The fight to be the “best of the rest” in the Premier League and claim the reward of a potential spot in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League continues Friday when Everton host Burnley at Goodison Park.
The Toffees (14-8-14) need to win their remaining two matches and get some help around the league to pip both Wolverhampton and Watford for seventh. There is the chance the Hornets could render this mini-race moot if they stun Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley after the season ends, but at the moment, there is clearly something at stake for Marco Silva’s side.
Everton took at least one point for the seventh time in their last nine league matches (5-2-2), but their scoreless draw at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace on Saturday was counterproductive to their needs to claim this Europa League berth. The Toffees were the better side for most of the match, but they lacked an edge in the final third and were left to rue the dropped points after left back Lucas Digne thumped the crossbar in the waning minutes.
Still, there are measurable signs of Everton’s improvement season on season. The Toffees have cleared their 2017-18 point total with two matches to spare and swung their goal difference 20 to the positive compared to last term, and have recorded seven clean sheets in their last nine league contests.
“We were always in a good balance, dominating the game and creating chances. We deserved more but that is part of our process,” Silva told evertontv as his first season with the club draws nears a close. “It (the performance) shows us we are going in the right way.
“Like I said from the first day – it was our goal to do better than last season. We have already achieved it in terms of points. There is a big difference in terms of goals scored and conceded, too. Everything is different, and we want to improve more. My aim is to do things better and better and better.”
The Toffees have a chance to extend a sterling run of results at Goodison Park, having beaten Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United in their last three home matches. They are also unscored upon in 360 minutes there since Gabriel Jesus’ goal completed a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on Feb. 6.
The fact Everton enter this match frustrated by their draw versus Palace is a positive according to midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who feels his team is coming together and perhaps ready to move onto bigger things next season.
(Kurt Zouma photo courtesy Kurt Zouma official Twitter account)
“The players are very happy with the manager and staff,” the Iceland international noted to the club’s official website. “The manager is trying to build something and we are going in the right direction. He is very passionate and likes managing. He works us hard, he is fair to the players and tough on you when he needs to be.
“All the players really enjoy working with him. We have always known what we are capable of, even if some of the results and performances for a period didn’t match our own expectations.”
Should Everton actually claim that Europa League berth, they would be wise to learn from Burnley’s experiences over this past season. The Clarets (11-7-18) were that seventh-place team from 2017-18, and while their Europa League adventures were exciting for the club their supporters who had not seen continental play in 52 years, the grind of playing those extra matches before the disappointment of coming one round shot of group play proper created a hangover Burnley struggled to get out from under until after the turn of the calendar year.
Sean Dyche’s team can be forgiven for looking to the offseason after their 1-1 draw at Chelsea on April 22 provided the 40th point that guaranteed safety, but they also proved resolute and difficult to break down in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City.
(Sean Dyche photo courtesy Burnley FC official Twitter account)
“We talked the other day that, statistically, you had to think there was every chance,” Dyche told the club’s official website after securing a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League. “But it’s nice to be factually there. We’ve put such a big effort into the second half of the season. I mentioned the other day that people will deem it almost like a poor season, in a way.
“It’s been a fantastic season for us. This is Burnley. This is more the norm. This is not a walk in the park. Every season; finance, structure – trying to keep players here, get new quality in. All of that goes into it. Every year is tough and to come through it in the second half of the season – look at our points’ tally, our goal tally, our performance level – is first class and I’m delighted with what the staff and the players have done.”
The Clarets have claimed 28 of their points in the second half of the season, though Sunday’s defeat ended a four-match unbeaten streak (3-1-0). Burnley’s road form has left much to be desired on the whole as they have taken 17 points from their 18 matches (4-5-9) and shipped 34 goals while recording only three clean sheets.
Everton put Burnley to the sword at Turf Moor on Boxing Day, storming to a 5-1 victory. Yerry Mina, Digne, and Sigurdsson all scored in the first 22 minutes, and Digne completed his brace in the second half before Richarlison added a fifth.
Everton’s lone Premier League double over Burnley came in 2014-15.
(Lucas Digne photo courtesy Fantasy Premier League official Twitter account)