MARTIN KEOWN: Sticking to a back five can be key to Everton surviving

MARTIN KEOWN: Sticking to a back five can be the key to Everton surviving the shootout at the bottom of the table… but against Leicester they need to show the same intensity they had when they beat Chelsea

  • The race against relegation looks to be one the best we have ever witnessed 
  • Relegation for Everton would be more painful considering Liverpool’s success 
  • Sticking to five at the back could prove to be the difference for the Toffees 
  • Everton must battle as they did against Chelsea if they’re to beat Leicester 
  • Frank Lampard needs to figure out a way to approach games away from home  

This relegation race between Everton, Burnley and Leeds is turning into one of the best bottom-of-the-table shootouts we’ve ever witnessed.

The way these rivals are picking up points, even when their backs are pressed firmly against the wall, is phenomenal.

Just when you least expect them to get a result, that’s when they prove the so-called experts wrong!

Relegation-threatned Everton picked up a shocking 1-0 win against Chelsea last weekend 

All are engaged in this last stand and it’s set up to be a scrap to the bitter end. I was playing for Everton when the Premier League started in 1992.

When you represent that club, you cannot help but be touched by the special passion and atmosphere that runs through the game-day Goodison Park experience. 

I know how much it means to stay in the Premier League. The pain of relegation would be even more difficult to take while the red half of Merseyside are dominating at home and abroad.

When Frank Lampard arrived, Everton were 16th, four points above the drop. In Rafa Benitez’s final 13 games, he managed only one win, three draws and nine defeats.

In Lampard’s first 13, he’s won four, drawn one and lost eight, but they’re now 18th.

Frank Lampard said his team has what it takes to battle but they must show it away from home

Watching Newcastle stride past them to safety, and then Burnley go ahead, was a tremendous body blow to Everton. But recent home wins over Manchester United and Chelsea, and a draw with Leicester, have given them hope and belief.

Lampard previously said his players had to show they have the balls for this battle. They’ve done that at home, and now they’ve got to do that on the road with two tricky trips to Leicester and Watford in the next five days.

They will need to show the same cocktail of energy, intensity, pace, and technical quality that they showed against Chelsea at Goodison on Sunday.

Everton looked like a pack of hungry hounds chasing down their illustrious opponents. Such is the difficulty that Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 system creates, Lampard changed Everton’s set-up to a back five to match up to the visitors.

This isn’t revolutionary – several sides have done the same when facing Chelsea, like West Ham in the Premier League the previous week, and Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Yerry Mina (Left) has benefitted massively from having four other defenders beside him 

The big difference was that Everton won and those other teams did not.

They were tough, resilient, and the returning Yerry Mina was a commanding and important figure at the heart of that defence, particularly from set pieces.

That’s an area from which Everton have struggled this season. Mina benefitted from having the mobile Seamus Coleman and Mason Holgate on either side of him, while the ever-improving Vitalii Mykolenko on the left and the versatile Alex Iwobi on the right.

Richarlison, though, is the jewel in Everton’s crown. He’s an immense talent who must fulfil his potential more consistently.

I liked seeing the collective aggressiveness of Everton against Chelsea – one moment in the first half encapsulated that when Mason Mount left a little bit on Mina and the rest of his team-mates came to his rescue.

Richarlison is the jewel in Everton’s crown but he needs to show his quality more consistently 

It’s a one-for-all and all-for-one attitude – a total unity where they’re all at boiling point but not boiling over and recklessly adding to their Premier League-high record of four red cards this season.

Lampard likewise needs to decide whether the best way to pick up points away from home is to stick with this approach. They have a league-low six points on the road this season.

It’s an important decision – one which their Premier League status will depend on.

They’ve had seven days on the training ground to refine and help the players understand this system better.

Playing this system last week, Everton scored their winner by energetically pressing high right from the start of the second half.

Everton need to battle like they did against Chelsea if they are to beat Leicester City on Sunday

That stunning win over Chelsea gave them great belief and left Burnley and Leeds looking over their shoulders when they thought they might have already done enough to scramble to safety.

These relegation rivals are doing all they can to survive. Although tempting as a player, looking at the remaining fixtures and all the possible permutations doesn’t help you to stay up.

What will help the team retain its Premier League status is to spend time on the training ground focusing, working hard and developing their team structure.

Each team will need a huge slice of luck to survive and it all must be linked to a cast-iron belief that you, as a player and club, belong at this Premier League level.

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