Everton host high-flying Newcastle United on Thursday evening and after their last home game ended in defeat to Fulham, the Blues’ must, must take all three points.
This is especially the case because of last weekend’s draw at Crystal Palace. The Toffees’ could and should have got a win at Selhurst Park but failed to do so, putting even more pressure on this week’s match with relegation rivals picking up points too.
Of course, in reality these last few home games were always going to prove crucial to deciding whether Everton would in fact be relegated.
That is why losing to Fulham last weekend was so damaging to those increasingly slim hopes of staying up.
There are still enough matches and points available to ensure survival.
But, I always felt the game against the Cottagers was one the Blues’ absolutely needed to win given their poor away form and how difficult their next two home fixtures are; Newcastle United and then Manchester City.
The Magpies’ are a team going in the opposite direction to the Toffees’.
Under new and very wealthy owners they have made big strides this season, reaching the Carabao Cup final and are still in the hunt to qualify for Champions League football.
Their manager Eddie Howe (a man linked with the Everton job a few times) has built a strong and solid team that is defensively sound and at times very potent in attack.
Last Sunday’s 6-1 demolition of Spurs’ was an ominous sign of what they are capable of and showed the sort of form that will have Sean Dyche very concerned.
The Blues’ boss does though have a few positives going into the game and could possibly, finally, have almost the same eleven available that took to the pitch at Goodison Park in his first game against Arsenal.
One of those positives is that Dominic Calvert-Lewin came through the clash against Palace without appearing to pick up any fresh injury problems.
Of course, we will all wait and see with fingers crossed for final confirmation that the ever-fragile forward is ok and able to play again this week. Hopefully if so, he is a little sharper too after getting a proper run-out at Palace.
Dyche does also welcome back Abdoulaye Doucoure who returns after serving his three-match ban for the red card against Tottenham. He should come straight back into the team.
In addition, the other rangy, athletic central midfielder, Amadou Onana, is also likely to return after missing the trip to South London.
All this will allow Dyche to go back to his 4-5-1 formation, which had proved effective until Doucoure’s ban and Onana’s injury forced him into changing it.
So, he can re-unite Doucoure and Onana with Idrissa Gueye in the middle and Alex Iwobi and Dwight McNeil providing the width either side of them.
I would also like to see Doucoure pushed forward as much as possible, as he previously has done, to support Calvert-Lewin.
The other team selection questions revolve around the defence.
Michael Keane and James Tarkowski were again the two starting centre-backs at Selhurst Park. Neither had great games and I would question why Yerry Mina didn’t get in ahead of the ever mistake-prone Keane, at least.
Surely Mina, Everton’s best and most physically intimidating defender, must be in strong contention for Thursday, as Newcastle have a pacy and physical attacking threat in their side.
Full-back is also a big headache for the Toffees’ manager.
Dyche has decisions to make there and one thing we know is he can’t pick Mason Holgate after his sending off against Palace (a blessing in disguise I guess!) .
Vitalii Mykolenko doesn’t ever convince he is good enough to be a Premier League full-back and Godfrey always looks more confortable on the left hand side, although he hasn’t been that certain and reliable there either recently.
The ex-Norwich City man is a very athletic player with plenty of pace and power but isn’t that good a footballer, which is something of a problem in the Premier League!
I actually think that long-term he is perhaps better suited to playing a defensive midfield number six-type position (where he has previously played) and might well be the man to succeed Gueye in that role.
Anyway, on balance I would rather see Godfrey than Mylolenko at left-back. And, as for the right hand side, I would like Nathan Patterson given a chance if Seamus Coleman is still out.
For some reason Dyche didn’t pick the young Scot against Palace, perhaps thinking he wasn’t quite up to speed after his latest injury.
Patterson generally excelled when he came into the team at the start of the season and it would be good to see him given another opportunity. He would also offer more attacking threat than either Godfrey or Coleman.
Twelve months ago, when they were in a similar position in the league, the Blues’ beat the Magpies’ 1-0 in the depths of injury-time at Goodison to secure three vital points in their ultimately successful fight against the drop.
A repeat scoreline, Dyche’s trademark at the Grand Old Lady earlier on in his reign, would obviously do the trick.
Do Everton simply have to win this game? And if not, is there any alternative to doing so that wouldn’t leave them in even deeper trouble?
The answer is yes, almost certainly to the first question, and no I don’t think so to the second.
If the Toffees’ play like they have done at times under Dyche – against Arsenal for example – they can certainly win this game. Failure to do so though, will I think represent another large nail in Everton’s coffin.