Premier League relegation battle reaching boiling point
The pressure was on Everton when they took to the field on Sunday afternoon. Burnley’s victory over Watford the previous day left the Toffees five points adrift of safety. Frank Lampard’s side were in desperate need of a win, but it was the European champions Chelsea who stood in their way. A 20th defeat of the campaign would have left Everton staring relegation in the face.
They are by no means out of the woods yet, but Sunday’s 1-0 triumph over Thomas Tuchel’s men has breathed new life into Everton’s survival bid. Richarlison notched the only goal of the game in the 46th minute, and the Toffees held on to keep only their third clean sheet of the Lampard era.
It was gutsy display from Everton, who went back to basics. They did not play the ball out from the back too often. Jordan Pickford was happy to send his goal-kicks long. Richarlison made a nuisance of himself up front, putting his physical presence to good use. Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate were solid at the heart of the backline. Aboulaye Doucoure was tenacious in midfield, and Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon worked hard on the flanks.
It was by no means the prettiest performance, and not the type of football that Lampard envisaged playing when he began his move into management. But needs must. Everton are in a relegation dogfight and Lampard deserves credit for adapting his principles to suit the situation in front of him.
A defeat at the weekend would have left Everton as the odds-on favourites to join Watford and Norwich City in the Championship next season. Instead, it is Leeds United who are now deemed to be the team most in danger.
There is no great shame in losing to this Manchester City side. A 4-0 loss on Saturday was a hefty one, but Leeds actually played well for portions of the match. Had they been more clinical at certain moments, they could have made life difficult for City.
As it was, their defensive openness was exposed by the champions. Leeds have tightened up since Jesse Marsch ditched Marcelo Bielsa’s man-marking system, but they still have the worst defensive record in the division.
That is a problem. Leeds are now just one place and two points above the relegation zone, while Everton have a game in hand. Their goal difference is by far the worst of the three sides still involved in the battle at the bottom.
Marsch has done a decent job since he was handed the reins at the end of February. If the season started then, Leeds would be 12th in the table. Yet despite their improvement under the American, the Whites remain in trouble. Arsenal and Chelsea are their next two opponents. Leeds will probably need to win one of those to avoid dropping into the bottom three.
Burnley are the in-form team at that end of the table, having taken 10 points from a possible 12 under interim manager Mike Jackson. It is fair to say not many people saw this revival coming when the club sacked Sean Dyche last month, but the players at Turf Moor have responded brilliantly. Jackson appears to have given them a bit more freedom and encouraged them to take an extra touch in possession; so far, it is paying off.
Yet despite their recent upturn, Burnley are still only two points above the dreaded dotted line. A trip to Tottenham Hotspur awaits on May 15, either side of which Burnley will play Aston Villa home and away. That double-header could determine whether they stay up or go down.
There are plenty of twists and turns left in this relegation battle, which looks set to last until the final day of the campaign.