Securing European Football Would Be Great Progress For Everton

Ahead of the trip to take on Everton at Goodison Park, we had a chat this week with the guys at ROYAL BLUE MERSEY to find out about their season so far, thoughts ahead of the game and much more.

Q. What did you make of the game between the two sides at Selhurst Park earlier in the season?

A tight game, and probably the toughest of the four Everton won at the start of the season. I felt Everton just about deserved the 2-1 win, but Palace certainly made them dig in and work for it. It feels like a lot has changed since that game six months ago, though.

Q. How has the season been so far for Everton?

Strange. We started brilliantly, and then it has been a constant succession of peaks and troughs. But in the main, given we were hopeless for much of last season and finished 12th, to still be in the running for European qualification with 4th place not totally out of the question represents great progress.

Q. How are you feeling about snatching a Europa League spot this season?

Hopeful and excited. To finish in a Europa League position feels about where Everton deserve to finish for the season they have had. And while I am usually someone who subscribes to the theory that the Europa League is detrimental on domestic form, the thought of Everton being in Europe (and, let’s face it, a more winnable competition than the Champions League) under Carlo Ancelotti is too good to turn your nose up at.

Q. Looking ahead to next season, what do Everton need to do put in a real challenge on the top four?

Sort the home form out for a start. We have suffered some really terrible defeats at Goodison Park this season, namely to Fulham, Leeds, Newcastle and Burnley, and only the league’s bottom five have worse home records than us. Though, I do think that will even itself out when stadiums are full again, so I am not overly concerned about it long term.

We need to find ways of breaking these teams down, too. Ancelotti is extremely flexible tactically but still Everton can at times look a little one-dimensional and short of ideas against sides who just come to defend and break when possible. Which, as it happens, Everton have proved great at themselves against teams like Chelsea and Liverpool this season.

Q. How was your business in the January transfer window and do you have needs that have not been addressed?

January business largely involved shipping out dead wood. Only Joshua King, on a short-term deal from Bournemouth, arrived, and he has made such little impact that I would be surprised if he earns a new contract at the end of the season. But it’s a notoriously difficult market to shop in, so I have sympathy with the club on this.

Where we need addressing is clear. A new right-back is the top priority. Perhaps a new goalkeeper, although Jordan Pickford has improved greatly. We need more creative players to complement the likes of James Rodriguez, so there is less pressure on him given how injury-prone he is. And probably another striker to ease the burden on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is excellent but has been badly overworked at times.

Q. Who has been the stand out player for Everton so far this season?

Ben Godfrey, who we signed from Norwich in October for about £20 million and has been a revelation. He has played in every position across the back line and is already undroppable. His recovery pace is incredible, as is the tenacity he shows in his tackling. He’s everything I think an Everton player should be. He is fantastic.

Q. What do you make of Palace this season?

As an outsider looking in it feels like Palace have had pretty much the same season for the last three years or so. With 37 points in the bag with nine games left, I’m sure Palace will stay up, and I think Roy Hodgson has done a very good job there, but I am not sure how much further he can take Palace beyond mid-table security. Which, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with, but you always aspire for better.

Palace seem a strange team; sometimes I see them play superbly, like at Manchester United at the start of the season, but then I watched Palace against Fulham the other week and I have to say I thought they were dire and really lacking ambition. I am not sure what to expect from them at Goodison on Monday, to be honest.

Q. Fans not being able to go to games has been huge for what has been almost a year but how does it feel that there is some real light at the end of the tunnel with the potential for a return next season?

A relief. As a season ticket holder, I’ve found it a very jarring experience watching Everton play in empty stadiums from my living room all season. To be honest, I’ve hated it. Just keeping my fingers crossed that all goes to plan and that next season is back to ‘normal’.

Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.

For Everton, I’ll go with Lucas Digne, more for the left-back’s delivery than his finishing. He has six assists in 20 league games this season and in my opinion is the best in the Premier League in his position. Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison would be the more obvious names but they have blown a little hot and cold in recent months.

For Palace, Wilfried Zaha clearly is the stand-out, but I’ve also been impressed by Eberechi Eze when I’ve seen him this season, and thought he was great in September’s reverse fixture. I’d be wary of him, too, without a doubt.

Q. …and finally, your all important prediction?

1-0 Everton. Not expecting a classic, but think we’ll just do enough. Hopefully the fact that Palace appear to have less to play for will work to our advantage.

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