It’s fair to say that Everton fans are not alone in being equal parts excited and frustrated during this topsy-turvy season. Yes, it’s been good so far, but you have to put Everton in a bracket with Aston Villa, Chelsea, and Manchester United as clubs who are in a, perhaps paradoxical, situation where they feel they are doing well but simultaneously feel they should be doing better. In Everton’s case, wins at Anfield are wonderful: but defeats at home to Newcastle and Fulham leave fans with a sense of frustration. Despite the elation after beating Liverpool, it’s worth remembering that beating the other pair instead would have left Everton in a much stronger position.
As we enter the business end of the season, however, you can make the argument that some games will count more than others, even if you leave the pitch with the same amount of points. We are talking about the “six-pointers” that the media likes to trumpet, where you can take the three points and damage the chances of a direct rival at the same time.
Before we delve into the four-game period crucial to Everton’s hopes, we want to make a quick aside about Everton’s last game of the season – away to Man City at the Etihad. At first glance, this looks like a stinker to end the season, a game where Everton’s hopes could be dashed if there is all to play for on the final day (23rd May).
Game could be dead rubber for City
But there are two reasons to be hopeful here. First, City will more than likely have the league title wrapped up by then. Yes, they will want to finish the season with a home win, but it’s more than likely they will have taken the foot off the gas. Secondly, City are the current favourites in the betting on the Champions League. And, the Champions League Final is on the 29th May. You could certainly foresee Guardiola resting players in preparation for that. Of course, there are many ifs and buts there, but we just wanted to point out that the game might not be as daunting as it seems now.
As for the four-game period that could make or break Everton’s Champions League hopes, it begins on 17th April with a home tie against Spurs. Jose Mourinho seems to have weathered a storm with Tottenham, and they have been much-improved of late. At the time of writing, they are a point behind Everton, and they will, of course, harbour their own Top 4 ambitions – something that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago.
A week later, Everton will travel to the other end of North London for a date with Arsenal at the Emirates on 24th April. What can you say about this game? Who knows what version of Arsenal (or Everton) will turn up for the fixture? They can beat anyone on their day, and it won’t matter if they are still stuck in mid-table as they have been all season.
Villa game still needs a date
On the 1st May, it’s back to Goodison for a home game with Aston Villa. Again, we know it’s going to be a tough match. Even if Villa fall away from their Top 4, or Top 6, push, they have quality. A lot of the focus goes on Jack Grealish, but Dean Smith’s men are notoriously difficult to score against (only City and Chelsea have a better defensive record). We should also point out that Everton still have to travel to Villa Park for the reverse fixture – it’s still not clear when that game will be rescheduled after January’s postponement.
Finally, there is a home game against West Ham on 8th May. Everyone has expected David Moyes’ team to run out of steam at some point, but they are still in there with a fair chance of confounding the experts. What position will both clubs be in come the 8th May? It’s hard to say, but this could be a meaningful clash.
If Everton can come through those four games with momentum – with their Top 4 ambitions in their own hands – then they will be in the driving seat. The final games will be two home fixtures against Sheffield United (probably relegated by that stage) and Wolves (playing for nothing), alongside the trip to the Etihad we already mentioned. All games carry equal points, but you can see why Blues fans should look at that four-game stint as potentially pivotal.
*Please note that fixture dates are likely to change with broadcaster schedules.
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