Everton are still alive, but hope is fading fast.
The Toffees avoided what would likely have been a terminal defeat against Leicester on Monday but the failure to win means they remain in the relegation zone and so their fate, in theory, is now out of their own hands.
They now face two huge tests against high-flying Brighton and champions-elect Manchester City. If as expected, they lose both games then they will likely need to win against Wolves and Bournemouth in their final two games and hope other results go their way to have any chance of staying up.
Leeds lost at Manchester City on Saturday but the narrow 2-1 defeat means their goal difference has not taken the hit many had hoped for. With Leicester travelling to Fulham in the early kick-off before Nottingham Forest play Southampton in the late game, it feels like Monday could be a pivotal day in the relegation battle, with Everton potentially cut adrift if results conspire against them.
Defensively they still look vulnerable. The continued selection of Michael Keane seems baffling given his poor recent performances. But as a confidence player we just have to hope the rock-solid backing of his manager will give him the requisite boost to rediscover his form.
The loss of Seamus Coleman is also a blow, though thankfully it seems like he has avoided serious injury. The sight of the Irishman whipping up the away crowd as he was being carried off the pitch on a stretcher summed up his selfless leadership. Let’s hope we are still a Premier League team when he returns.
Reasons to be optimistic? Well for large periods against Leicester they played very well, particularly offensively.
They created 23 chances, 18 of which came in the box, scored two goals and should have had a lot more. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who slotted the early penalty, also looks as fit as he has done at any time in the last two years.
The team looks so much more effective with a focal point upfront, highlighting the crippling failure of the board to not bring in a back-up to Calvert-Lewin during the summer or winter transfer windows.
But for now, we still have hope.
Brighton are quite rightly receiving plenty of plaudits as they enjoy a wonderful season built on rock-solid foundations.
The Seagulls are a model club, a unified force from top to bottom with a clear vision and strategy. Basically everything Everton have not been over the last few years.
They are always two, even three steps with their recruitment, meaning they can sell of star players for big money and their replacement is ready to step off the conveyor belt.
It is the same with managers, with Roberto di Zerbi maintaining their upward trajectory following the departure of Graham Potter. If anything he has made them better, making them much more of an attacking until playing some mesmerising football at times.
They were desperately unlucky to lose to Manchester United on penalties but a place in Europe next season is very much on after they beat the same opposition in the league last week.
Everton won the reverse fixture at the start of last season but that feels a lifetime ago given the traumatic 21 months we have endured since.
This has the potential to be an extremely uncomfortable evening for the Toffees on the south coast.
Everton 1-4 Brighton, 3 January 2023
The death throes of the Frank Lampard era were on show at Goodison Park in early January as Everton were well and truly ripped apart by Brighton, with goals from Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson, Solly March and Pascal Gross.
Amadou Onana is in contention to start at the Amex Stadium after he was only well enough for the bench against Leicester because if illness.
Seamus Coleman has avoided an ACL injury after he was carried off on a stretcher against the Foxes, though he is unlikely to play again this season.
Ben Godfrey is also sidelined with a groin problem so Nathan Patterson is set to start at right back.
Andros Townsend and Ruben Vinagre are unlikely to feature again this campaign.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: “It was good to see some of the messages from myself and coaching staff being delivered by the players,.
“It reaffirms to them that we are on the right track. I know we aren’t in the league table, but there was a lot of good in that performance. It showed a lot of the work we have been putting in.
“We didn’t get the full reward in terms of the three points, but we got the reward in terms of the feel-good factor from the performance. And rightfully so I thought. It’s not easy on the road or in the Premier League, full stop. But on the road, definitely not.”
Brighton boss Roberto di Zerbi: “It will be a very, very tough game because they are a strong team. But we want to achieve our target and I think it is clear for everybody that we are fighting big teams like Tottenham, Aston Villa and Liverpool for a place in Europe. But at the moment I think we deserve to finish there.
“It is a different situation to when we won at Everton [in January]. It was a different team and in the last part of the season the last games are always more difficult, more tough.”
Everton’s renewed attacking intent against Leicester gives me confidence, though I’m also aware this Brighton side has the potential to dismantle the Toffees defence at the other end. But with games running out and wins needed rather than draws, maybe it is time to start fighting fire with fire.