Turf BATTLE; burnley now in blues' sights - but it could leave sam with a euro quandary.
PERCEPTION can often have as much credence in football as bare, unadulterated facts.
Take the respective seasons of Burnley and Everton.
Nearly everyone is in agreement the Clarets have enjoyed an excellent campaign under Sean Dyche, whose stock has risen considerably as a result.
By contrast, the general consensus is the Blues have suffered the polar opposite, whether that be during the tutelage of the sacked Ronald Koeman, caretaker David Unsworth or incumbent Sam Allardyce.
Yet the latest Premier League table shows ninth-placed Everton are only two points off their Lancastrian rivals. Hardly the mammoth gulf everybody would assume.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons for those disparate outlooks, not least the fact Everton have spent almost PS200million to effectively go backwards.
But the narrowing of the gap between the clubs has given the Blues a new target for the remainder of the campaign.
When Allardyce was brought in two months ago, he was handed the immediate task of steering Everton away from the relegation zone.
While hardly convincing, it would now take a remarkable collapse for the Blues to again become embroiled in matters near the foot of the table.
Instead, Saturday's 3-1 win over Crystal Palace has prompted many Evertonians to start looking upwards rather than nervously over their shoulders.
Once again, being best of the rest behind the top six is the aim.
And that could leave Everton in a familiar quandary.
Should one of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City win the FA Cup, seventh will, like last term, see the Blues having to negotiate the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
Such an early start to the competitive season robbed Koeman of valuable time on the training field with his new-look squad and, while the results on-field were positive, the general belief is the Blues would have been better off without such a schedule.
As for the competition proper itself, Everton's Europa League experience was termed a "disaster" by Blues legend Kevin Ratcliffe this week, with just one win in six group games and three heavy beatings.
At previous clubs, Allardyce has hinted the Europa League could be a hindrance to Premier League progress, even if he reached the knockout stages with Bolton Wanderers in his solitary season in charge in the competition's predecessor the UEFA Cup. Indeed, a medical appointment meant the Blues boss didn't even attend this season's group dead rubber at Apollon Limassol.
Allardyce, you suspect, would be happy if Everton were spared the inconvenience of those qualifying rounds in July and August.
That, though, is a view unlikely to be shared by the travelling Evertonians who revel in their European away days.
And a proper tilt at the Europa League has served English sides well in recent years.
Liverpool reached the final in 2016, Manchester United lifted the trophy last term and Arsenal remain among the front-runners this time around.
Everton are better off in Europe than not.
And while Allardyce and his staff could well harbour reservations, if the Blues want to continue growing their profile, seventh must now be the target without hesitation.
Sam Allardyce (left) alongside Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson during Everton's 3-1 win on Saturday