Romelu Lukaku, Everton look to extend their recent dominance over West Ham
Home form continues to be the standout aspect of manager Ronald Koeman's first season on Merseyside. A 3-1 victory over Burnley last time out marked an eighth successive home league win for the first time since 1990. Stirring after a tough start that saw the visitors betray their torrid away record, a familiar late flurry ensured Everton remain within striking distance of the teams immediately above them. While seventh place looks the likely outcome, Koeman is aiming higher.
At the heart of the Burnley win was a pleasing response from Ross Barkley at the end of a testing week, while left-back Leighton Baines offered a reminder of his enduring qualities to become the first defender to reach 50 Premier League assists. The beneficiary of Baines' creativity was Romelu Lukaku, who scored for a ninth home game in a row over all competitions.
Lukaku's goals have pushed the team on since the turn of the year, creating a home record that matches up to the best teams in the division. If only home points counted for the Toffees but all points counted for every other team in the division, Everton would still be as high as ninth. Only Tottenham have more points and goals at home this season.
Once again, Lukaku is likely to be the focal point when Everton face West Ham on Saturday. The Blues have not lost at West Ham in the league since April 2007, winning six and drawing the other two. Everton have lost just once in 17 league matches, home and away, against the Hammers. While form alone implies Lukaku will be vital -- he has directly contributed to 50 percent of Everton's 60 league goals this season, scoring 24 and assisting another six -- his record against Saturday's opponents is remarkable. With nine goals in nine matches, the Belgian forward has scored in every match against West Ham as an Everton player.
Continuing this dominance in recent meetings and Lukaku's goalscoring exploits is the first step if Everton are to overhaul either a brittle Arsenal or a Manchester United side seemingly prioritising the Europa League. Koeman needs his players to take their Goodison Park form on the road. It is five matches and three months since the Toffees won outside the confines of their own stadium.
A recent 1-1 draw at Old Trafford somewhat epitomised away form in Koeman's debut campaign. Early promise fizzled out as the chance at three crucial points slipped by in agonising fashion. A comeback success at West Brom and Romelu Lukaku's hat trick away to Sunderland saw Koeman become the first Everton manager in almost 100 years to win their first two away games, but progress has stalled since then with Everton winning just two of the next 14 away matches. Four wins from 16 away matches and none in the last five is the difference between challenging for Europa League or Champions League at this stage. Both Southampton and Crystal Palce have won more away games this term. All of the top-six teams have won at least three away games more than Everton.
A look at the goalscoring charts shows the sharp contrast between Goodison results and elsewhere. Finding the net with increasing ease at home has seen 41 goals scored in 17 home games. This comfortably overshadows the meagre 19 scored in 16 away fixtures.
Perhaps playing without the support of a sold-out Goodison is a factor on the road, but there is enough quality and should be the necessary belief within this team to replicate home form at most opposing grounds. Everton may be without home advantage in these games, but there is constant backing from the excellent away support that follows the team around the country.
Koeman himself commented on the need to bridge the gap between home and away performances on the eve of this trip to the capital, commanding his team to start fast and be aggressive in their pursuit of victory. The tempo and pressing must match the levels so often evident at Goodison, as the Toffees must be ready to seize on any slip from teams around them. Even though both Arsenal and United have two games in hand, the fixture list offers a chance to apply pressure. Arsenal and United also have to play each other before the season is out. Additional cup fixtures and television scheduling means Everton often play their weekend fixtures before both teams in the weeks ahead.
Starting with a first trip to the London Stadium this weekend, three of the five remaining fixtures are away games. Positive results in these matches and an extension of this excellent home form could set up a decisive clash at Arsenal on the final day.
Against a fragile West Ham side that has dropped 22 points from winning positions and is still adjusting to life at their new stadium, this would appear the ideal environment for Everton to return to winning ways on the road and maintain hopes of a top-six finish.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.