David Moyes has declared that the Premier League is getting tougher after admitting that Everton's highest points total for 25 years would be unlikely to earn them a Champions League spot.
Moyes guided the club into Europe's top club competition with a tally of 61 points in 2005 as they finished fourth in the league. His side have 56 points with four matches of this season still to play, and could still beat their total of 65 from 2008, which remains their best tally during his 11 years at the club.
Everton finished fifth that year with what was their highest points total since 1988, when they collected 70 points – although there were 40 league games per club that season, as opposed to the 38 there are now.
Moyes believes that Everton might qualify for next season's Champions League if they were to reach 68 points by winning all of their remaining matches, starting with the home game against Fulham. But he is unsure if even that will be enough.
He said: "The year we qualified for the Champions League, we had 61 points. We're only five points off that just now.
"Does that show that the Premier League has got harder? That the teams of the top have got better?
"It's making it much more difficult. I'm guessing that it will take 68, maybe 70 points to qualify for the Champions League this year.
"I think the bar has been raised all round. A lot of Evertonians asked why the club aren't making the Champions League? Why aren't they in the Europa League?
"I hope that's there to see. You have to make up nine or 10 points even on where we were seven or eight years ago."
Moyes is hopeful that centre-back Phil Jagielka, midfielder Darron Gibson and striker Victor Anichebe will be fit to play against Fulham.
Jagielka missed last Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Fulham after suffering a recurrence of an ankle problem during the 0-0 draw at Arsenal four days earlier.
Midfielder Gibson, who has been struggling with a thigh problem for much of the season, was substituted at half-time last Saturday, while Anichebe was taken off in the latter stages of the Sunderland game with hamstring trouble.
Moyes said: "Phil Jagielka's coming on. He opened up his wound in the last couple of minutes of the Arsenal game. He's progressing. Darron Gibson's progressing.
"We're getting close to full strength and we're hoping we won't be too far away from that.
"Victor's had a bit of a hamstring problem. At the end of the game, he felt it tightening up. It's not as bad as we thought, but we couldn't take any chances."
The manager added that right-back Tony Hibbert is close to a first-team return, having been restricted to five games this season because of a calf problem.
"Tony Hibbert's played a few reserve games now," Moyes said. "He was out for three months. He had quite a severe calf operation. But Tony's not too far away from it, and when the opportunity arises, I'll try to reintroduce him."
Moyes' first game in charge of Everton, in March 2002, was a 2-1 Premier League home win over Fulham, and the fixture brings back happy memories for him.
He said: "It was a great day for me personally, to become manager of Everton. It was an even better day when they team went on to get me a victory. The reception I had was great. So I'll always have fond memories of games against Fulham."