Carlo Ancelotti is urging his Everton players to brace themselves for a “big fight” when the European chase intensifies following this month's international break.
Everton have 10 matches remaining and all to play for with their primary target for the season in reach.
Ancelotti’s side are eighth in the Premier League standings but separated from Chelsea in fourth by only five points.
Moreover, Everton – who suffered an FA quarter-final defeat by Manchester City on Saturday – have at least one game in hand on every team above them.
If Everton had replicated their away form back at Goodison Park they’d be as good as guaranteed a European berth already.
The clear objective for Ancelotti, then, is to reverse fortunes at home – beginning with the visit of Crystal Palace on 5 April.
To that end, the manager will be aided by the availability of forward James Rodriguez following a five-match injury layoff.
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ANCELOTTI: WE COMPETED WELL AGAINST THE BEST TEAM IN THE WORLD
“It will be a big fight for that [European qualifying] position because a lot of teams are involved,” Ancelotti told evertontv.
“This break can help us recover some players who are out – James and, maybe, [Jean-Philippe] Gbamin.
“We will have a more complete squad and can fight by maintaining the same spirit and attitude [as against Manchester City].
“James can put more quality in the squad, for sure, and with a good condition can help us try to reach our target
“We are not going to lose a lot of players [on international duty] and have to be focused on those who are here.
“The physical condition of the players is good – [it is important] to have a rest because some players are a little bit tired, then prepare well for the next game.”
Everton have claimed more than two points per game on their travels this season – winning nine and drawing two of 14 fixtures.
A bright start at Goodison, however, has given way to a sticky period and after beating Southampton 1-0 on the first day of this month, Everton lost their next home match, to Burnley.
If Ancelotti was frustrated by that setback, he refused to be downcast following City’s victory in L4 at the weekend.
The game against Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders remained in the balance until the final minute, when substitute Kevin De Bruyne slammed home to add to Ilkay Gundogan’s 84th-minute opener.
Summon the spirit and attitude shown against City, reckons Ancelotti, and Everton can view their five remaining home games through optimistic eyes.
“We competed and have to be pleased, our supporters have to be proud of the team,” said Ancelotti, whose South American international contingent of Allan, Richarlison, James and Yerry Mina are not required by their countries this fortnight after that continent delayed World Cup qualifying fixtures.
“With this kind of spirit in the next 10 games, we can get good results and fight for Europe until the end of the season.
“We were really focused and tried some combinations but it was not easy because the pressure was so high.
“We spent a lot of energy defending.
“We could be luckier with some opportunities but that was the game we wanted to play.
“We were focused and in control and for 80 minutes we didn’t concede opportunities.
“They [players] did their best and for this game there is no regret.
“The regret is for the other [recent home] games where we didn’t have the same attitude.”