Defeat to Sunderland has almost certainly ended Everton’s chances of breaking in to the Premier League’s top four and winning a place in the Champions League, but European football can still be achieved by David Moyes’ side.
Everton were always outsiders to reach the Champions League. To finish ahead of two of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea would require an enormous effort, one it looks as though the Toffees will fall a little short of delivering. Sneaking into fifth though is still a realistic target, but one that to manage, will need an almost-spotless end to the current campaign.
With away games at Chelsea and Liverpool to come that might be easier said than done – although the Reds will surely be without Luis Suarez by the time the Merseyside derby comes around after he tried taking a chunk from the arm of Branislav Ivanovic. Anfield still holds in store a difficult game for Everton, though, while the trip to Stamford Bridge in the final game of the season could see both Blues needing the points to seal European places.
It’s at home that Everton’s season will be decided. Fulham and West Ham are the last two teams to visit Goodison Park, with six points what’s needed if Everton can think about climbing an extra place in the table. Everton have lost only once at home this season – to Chelsea – and so possess one of the more formidable home records in the division, but adding to the six draws will prove terminal.
Everton have lost fewer home games than every team in the league bar Manchester City, who have also been beaten only once. But they’ve drawn the most home games of any side in the top six too. And by and large they’ve been draws against teams lower down the rankings, including Newcastle and Swansea. Drawing with Arsenal, one of the few teams higher up the table, was a point gained. Drawing with Norwich was two points lost.
The loss at the Stadium of Light, the first time Everton have come up short against the Mackems in well over a decade, was marred further by the number of injuries Everton suffered. Phil Jagielka was a casualty even before the game when his badly-gashed ankle opened up again, while Darron Gibson and Victor Anichebe were both removed due to injury. The severity of those problems is not yet known but with only a month of the season left, even a niggling injury is season-ending.
Everton’s small squad could be stretched even further, then, at the worst possible time, with Fulham to visit on Saturday. The Cottagers rarely do well at Goodison and have little left to play for, just the meagre prize of a top-half finish. But they still have some dangerous players in their ranks and Everton have just gone two consecutive league games without scoring, the first time that’s happened this season. Moyes and his players have enjoyed home comforts this season – they need a little more.
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