Following another thumping Premier League defeat, Everton go to Manchester United in the FA Cup in desperate need of a positive result and with the manager’s future in grave doubt.
It is hard to know whether this Cup tie comes at a good time for Everton or not. In some ways anything that takes the focus away from the Premier League must be positive given how awful the team’s current league form is.
On the other hand, travelling to Old Trafford (where the Toffees’ have a truly terrible recent record) to face an in-form United is a daunting task, especially for Frank Lampard, who is under huge pressure and so badly needs a win.
Another heavy defeat on Friday night would surely be the final straw and signal the end of his time as Blues’ boss.
There are many Evertonians who might well think that there is enough evidence already in to justify a parting of the ways.
Three Premier League wins all season, the last being that 3-0 defeat of Crystal Palace way back in late October, and a run of five losses and two draws, makes for very grim reading.
Its not just those bald stats though, but the manner of the defeats that is so disturbing. Tuesday evening’s 4-1 hammering at home by Brighton was as bad a reverse as I can remember for this Toffees’ team in a while.
In truth it probably could have been six or seven had the Seagulls’ been in the mood to inflict further humilation on their hosts.
And as if to further underline the magnitude of the result, the visitors were arguably without three of their best players, including World Cup winning Argentinian Alexis MacAllister.
One of the memes that has been doing the rounds in the aftermath of Tuesday’s game was the fact that Brighton’s entire team cost less than Everton midfielder Alex Iwobi.
That’s a sobering incapsulation of everything that has gone wrong at Goodison Park over the last five or six years.
Returning to tomorrow night, Lampard has given a pre-match press conference and will obviously still be in post when the two teams take to the pitch.
In that press conference the manager revealed that Nathan Patterson is again out injured, possibly for six weeks, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin might not start because of fatigue.
That seems a feeble excuse but if Lampard isn’t going to start Calvert-Lewin then he is effectively giving up on this tie because the Blues’ have precious little else to offer up front.
Their only other options are two youngsters, one of whom having been recalled from loan wasn’t considered good enough to play until five minutes remained against Brighton, another who has hardly played for the first team, and a badly out-of-form summer signing who has only scored once since joining.
It’s a pitiful situation for this club to be in and the consequence of years of failure and mismanagement, both on and off the field.
We all know this and are wearily familiar with the problems it has caused. What none of us know with certainty is which Everton team will turn up tomorrow night.
When I say that I mean will we see the Toffees’ side that so miserably capitulated against Brighton or the team that fought for an improbable point at Manchester City the previous Saturday?
On balance, the former is much more likely, but the perverse nature of this squad of players does often seem to result in better performances against the so-called ‘top six’ teams.
The other question that’s been doing the rounds is what tactics and formation will Lampard eventually opt for?
He went with a back three (or five) against City and it largely worked playing a team who were bound to monopolise possession and put the Blues’ under constant pressure.
Then he reverted to the 4-3-3 he’s been using for a while now this season when the Toffees’ hosted Brighton.
This was a team though without one of it’s key players in that midfield three as Amadou Onana was suspended. Tom Davies came in for him but he offered little and the change disrupted any cohesiveness and understanding in the team’s engine room.
This was compunded by the fact that Iwobi was also well under-par and Idrissa Gueye had his worst game in an Everton shirt since returning from PSG.
Apart from presumably pushing Lampard further towards the sack, defeat tomorrow evening would also mean the end of any hopes (however microscopically slim they might be) of Everton reaching a final and winning a trophy, for yet another season.
All-in-all it’s a pretty depressing scenario. It’s very hard to really see the Blues’ getting anything from the match at Old Trafford, especially with their record there, and so the cycle of failure is most likely to continue. Will tomorrow also be Lampard’s last game in charge?