Carlo Ancelotti says remaining in touch with the Premier League’s frontrunners is Everton’s primary motivation going to Burnley on Saturday.
Manager Ancelotti’s side are eighth but only five points behind leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
Everton were top of the table after five games but a return of three points from their subsequent five fixtures checked that prosperous start.
Victory at Turf Moor would nevertheless represent a fourth away win this term – and provide an instant response to last week’s home defeat by Leeds United.
Burnley have latterly showed signs of rediscovering their obdurate characteristics – a heavy loss at Manchester City last week notwithstanding – and in their most recent home game beat Crystal Palace 1-0.
“It will be important to have a positive result against Burnley because we want to stay in touch at the top of the table,” said Ancelotti.
“We are starting a very important period, we have a lot of games around Christmas… it is true there is a lot of competition at the top but we want to be there.
“It is important to have consistency in our results.
“In this period, we want to stay in touch and prepare well for the second part of the season.
“Burnley have a strong identity and strong organisation.
“It will be a tough game, they are better now compared to the start of the season.
“We know what kind of game to expect.
“We haven’t found balance yet; we are really good offensively but had problems defensively.
“We have tried to solve this problem and every game is a test to see how we are.
“Against Burnley, I hope we can be better in this [defensive] aspect.”
Everton’s meeting with Burnley is their first of six Premier League games in December.
They host Manchester United in a Carabao Cup quarter-final, too.
Recovery time next month will be at a premium, with Everton in action on 2 January and playing a minimum of six matches.
Ancelotti, then, is preparing to lean on his squad, raising the prospect of Niels Nkounkou, the French defender signed in the summer, and striker Cenk Tosun both featuring.
Nkounkou, 20, has played four times – once in the Premier League – and 29-year-old Tosun twice came off the bench in November after missing eight months with a serious knee injury.
“Cenk is doing really well, his recovery was good,” said Ancelotti.
“His condition is getting better and better.
“He is going to find space to play because I want to rotate the players a little bit.
“From him, I expect what he is able to do: score goals.
“He is really good and efficient in the box. I like his quality.
“Nkounkou is still very young, he needs more experience and to work more.
“I am satisfied with what he is doing.
“He will have [playing] time in the next games.”
Ancelotti employed a three-man defence on Everton’s most recent away day, the victory at Fulham a fortnight ago, and stuck with the formation for the visit from Leeds.
Talking in his pre-match press conference on Friday, the Italian insisted his tactical switch represented an “emergency” measure because of injuries to full-backs Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne.
There was no hint towards Everton’s plan for this weekend but whatever the line-up it is likely to include Michael Keane.
The centre-half joined Everton from Burnley in the summer of 2017 and is Ancelotti’s only ever-present this season.
Keane will return to an empty Turf Moor – but when Everton welcome Chelsea to Goodison Park next week, 2,000 supporters will be in the stadium.
“I am pleased with Michael, he had consistency in this year, he improved,” said Ancelotti.
“He reached a good level and is able to kept to this good level with his performances.
“It [using three centre-halves] is a moment but the fact we can play with three or four at the back is good for us.”
Ancelotti added: “Football without fans is not the football we want to play or watch.
“Without supporters – it is not a different sport but it looks like a different sport,
“The fact they are back is really important for the atmosphere and emotion.”