A defeat to Norwich was the final straw for Everton’s board. Fans had already expressed their feelings. One win from 13 league matches signalled the end for Rafael Benitez, whose appointment always felt destined to end prematurely.
The Toffees find themselves in 16th place and edging closer to the bottom three thanks to recent wins for Norwich and Newcastle. Indeed, the Gameweek 24 trip to Tyneside could determine how much trouble they’re truly in and they have two weeks to either find a new manager or keep Duncan Ferguson in interim charge until the summer.
The hope for Everton supporters is that their fixtures are set up nicely for the much-fabled ‘new manager bounce’, whoever it may be. Each of the next three opponents are graded as a two on the game’s Fixture Difficulty Rating, plus three games in hand against last-placed Burnley and the weak defences of Leicester and Newcastle.
With few appealing strikers on the FPL landscape, Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s (£7.9m) return in Gameweek 21 was much-anticipated. He scored in his three early-season matches pre-injury, yet the comeback brought a missed penalty and zero points. The following pair of games were also blanks. Perhaps Richarlison (£7.4m) has more appeal.
Demarai Gray (£5.5m) has five goals and is their top FPL-scorer this season. His ownership has increased over the past month, with expectations of attacking returns ahead of this good run. Suddenly, three consecutive matches were postponed and the three since have been fruitless. Although Gray is budget-friendly, is patience running thin for his 936,000 owners?
The strong start for Abdoulaye Doucoure (£5.4m) has faded and Andros Townsend (£5.2m) may have competition from new loanee Anwar El-Ghazi (£5.6m). So let’s look further back.
Everton have only kept three clean sheets all season and seven goalkeepers have made more saves than Jordan Pickford (£4.9m). Only two goals have came from defence – Michael Keane (£4.9m) and the one-time appearance of Jarrad Branthwaite (£4.0m) – with Southampton and Norwich the only teams to provide fewer assists from the back. So it’s probably wise to avoid their defensive assets, no matter who the opponent is.
Similarly to Jacob Ramsey in yesterday’s Aston Villa piece, youngster Anthony Gordon (£4.5m) could function as a cheap fifth midfielder who offers more than just appearance points. He played all 90 minutes during Benitez’s final three matches, scoring twice against Brighton and assisting at Chelsea. Although Duncan Ferguson didn’t start him at the weekend, he was brought on when chasing the equaliser and could soon be back into the starting XI.
If Everton are going to avoid an unthinkable relegation, this is the run of fixtures where they’ll do it.