Everton are set to be without striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Sunday’s crucial relegation decider against Bournemouth, live on Sky Sports.
The fight for Premier League survival reaches its climax with three clubs still scrapping for their top-flight lives.
Two of Everton, Leicester and Leeds will join already-relegated Southampton in the Sky Bet Championship next season on what is set to be a dramatic final day of the campaign.
The equation is simple for the Toffees: win against Bournemouth and their fears are over regardless of what happens elsewhere.
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A draw would open the door for Leicester to leapfrog them on goal difference with a win, while Leeds could also overhaul them on goals scored with victory by three or more.
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Everton would be safe even in defeat if both the Foxes and Leeds failed to win. But with Nathan Patterson and Calvert-Lewin set to be unavailable for the visit of the Cherries, manager Sean Dyche must come up with a game plan to stave off a first relegation since 1951.
Cause for concern?
Everton have only scored more than one goal at home once this season, in the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace in October, while Bournemouth have scored at least one goal in nine of their Premier League away games and netted seven goals in back-to-back home victories over Everton in November, one of which was in the Carabao Cup.
Such is Everton’s way when it has come to recruitment during their fall from blissful mediocrity, it is not just up front where Dyche must plug holes this coming Sunday.
Ben Godfrey and Vitalii Mykolenko have both been carrying injuries and are not guaranteed to be fit, but Conor Coady is back available having been ineligible to face his parent club. He ended the game against Manchester City as part of a back three which might form part of Dyche’s thinking. So what are the options?
How big a miss is Calvert-Lewin?
Image: He made his long-awaited return at Crystal Palace
It has been a season to forget for Calvert-Lewin. The 26-year-old has only been able to feature 18 times for the club this season due to a series of injury issues, scoring twice.
During Dyche’s first game in charge, he was withdrawn just after the hour against Arsenal in February with a hamstring problem. It was not until 11 weeks later that he made his long-waited return at Crystal Palace.
The striker was then withdrawn at half-time of the 3-0 defeat by Manchester City with a tight groin but having started at Wolves last weekend, he did not make it to half-time after pulling up holding his hamstring.
Image: Calvert-Lewin impressed from the off at Brighton
Three of Everton’s seven Premier League wins this season have come with Calvert-Lewin in the team despite him missing 20 top-flight matches so far this campaign.
It is a huge concern for Dyche, who has prepared this week for the worst-case scenario of being without the striker.
Could Maupay prove unlikely hero?
Image: Neal Maupay has struggled to have an impact
Forward Neal Maupay has scored one goal in 29 games, to the surprise of nobody at previous club Brighton where he was considered surplus to requirements.
The Frenchman was not Dyche’s first port of call when Calvert-Lewin hobbled off. Having ploughed a lonely furrow against City, this time the Everton manager turned to Demarai Gray.
With desperation growing, he then turned to defender Michael Keane as a makeshift targetman before Maupay was given his chance in the 81st minute.
It is a sign of Maupay sits in the pecking order that has also been previously overlooked in preference of academy graduate Ellis Simms.
Image: Everton have won just two of the seven games Maupay and Gray have started together
Image: Maupay is in need of service if he is to start up front
A like-for-like change in Simms?
Image: Ellis Simms showed his finishing ability against Chelsea
While Calvert-Lewin has a lot more experience in the role as target man, could Simms’ physical attributes and height make him a viable option without Everton having to drastically change system?
The truth is, there is not a big enough sample size to qualify this statement. The same was said of Calvert-Lewin during his first couple of seasons at the club, where he was even used as a wing-back during Ronald Koeman at one time.
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Dyche has looked to the 22-year-old less in recent weeks, making just two late cameos in defeats to Fulham and Newcastle since his last start at Manchester United on April 8.
It would be a big ask of a player who began the season on loan at Sunderland to take on the challenge of firing Everton to safety but Dyche has previously shown his faith by selecting him from the off against Liverpool as well as Old Trafford.
His well-taken finish to snatch a late point at Chelsea shows he has an eye for goal and the temperament.
Image: Simms has had to bide his time in the run-in
Gray as the fluid false nine
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The most likely option is for Gray to be used down the middle with Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi providing the width and Abdoulaye Doucoure breaking forward from midfield in support.
There has been a rustiness to Gray’s performances, expained by his minutes being reduced since Dyche replaced Frank Lampard in January.
Back in early March, Everton provided a solid template for how they could eek out only a sixth home win of the season without Calvert-Lewin when a fast start against Brentford secured a 1-0 win.
That came the week after Gray was on the scoresheet in a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest, the start of a four-game unbeaten run.
Image: Gray has operated as the false nine at times this term
How defence could be best form of attack…
Under Sean Dyche, Everton have scored 18 goals with six coming from their centre-backs and Jamie Carragher feels this factor could prove pivotal in their bid to remain in the Premier League
Speaking on Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports: “When you think back to how James Tarkowski scored the goal in Dyche’s first game, the win over Arsenal… you think of Michael Keane’s late equaliser against Tottenham and now Yerry Mina’s 99th-minute goal against Wolves, you can see the impact his defenders are having.
“Since Dyche came in, there have been 18 goals for Everton and the centre-backs have assisted or scored six of them – that’s 33 per cent. They’ve got more goals than anyone else in that time and they’ve earned six points from goals from centre-backs.
“How vital is that going to be. We know that set pieces are a big part for Dyche but those defenders at the back have earned their stripes.”
Years of waste leaves Everton in peril
Image: Calvert-Lewin receives treatment against Wolves
Everton’s leading scorer is attacking midfielder McNeil with seven and the team’s total return of 33 in 37 games is the second-worst in the league, only behind Southampton.
Calvert-Lewin’s return provided a glimmer of hope, but his absence means added pressure on a midfield that has at times looked woefully ill-equipped at providing chances and scoring goals themselves.
Founder members of the Football League, Everton have spent only four seasons outside the top flight – 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s. Only Arsenal (1919) have a longer unbroken run in the top flight and in the mid-1980s the Toffees had a legitimate claim to be the best in Europe.
Image: The 26-year-old has features 18 times this season
However, the last of their nine league titles came in 1987, their last trophy was the FA Cup in 1995 and since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, they have finished in the top four only once.
It cannot be claimed that relegation has not been looming in Everton’s rear view mirror until now. The slow decline has been evident throughout Farhad Moshiri’s seven-year spell as majority shareholder.
Romelu Lukaku left the club with the blessing of supporters in 2017 and to the tune of £75m, but only Calvert-Lewin has come close to replacing the Belgian’s output. Cenk Tosun, Sandro Ramirez, Moise Kean, Salomon Rondon and Maupay have collectively contributed to 13 Premier League goals across six years.
If Everton were to be relegated on goal difference, it would be a lesson to the club’s board who froze during the final hours of the January transfer window in which Moshiri promised that a striker would be bought.
To lose their top-flight status as they prepare to move to a new £700m-stadium in 2024 would nonetheless be a huge blow for such a distinguished club, and could not come at a worse time as they continue to fight off a probe into their finances.
Watch Everton vs Bournemouth live on Sky Sports this Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm
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