Everton have little left to play for in this calamitous season other than achieving the highest Premier League finish they possibly can.
Out of all three cup competitions by early January, the Toffees’ expensively assembled first-team squad is playing for pride – and their futures – under Sam Allardyce ahead of another summer of upheaval.
It may come as no surprise, then, that the man dubbed Big Sam came out on Monday as he revealed his plans to finally commit to something that Evertonians have been calling for over the past few weeks.
Namely a settled starting lineup.
The ex-Crystal Palace and England manager said: “I don’t think you can have a regular starting XI over Christmas and New Year because there is that massive five games in 14 days.
“We tried to leave it as long as we could. Only injury or suspension was changing the team when I first got here but as we got into Christmas and New Year it was physically impossible for the lads to continue so we had to rotate the team and with that rotation our results started to go the other way.
Everton in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce when Rooney and Sigurdsson start:— Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle) February 6, 2018
P6 W4 D1 L1
Wayne Rooney: 3 goals, 2 assists
Gylfi Sigurdsson: 1 goal (assisted by Rooney), 2 assists
When they don't start...
P6 W0 D3 L3
“We didn’t handle that rotation but we had to do it because you can’t keep flogging a dead horse, as they say. That’s what we would’ve been doing if we had kept playing the same team.”
Fair comments to make, certainly, but the 63-year-old’s quotes are still baffling given that it’s been over a month since the packed festive fixture period ended.
The November-appointed gaffer has overseen five matches since that schedule ended with a 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Merseyside rivals Liverpool, and has failed to keep the same players in his side during this most recent run.
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Doing so hasn’t helped his players find their rhythm in Allardyce’s season as a result, with two wins, two heavy defeats in north London and a draw picked up from that run.
Allardyce, as he stated, did name the same side during his early days at Goodison Park and it led to him becoming the first Blues boss to go his first seven games unbeaten in domestic competitions.
So why has it taken Big Sam so long to come to the conclusion that a settled side, with very few changes in personnel, is the way to go to get Everton firing again?
Of course, he will have wanted to give all of his charges a chance to impress him over the second half of the season, and show that they have a place in his squad for 2018/19.
Given how wretched some of his stars’ displays over Christmas and New Year were, however, Allardyce must have an idea of his best XI by this point.
Evertonians will hope so. Failure to consistently select his best performers, in a system that works, isn’t just of paramount importance to the club’s final league position – it could have a huge say on Allardyce’s own future ahead of next term.