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European lifeline could galvanise Everton’s season ahead of difficult run

Everton handed a huge opportunity to snatch a Champions League place as they face a tough run of fixtures.

While Marco Silva was at the helm, Everton supporters could only dream of the possibility of qualifying for the Champions League.

The Portuguese head coach endured a torrid start to the season, with his time at Goodison Park cut short after just 18 months in charge.

Everton supporters had been calling for Silva’s head for a number of weeks, before a 5-2 Merseyside derby defeat proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

At that stage of the season, the Blues had picked up just 14 points from their opening 15 games, languishing in the bottom three ahead of a difficult run of fixtures.

The powers that be decided enough was enough, and the former Watford boss was finally put out of his misery, with Everton legend Duncan Ferguson temporarily placed in charge.

It was a daunting task for the former Toffees striker, with his first game in charge of his beloved club coming in front of the Goodison Park faithful.

The visit of Chelsea brought with it a mixture of emotion and uncertainty, with the former helping Ferguson rally Everton to a brilliant 3-1 victory.

The Toffees’ caretaker boss helped the Blues pick up a point at Old Trafford before news broke of the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti, with Ferguson’s last game in charge seeing Everton play out a goalless draw at home to Arsenal.

Picking up five points from such a difficult run was a huge achievement, helping to set the foundations for a revival which led to Everton distancing themselves from the relegation zone.

Ancelotti’s side have since picked up 17 points from the eight games that followed his appointment, losing just once during that period and picking up five wins.

That form has propelled Everton into the top half of the table, just five points off the Champions League places, with qualification for Europe’s top competition a pipe dream a matter of months ago.

While a top four finish still looks beyond the Toffees, the news of Manchester City’s expulsion from the Champions League for the next two seasons has left the door slightly ajar.

It is expected that fifth place in the Premier League will now take the place of England’s reigning champions should they finish inside the top four, which is an inevitability.

Tottenham Hotspur currently occupy that position after their victory during Gameweek 26, with just four points separating them from Everton ahead of the next round of fixtures.

Before their supporters begin to get ahead of themselves, a quick look at the Blues’ upcoming fixtures could bring them crashing back down to earth.

A trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal on Sunday is followed up by Everton entertaining Manchester United at Goodison Park a week later.

If that isn’t bad enough, their next stop is Stamford Bridge before welcoming their bitter rivals Liverpool in a Monday night Merseyside derby.

Of their remaining 12 fixtures, eight of those will see Everton face sides currently above them in the Premier League table, a daunting end to what has been a difficult season.

While that presents Ancelotti with a huge task ahead, it is also a massive opportunity for the Italian to salvage something from this campaign, which in turn could alter their fortunes next season.

Everton have taken five points from their next three opponents in the reverse fixtures, all of which came during Ferguson’s reign as caretaker boss.

Ancelotti is yet to face the other nine teams in the league since his arrival at Goodison Park, and their new boss has unquestionably improved the team during his short time in charge.

Silva managed just 14 points from his 15 games as Everton boss before his sacking, with their current head coach picking up three more points in seven less fixtures.

With 17 points taken from a possible 24, Ancelotti’s Everton have lost just once in the league under his management, with a number of players showing huge improvements thanks to his guidance.

Unbeaten in their last five Premier League outings, the Blues will be confident that they can continue that run of form, despite the difficult run in they face.

With the teams they are set to face in the coming weeks also eyeing a late surge for a Champions League spot, Everton have the perfect opportunity to make ground on the teams around them, but only if they are brave enough.

Ancelotti’s side have shown enough signs to suggest they are capable of coming through the next three fixtures with positive results, however they have also faltered in games they should have put to bed.

Throwing away a two-goal lead in injury time at home to Newcastle United perfectly summed up their season, as they showed such dominance before their defensive frailties from set-pieces left them exposed and embarrassed.

If they can address those issues and head into this run of games with a positive approach, rather than sitting back and being conservative, Everton supporters could enjoy and enthralling end to the season.

The fixture list has ensured that the Toffees will play a huge role in deciding who will clinch Manchester City’s Champions League spot, but whether they are able to take advantage themselves is still to be seen.

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