Carlo Ancelotti has urged his Everton players to embrace ambition in a battle for European places he expects to go down to the final day of the Premier League season.
After Monday’s 1-0 win over Southampton, Everton can move into the four if they beat West Brom on Thursday night, although their stay there might be as short as a couple of hours given Liverpool host Chelsea later in the evening.
Everton have been here before this season, though, with a frustrating inconsistency preventing them from really staking their claim.
Ancelotti played down their chances of qualifying for the Champions League after a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle at the start of February, the first of three consecutive home league defeats which raised questions over their credentials.
But, despite these stumbles, Ancelotti said there was no harm in raising expectations on his players.
“We are pleased to be in the fight,” he said. “We have to use our expectations as a motivation. If expectations are high, it is absolutely normal at a club with fantastic history. We want to be back there as they were in the past.
“Expectation is not a bad word in my opinion. It is a good word. It keeps you motivated. I think it’s important to have ambition.”
Ancelotti had urged his players to take Thursday’s opportunity of “touching” the top four, even if he admitted he had not realised quite how brief it might be. Even if Everton win they would be quickly overtaken should either Liverpool or Chelsea claim three points later in the evening.
“I forgot there was that game and maybe Liverpool or Chelsea can be in the top four, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We want three points, it is important to stay in the fight.
“I’m sure this situation with the European positions will be decided in the last game and we want to be there until the last game.”
Everton will be favourites to take their opportunity against West Brom, but recent defeats to Newcastle and Fulham serve as cautionary tales against sides in and around the battle at the bottom.
It has taken time, but West Brom are showing signs of improving under former Everton boss Sam Allardyce and go into the game on a three-game unbeaten run, having kept clean sheets against Burnley and Brighton in their last two outings.
“I think West Brom are playing now how Allardyce wants them to,” Ancelotti added. “They are strong defensively, strong in contact and show good organisation. It is not a coincidence they did not concede in their last two games, even if they were a little lucky that Brighton missed two penalties.
“The defensive consistency is there and to find opportunities will not be easy for us.”
Everton benefitted considerably from the return of Allan against Southampton, with the Brazilian midfielder making his first appearance since mid-December.
But, following such a long spell out, his condition must be checked before he will be considered for a second start in the space of four days, while Ancelotti was uncertain if any of the trio of James Rodriguez, Seamus Coleman and Tom Davies might return after missing Monday’s match.