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Is Top Four A Real Aim For Everton And Blades?

Is Top Four a Real Aim For Everton and Blades?

Can one of Sheffield United or Everton qualify for the Champions League?

Written by Chris Winterburn

As the Premier League season has eased itself into an inaugural winter break, we’ve seen teams gradually pick up results beforehand and vastly improve the form of their campaign. We’ve also seen teams continue the positive work they’ve been doing for much of the season to this point, and in the cases of Everton and Sheffield United, it’s interesting to ask just whether or not they can qualify for the Champions League.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival on Merseyside was met with more than the Italian’s characteristic raised eyebrow, especially when you consider he was lifting the Champions League trophy less than six years ago.

A difficult passage in the Italian’s career has seen him struggle and be subsequently dismissed from jobs with Bayern Munich and Napoli, seeing his managerial stock plummet. It’s not long ago that he would have walked into an opening at Manchester United, yet the club have instead opted to keep faith with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the time being.

As such, the dismissal of Marco Silva at Everton created an opportunity for Ancelotti to return to the Premier League, albeit somewhat ironically at the exact ground in which he was unceremoniously dismissed by Roman Abramovich, or so the legend has it.

Since the Italian has started work with the Blues, we’ve seen an upturn in their fortunes and after going unbeaten in their last five Premier League outings, the Goodison Park club somehow find themselves just five points adrift of the promised land that is fourth place.

Bear in mind, this is a team that was teetering on being in a relegation battle with one of the worst records from defending set-pieces. Yet, Ancelotti has instilled tactical organisation and has begun to get the best out of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Calvert-Lewin has been the real success story of Ancelotti’s time with Everton to this point, with the forward even having an outside chance of making Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2020 with the raft of forward injuries that have taken Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford out of action.

A run of four matches could answer the question previously posed with Everton set to face Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Positive results in most, if not all, could well see the Toffees sit in the top four ahead of an easier final stretch of the season.

The gravitas of Ancelotti’s arrival was perhaps underplayed at the time, but we’re starting to see it now. This is an Everton squad with very real weaknesses, but it’s now one which is being used to its absolute potential.

Sheffield United have been the positive story for those who enjoy an underdog story with the grit/rough and tumble of lower league football.

Chris Wilder has been fair in his loyalty to the players who have got the team into the Premier League and has almost religiously to his preferred.

A 4-4-2 formation with two strikers isn’t necessarily in-vogue anymore but it has proven effective for the Blades this term.

Three victories in their last five matches, including a dramatic turnaround against Bournemouth last weekend have positioned the Blades just three points adrift of fourth place.

Whilst their style isn’t the most watchable or conducive to success in Europe, it’s proven effective within the microcosm of the 2019/20 Premier League season. Furthermore, the addition of Sander Berge adds real quality to the team’s midfield.

Berge was on the radar of AS Roma and Borussia Dortmund prior to his injury, and if he can start to show his talent at Bramall Lane then don’t be surprised to see Sheffield United continue their push into Europe, and then the Norwegian midfielder be linked to more lucrative moves away as early as the summer transfer window.

An interesting statistic appeared on social media on Tuesday morning, and it stated that the trio of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester United have only all won on the same matchday just once this season.

The collective lack of quality and momentum in the race for fourth spot has been bordering on embarrassing, yet that is the state of the English top flight at this moment. This point just illustrates the fact that fourth is up for grabs and this would be the season for one of Sheffield United or Everton to grab such an opportunity.

They are in better form than Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United and the less said about Arsenal the better. Difficult fixtures will test the two outsiders, but you’d be a fool to write either of them off outright at this point. There’s no telling what might happen from now until May, and the days of an established top four in England are very much passé, and they will be for the foreseeable future.

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