Everton remain mired in the relegation zone with just four games left to play, with their last win coming eight games and nearly a month ago, but still all is not lost. The hotly-contested bottom three spots have six teams dueling for survival, and even a couple of wins for the Toffees could ensure Premier league status for next season.
In recent games manager Sean Dyche has come in for criticism on a number of fronts, starting with some puzzling tactical decisions. However, it’s the continued selection of error-prone and out-of-form players like Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey, Neal Maupay and Mason Holgate that has the fans puzzled and frustrated even while reinforcements like Yerry Mina, Conor Coady and Ellis Simms languish on the bench.
Speaking during his pre-match press conference ahead of Monday’s trip to Brighton & Hove Albion, Dyche defended his choices.
“I have faith in all of the players. I can only pick 11 though. At the end of the day, the ups and downs of a footballer, the ups and downs of a team, the ups and downs of careers all go into the melting pot. These are things players have to work through and have to handle; good, bad and indifferent.
“I mean a lot of noise grew after the Newcastle game, but I thought he [Keane] was probably our best player until the second goal. So that’s how it can change very quickly.
“He’s a very good player - amongst many good players here. Sorting the best 11 at any given time, form-related, to go and perform is the key to it. That’s what we’re looking to do.
“All the players need to keep doing what they’re doing until we pick them and I make that clear to them. You can only pick 11 players. Everyone has got to stay fit, everyone has to stay sharp and everyone has to stay committed to the cause.
“That’s what we’re looking to do until the team has to change, or does change.”
The manager has also puzzlingly chosen not to utilize the bench even as the players on the pitch grow weary or a different approach is required. In the back-and-forth game at Leicester City on Monday night, most of the starting XI had been run into the ground and the only change Dyche made was in the first half to replace the injured Seamus Coleman.
However, he insists he got it right at the King Power despite the game ending in a draw that did neither team any good.
“The team was operating in the manner that you want it to operate in. I thought there was only one team who were going to go on and win it on the night. That was my feeling, my opinion of it. So the team is operating in the right manner.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be careful. You know the stats on substitutes is not what you think, you know? The stats on changing subs into games is not what you think. I know stats - so you’ve got to be careful.”
The return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has made a huge difference to the team on the attacking front after recovering from an injury that has kept him out for ten games. Dyche explained the cautious approach he had taken with the England striker.
“Players come back from injuries in different ways. The goal was to get him to come back at a fitness level that could handle the Premier League, which he has shown he is doing.
“I thought he put in a really good physical shift on Monday, but there was quality, too. He found the goal from the penalty spot, but some good movement to get there. Good movement on another chance that got away from him. But I want him in there. I am not bothered if they miss, it is part of the game.
“But it’s getting in there. He looked freer. Since I have been here, that is the freest I have seen him. In terms of his physical presence and the way he was running, that’s a good sign. He’s been training very well, too.”