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James Rodriguez’s return could keep Everton’s Champions League dream alive

Everton v Crystal Palace Premier League 61812a6f0eb4a4c8f5fef46fea6248c6
Everton v Crystal Palace Premier League 61812a6f0eb4a4c8f5fef46fea6248c6

After a couple of defeats against Chelsea and Burnley, Everton really had to watch their step against Crystal Palace on Monday.

With the days are ticking down on their pursuit of a Champions League spot, they couldn't really afford another slip-up – especially as Liverpool begin to pull things together across Stanley Park.

Michy Batshuayi's late equaliser, then, felt like a hammer blow for Carlo Ancelotti's side. They had created enough chances to win three matches, and were it not for the inspired form of opposing keeper Vicente Guaita – who had Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison pulling their hair out at times – it could have been one of their biggest wins of the season.

"Another one goes begging!" ⚽?
Vicente Guaita is having quite the game… he's pulled off another fine stop to deny Richarlison! ?
? Watch on Sky Sports PL
? Follow #EVECRY here: https://t.co/Z6niUSW11W
? Download the @SkySports app! pic.twitter.com/e0teg1J5SJ

— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 5, 2021

Despite their latest set-back, though, they are still in the hunt. The margin for error from now on is thin, but with James Rodriguez back in the picture, they have reason to believe they can claw it back.

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The Colombian was back in the starting lineup against Palace for the first time since February's Merseyside Derby and it was no coincidence that they delivered possibly their most creatively potent performance since that day.

It was a deeper role for Rodriguez than he might be used to, dropping in to play in a flat midfield three alongside Tom Davies and Andre Gomes, and at times he was even the furthest back of those three.

"James Rodriguez is back with a ????" ?
Rodriguez fires Everton in front against Palace with a clinical finish ?️??
? Watch on Sky Sports PL
? Follow #EVECRY here: https://t.co/Z6niUSW11W
? Download the @SkySports app! pic.twitter.com/Ft7ajOfzpP

— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 5, 2021

But that didn't hinder him – his awareness of space both on and off the ball was exemplary, and he made as many key passes as the rest of the team put together in his 80 or so minutes on the pitch.

He came up with the moment that mattered too. Arriving late into the box to take Seamus Coleman's pass from the right, he did what the two players in front of him could not and rifled a low effort beyond Guaita for his 100th club career goal.

This wasn't Rodriguez at his fittest. He did fade out of the game as it wore on, and his substitution ten minutes from time seemed to come at the right time as Jean-Philippe Gbamin made his long-awaited return.

597 days later… ? pic.twitter.com/EuYJyuiwpI

— Everton (@Everton) April 5, 2021

Everton's European rivals will have celebrated when Batshuayi emerged from the bench and found the back of Robin Olsen's net. But while they continue to ship needless goals at key points in the game, there were certainly aspects of the Toffees' performance here that give them reason to believe.

Keeping Rodriguez fit for the run-in, though, is absolutely critical.

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