Everton are in a precarious position. With no manager in place to replace Ronald Koeman, the uncertainty around the clubs seems as though it is only exacerbating the already-existing problems which are so bad that the Toffees currently find themselves in the relegation zone.
Things are just as bad in Europe. Bottom of their group and four points behind their midweek opponents Lyon, David Unsworth’s side just have to win if they’re to have European football after Christmas; which, at this point, looks more like the prolongation of their torture than something to be desired.
The permutations are already being processed by Evertonians: victory over Lyon in Eastern France would put them right back into the mix, at least for second place. And with Atalanta to come at home, there’s still a chance of topping the group, but defeat on Thursday could see the Toffees eliminated already if group leaders Atalanta win away in Cyprus.
Away games in Lyon are never easy, though. Last season, Les Gones made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League, losing out to Ajax in a frenetic second leg. But what Everton can hope for is that their French opponents are distracted by a big game on the horizon this weekend, when Lyon play their bitter regional rivals Saint-Etienne.
There are few certainties in football, but you get the feeling that one of them is that there will be goals in this game. Indeed, the last time Les Gones scored fewer than two in a game of football was in September, and it’s only happened four times in total all season. Since then, they’ve averaged three goals per game, suggesting that there will be names on the scoresheet come the final whistle at the Groupama stadium.
Ominously for Everton, the same measure reflects almost a mirror image on their own season at the moment. In their last four games, Everton have conceded two or more goals each and every time. Harrowingly, this isn’t even their worst run of results of the season, though they have, on the whole, played weaker opposition than they faced towards the start of the season when the form well and truly started to dip. Their league position would suggest that they are there for the taking.
But whether or not you can bank on certainties in football, there’s always a nuance to be had. If Everton wanted a saving grace to make them believe in qualification from the group, or indeed a win to kick-start their season, they might have one in Lyon’s weekend commitments.
For Lyon, Saint-Etienne away is a big deal. And for a side who can climb as high as second with a win, or drop as low as fifth with a defeat, it’s clearly a match they’ll have one eye on, and that could play into Everton’s hands.
Clutching at such straws is not a nice position to be in, and although Lyon are hardly European minnows, Premier League clubs in Europe these days shouldn’t really be fearing a club from France, aside from Paris Saint-Germain.
But that’s where the Toffees find themselves, and the stats don’t look good. But the fact that Everton aren’t even Lyon’s biggest game of the week could be the crucial saving grace.