AFC Bournemouth will be looking to secure a potentially-crucial victory when they face Premier League rivals Everton at Goodison Park tomorrow (4pm kick-off).
To ensure their top-flight status for a sixth successive season, Eddie Howe’s team must beat the Toffees and hope relegation rivals Watford and Aston Villa both lose.
Everton will take to the pitch on the final day of the season duelling with Southampton for 11th place, a position they currently occupy by virtue of a superior goal difference of one.
Since the restart, Carlo Ancelotti’s team have experienced a mixed bag of results, winning three, drawing three and losing two of their eight fixtures.
They have beaten Norwich (1-0), Leicester (2-1) and Sheffield United (1-0), drawn with Liverpool (0-0), Southampton (1-1) and Aston Villa (1-1) and lost to Tottenham (1-0) and Wolves (3-0).
Ancelotti replaced Marco Silva who parted company with the club in December after the Toffees had slipped into the bottom three following a 5-2 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield.
The former AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Paris St-Germain boss steadied the ship and guided Everton out of trouble.
Ancelotti approached Everton’s last game – a 1-0 win at Sheffield United – with one eye on next season by handing 18-year-old defender Jarrad Branthwaite his first Premier League start and included 19-year-old striker Ellis Simms on the bench.
The Toffees, who last tasted defeat at Goodison when Norwich triumphed 2-0 in November, had Richarlison to thank for their winner at Bramall Lane, the Brazilian registering his 15th goal of the season.
Ahead of tomorrow’s clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Phil Kirkbride, who covers the fortunes of Everton for the Liverpool Echo.
afcb.co.uk: Briefly summarise Everton’s Premier League form since the season restarted?
PK: It has been a mixed bag. They had a very promising start with a draw and two wins in their first three games but it didn’t translate into anything consistent.
The form of the team fell off a cliff quite dramatically but it picked up with a good win at Sheffield United just as we are coming to the end of the season.
Sadly, hopes of qualifying for Europe faded in games against Spurs, Southampton and Wolves.
afcb.co.uk: What has been the biggest change under Carlo Ancelotti?
PK: The change has perhaps been more nuanced and detailed than outsiders would actually know because he just picked up where Duncan Ferguson had left off as caretaker-manager.
Big Dunc played 4-4-2. It worked for the players and got a reaction. It’s a formation Carlo has used extensively throughout his managerial career so he kept it.
In terms of dramatic changes, the players have talked about details, tactical things in games and stuff like that.
He has tested them with some different formations lately but I think he was just keen to keep the momentum going from the caretaker spell of Big Dunc.
afcb.co.uk: Who has been Everton’s standout performer since the restart?
PK: Probably someone who has gone under the radar is Michael Keane (pictured above). He has had a very steady and consistent eight games so far. He is probably the most consistent performer.
Richarlison has scored three goals in his past six games and has been their most dangerous player this season. But in terms of consistency, Keane at the back has played very well.
afcb.co.uk: What’s it going to take for the Toffees to challenge Liverpool for Merseyside supremacy?
PK: Wow, they are sadly some way off!
Liverpool have benefited from a long-term plan and Jurgen Klopp has been in charge for five years. They have reaped the rewards from that and that is something to aspire to.
The life-span of a Blues manager of late has been around 18 months and you need long-term planning and stability. You need the manager to work with the director of football to plan and build progressively.
This Everton squad needs improvement but it won’t happen in one transfer window.
Everton supporters have been more than patient given it has been 25 years since the club last won a trophy. Nobody will be asking for patient but I think for success to be returned, time and stability will be required.
afcb.co.uk: How do you think Ancelotti will approach this game in terms of team selection?
PK: That’s an interesting one. He has hinted there may be an opportunity for Moise Kean (pictured above) to start, the young Italian striker they signed from Juventus last summer.
But other than that, I don’t sense he will be looking to experiment. He had an opportunity to do that in the last game and maybe use some of the fringe players but didn’t.
Every position in the table is worth around £2.5m so it is an important game in that regard. They want to finish as high as they can which, of course, is only 11th but I can see him naming the strongest team he can.
afcb.co.uk: Do Everton have any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?
PK: Yerry Mina, Fabian Delph, Mason Holgate are all unlikely to feature due to injury. Moise Kean missed the Sheffield United game due to an ankle problem but Carlo said he was confident he would be back for Sunday.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
PK: Although their away form has been wretched, it has been counter-balanced by their home form.
The season has been mixed in terms of results but they have been very strong at home. I know it’s a cliché, but Goodison has been a fortress and they have looked comfortable.
They are a different kettle of fish at Goodison so I will go for a 2-0 win to Everton.
You can follow Phil on Twitter – @philkecho
Match officials: Chris Kavanagh (referee), Daniel Cook (assistant), Sian Massey-Ellis (assistant), Geoff Eltringham (fourth official), Graham Scott (VAR), Mark Scholes (assistant VAR), Shaun Hudson (replacement official).