MICAH RICHARDS: Everton would be the biggest club EVER to drop out of the Premier League… this is unfamiliar territory for their squad and I’m not optimistic about their chances of staying up
- Everton will be the biggest club ever to go down if they fail to avoid relegation
- This is a fight against the drop that Frank Lampard’s struggling side cannot lose
- Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool deal is bad news for rivals but good news for football
- And how bad would things be at Manchester United if not for Cristiano Ronaldo?
There comes a point during a relegation battle when you are convinced everything will be fine, a moment you believe will lead fortunes to change.
Mine came against Watford in November 2015. Aston Villa had suffered a dreadful start to that season but, as a squad, we all felt one win would stop the rot.
We were 1-0 down and I equalised just before half-time. All my emotions came tumbling out as I celebrated. I was captain and wanted to lead by example.
I was convinced us drawing level would be the catalyst we needed to get away from the bottom. I was wrong. We ended up losing 3-2 and there would be no turning back.
Villa were eventually relegated after a calamitous sequence of 11 straight defeats. The numbness I felt after our fate was confirmed will never leave me.
All through that campaign, we were told relegation would not happen. A team with Villa’s history — of winning a European Cup and being ever present in the Premier League with a fanatical fanbase — should never have been in that position but the reality was crushing and bleak.
Struggling Everton would be the biggest side in the Premier League’s history to be relegated
Relegation would be catastrophic for Frank Lampard’s side and it is a fight they cannot los
It was huge news. Villa were the biggest club to suffer this fate, bigger than Nottingham Forest (1993) and Leeds (2004). They will lose that title this spring, however, if Everton fall.
Everton are a huge club. Paul Power, my old youth coach at Manchester City, was part of their last title-winning side in 1987. He used to tell me about their history and reputation and why they should be given the utmost respect.
Perhaps younger generations won’t appreciate it but I know exactly what they have done. Aside from Paul, I have Gary Lineker — who had an unbelievable season at Goodison Park in 1985-86 — reminding me what they stand for. Leicester are Gary’s team but he has huge affection for Everton.
In December last year, I wrote here about Everton, the amount of money they had spent — more than £500million in five years — and couldn’t fathom how they were in such a mess.
I concluded they wouldn’t go down but now I cannot be optimistic about their prospects. Much, of course, can — and will — happen in the next six games but the predicament they are in has similarities to the one that befell Aston Villa.
When I was at Aston Villa, I thought we would get out of trouble but we ended up going dow
When you look at their squad, you see names such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, England’s No 1 in Jordan Pickford, and established internationals such as Yerry Mina, Allan and Fabian Delph.
Your gut instinct would be to say: ‘Relegation? No way!’ But reputations mean nothing when you are at the bottom and the more they analyse things, the more they will appreciate how serious it is.
You’ll hear players say they don’t look at the table but don’t believe it… they will be looking at it three times a day.
Also when you are down there, little incidents can go against you. Last week at Anfield Ben Godfrey was injured in the warm-up and Michael Keane is given 15 minutes to prepare for trying to contain the hottest attackers in Europe.
It was a thankless task.
Everton have plenty of big players like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Jordan Pickford
I heard Frank Lampard get criticised for the way he approached the Merseyside derby from a tactical point of view, setting up his team to frustrate Liverpool, but what was he supposed to do — try to out-football Jurgen Klopp’s side?
People should not be looking at Lampard to produce attractive patterns of play — this is an unforgiving battle for survival and Everton have to secure every point possible in any way they can.
Style means nothing now if you are the wrong side of the dreaded line.
What makes me most anxious for Everton is Burnley’s change in momentum. I was critical of the decision to sack Sean Dyche, I couldn’t understand it, but Mike Jackson has galvanised his team.
With all respect to them, too, the players will not be flustered about being in that part of the table. They are perhaps more equipped to cope with a relegation fight and have experience of dealing with what it is required to stay afloat.
But Burnley’s resurgence under interim Mike Jackson (right) means I’m anxious for the Toffee
This is unfamiliar territory for Everton, whose sequence of 14 defeats in 19 games earlier in the campaign had me drawing parallels with my Aston Villa side.
There will have been moments — like when they beat Arsenal and Leeds — that they thought everything would be fine. But nobody can say they will be fine now.
On Sunday they face a huge challenge against a Chelsea team who will be determined to take the frustrations they felt following their draw with Manchester United out on Everton.
If Everton have to play as they did against Liverpool to get a point, who cares? It would enable them to build belief for the Leicester game before a critical trip to Watford.
Slip up and confidence that is already fragile will be zapped further. This is a fight they cannot lose.
Micah’s Man of the Week
I’m running out of superlatives for Jurgen Klopp. News about his new contract came out of the blue but I’m not surprised Liverpool did all they could to get him to extend.
There will be plenty of fans of other clubs who have groaned at the thought of him staying until 2026 because, let’s face it, Liverpool are hardly going to slip into a position where they are no longer able to challenge for big trophies.
I’m pretty sure their rivals will have been thinking, ‘Here we go again’. I’m buzzing about it all though.
It will be the same if Pep Guardiola extends his stay at Manchester City: we want the best managers in our league, along with the best players, and we are privileged to be watching some of the greatest football we have ever seen.
Jurgen Klopp’s new Liverpool deal is bad news for rivals but good news for English football
A few weeks ago I spoke about wanting to see Diego Simeone one day come to the Premier League and it really would be fantastic if he arrived and joined Klopp, Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel all going head-to-head.
Liverpool have been fantastic this season and the work Klopp has done to revive them has been astonishing. I’m happy for him to stay as long as he wants because that will mean we will see a game that goes from strength to strength.
There is still so much to play for
Here we are on April 30. We don’t know who will be champions, we don’t know which team will finish fourth and we can’t yet tell who will be relegated.
There are three weeks to go and the fact that so many issues are still unresolved should not be forgotten — or taken for granted.
If you look around Europe, so many titles have either been decided or the identity of the likely winner is well known. It isn’t the case here.
We crave competitive football and we love watching games that matter. There will be so many to savour in the next 21 days.
Cristiano Ronaldo gets a lot of criticism but where would Manchester United be without him?
Is Ronaldo actually United’s saviour?
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 17th Premier League goal of the season on Thursday. It’s a superb total but let’s give things a bit more context.
Ronaldo’s second-half strike secured a draw against Chelsea and that was the 14th point for which he has been responsible.
Without Ronaldo’s goals, United would be level with Brighton in 11th, just ahead of Brentford. We keep hearing about how he doesn’t press and he has been a problem for United.
But let’s just ask this question: can you imagine what problems they would have had without him?
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