they go about it.
“They have been excellent. Home or away, by the way, I couldn’t question them.
“I think the team have responded at home and some of the away performances. They stepped off a little bit last week, but generally the team have responded and given the fans something to cheer about.
“You know it is not just a one-way street this - the players have to use their energy but then give the energy to the fans and I think that’s been a good balance so far.”
Fulham boss Marco Silva: “When you manage a club like Everton it’s always a huge honour to be there and to work in a big club, and that was my feeling all that period that I was there.
“It will be good, at the same time, to see some familiar faces for me, some people that I really enjoyed working with, some people that welcomed really well myself and my staff in that football club.
“And that’s it. It will be a football match that Everton wants to win, we want to win as well, in a good environment. You know always at Goodison that the fans are really behind the team, they are going to create the right atmosphere for the home team.
Just win Everton, please.