36 down, two to go.
After a long and bruising season Everton’s fate is still in their own hands as we enter the final 10 days of the campaign.
They sit just one point and one place above the drop zone, joining Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Leicester left to fight for their Premier League lives after Southampton were condemned to the Championship last week.
Sunday’s game against Manchester City went largely as expected, though the Toffees can take some credit for the way they competed, certainly in the first half.
They were ultimately undone by a moment of genius from Ilkay Gundogan and a split-second loss of concentration leading to their second from Erling Haaland.
The champions elect took their foot off the gas after the break, but Everton stuck to their task and the eventual 3-0 defeat could have been a lot worse.
What also could have been worse was results elsewhere. Both Forest and Leeds picked up one point but had moments in their games where they could have grabbed all three.
Both remain in the mire but are fighting for their lives. Leicester on the other hand, look done. The way their heads dropped on Monday suggests the players a resigned to their fate ahead of a tough trip to Newcastle on Monday.
For the Toffees the equation is simple – win both their games and they stay up. Easy, right?
A win on Saturday could be enough should Leeds lose at West Ham and Leicester lose to Newcastle, though judging by the beer-sodden scenes in the Hammers changing room after their Europa Conference League semi-final win over AZ Alkmaar there are unlikely to be in tip-top condition come their match on Sunday.
If Everton are going to escape the drop they are going to have to do it themselves.
Julen Lopetegui can rightly reflect on a job well done after steering Wolves to Premier League safety with four games remaining.
Wolves were bottom of the table when Lopetegui took charge during the World Cup break with just two wins from their first 15 games, but a win at Goodison on boxing day kicked-off a revival that saw them seal safety comfortably.
It is true to say that Wolves were vastly under-performing given the talent in their squad, but Lopetegui still deserves credit for turning things around so quickly.
Like Everton goals have been a problem, they are one of only two teams to score fewer than the Toffees, but a tightened-up defence means that has not proven too costly.
They are particularly strong at home, with only the two Manchester clubs winning more home games in 2023. They have kept a clean sheet in all nine of their home wins and their overall tally of 10 home clean sheets is better only by Manchester United.
Everton 1-2 Wolves, December 26 2022
The World Cup break did little to improve Everton’s fortunes despite an early goal from Yerry Mina. Daniel Podence levelled before half-time and Rayan Ait-Nouri scored in stoppage-time to seal Wolves’ third victory of the campaign.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in contention for Saturday’s game despite coming off at half-time against Manchester City after tweaking his groin.
Vitaly Mykolenko will be absent again though after sitting out the City game with a groin injury.
That leaves Everton with an issue at full-back with Ruben Vinagre, Ben Godfrey and Seamus Coleman all out injured.
That may mean Mason Holgate continues at left-back despite his obvious struggles last weekend, or Sean Dyche opts for a change in formation.
Conor Coady is ineligible against his parent club, further limiting his defensive options.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: “I think there’s a core respect from the fans of a team that are giving everything to win a game.
“When they don’t, they let them know – which is fair enough. The fans have been terrific ever since I got here. I can only speak from my time here, but they’ve backed everything we’re attempting to do, and they continue to do so.
“They want to see a team giving everything, and against Man City, they saw a team who were giving their all to take that game on and try to get something from the game on all the way until the final whistle.
“It was always going to be a tough ask, but the mentality was firm, and the mentality of the fans was firm. We’ll need that over the next two games. Since I’ve been here, they’ve been there every week for us – good, bad, indifferent, home, and away. We’ve got to continue that connection because it’s important to us.”
Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui: Fortunately we have achieved our first aim, more important aim and very difficult aim, that is to be out of the relegation [battle] three matches before the end of the season.
“We want more, we have to take the match on Saturday look at it as a chance for us to finish well in front of our fans.
“I think it is important and we want to be able to compete and to learn from the rest of the competition for the rest of the teams, we would like the same if we were fighting to be out of the relegation zone for our team.”
Not much more can be said. Everton’s destiny is their own hands. They need to take it.