Massive, crucial, even season-defining, these are a few of the descriptors that might be appropriate for the next seven day’s two Premier League games starting when Everton play Leeds United tomorrow.
Of course the Toffees’ lost both those games to propel them further into crisis yet again, and ultimately those defeats contributed significantly to Frank Lampard’s eventual sacking.
Sean Dyche has won and lost one match since taking over. And, he has seen the Jeckle and Hyde nature of the Toffees’ team he has inherited fully on display.
His debut win over Arsenal showcased the best these players can, and have occasionally in the past, produced.
It was also an insight into how Dyche wants his Blues’ teams play: with unity, purpose, energy and commitment, implimenting a straight forward collective gameplan.
Then on Monday night it all fell apart again as Everton produced one of those typically dreadful away performances seen so often at Anfield as they lost 2-0 to Liverpool.
In truth, a haul of three points from these two matches is probably better than most supporters honestly hoped for or anticipated from the fixtures.
The next two games at Goodison Park against first Leeds on Saturday and then Aston Villa exactly a week later, were always going to be the critical ones in Dyche’s first few weeks in charge.
Securing six points from these fixtures would go a considerable way to easing relegation fears, although there is still a long way to go.
The problem of course, is that this Everton team seems utterly unable to produce two consistently solid efforts back-to-back .
More importantly, while every now and then (as against Arsenal) these players do raise their game and deliver unexpected results, they seem chronically incapable of doing so against other teams around them in the table.
So, as against Wolves and Southampton, the Blues’ lost both games, depsite the fact their opponents on each occasion were bottom of the league at the time.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Dyche also has to find a way for this side to score goals without his best and only established centre-forward.
Having not played against Liverpool and after some slightly cryptic remarks from the manager about his injury status, it seems increasingly likely that Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be unavailable once again against Leeds.
That leaves Dyche with precious little choice and options to replace him. The reality is that he can’t replace Calvert-Lewin’s strength, ability to hold the ball up and provide a dynamic pivot up top.
Against Liverpool he tried using Ellis Simms as a lone striker. It didn’t work and he was largely isolated and ineffective.
If Calvert-Lewin is even half fit I would play him against Leeds, even just for one half to try and get a goal or two, which could be so crucial to the result.
If he’s genuinely unable to play at all, there doesn’t seem a obvious alternative to pairing Simms with either Demarai Gray or Neal Maupay.
I’ve speculated that Dyche might try something which David Moyes did when he was faced with a similar situation and push a midfielder with the size and strength up front to provide a focul point.
But Im guessing tomorrow’s game would probably be too soon to try something that different.
In terms of other areas of the team it would seem a 4-4-2 formation would be the best option assuming that Dyche does start with two forwards. So, one of the central midfielders would have to be sacrificed.
Everton need to be full of drive and determination and be on the front foot from the start, pressing and harrassing Leeds into mistakes hoping for an early goal. They also need the maximum amount of width and balls into the forwards as posssible.
So ideally, I would like Nathan Patterson back as Seamus Coleman simply doesn’t have the legs anymore to provide that energy and overlapping threat from full-back.
Unfortunately, the Scot is still some way off fitness so it looks like it will be Coleman. Assuming Alex Iwobi continues on the right he must then provide that attacking impetus.
As an alternative at left-back and although he was largely annoymous at Anfield, I would try Dwight McNeil as Vitalii Mykolenko offers so little, especially going forward. McNeil might at least provide a bit more of an attacking outlet.
If Dyche then plays Gray in front of McNeil, perhaps that might work allowing Gray to come inside and provide direct support to Simms and Maupay. I don’t know it’s all so uncertain.
The reality is Dyche is going to have to become a sort of alchemist and attempt to turn base metal into gold if this inadequate and malfunctioning team is going to secure enough points and avioid relegation this season. It starts in earnest tomorrow afternoon.