Everton remain top of the Premier League after Saturday’s Merseyside derby draw.

Not many people would have predicted before a ball was kicked that Aston Villa would be the Toffees’ closest challenges at the top of the table.

And Dean Smith’s side have a game in hand where they could go into first place if they keep their 100 per cent start to the season going.

We are approaching the point in the season where the standings start to take shape, usually, but this season is a little bit different.

Barcelona v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Final
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European football is returning and the condensed nature of the season means it’s on basically every midweek between now and Christmas.

Only the international break in November and the EFL Cup at the end of December cause an interruption.

Everton are not in either the Champions League or Europa League, which is likely to be a frustration after heavy investment during recent seasons.

But it could represent an advantage this term, especially as Carlo Ancelotti’s men look to preserve that good start.

Leicester City v Everton - Premier League
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That’s the situation Leicester were in when they won the Premier League in 2016.

Nobody is saying Everton will do the same this season, but it’s all set to be a crazy campaign and Ancelotti would be wise not to put a limit on his side’s ambitions.

Not playing in Europe comes with two major advantages.

One is freshness, which could be so, so important during a hectic year, coming off the back of an abridged pre-season.

Many of Everton’s competitors will be jaded from the extra games and travelling most midweeks between now and the end of the year.

The second is the ability of the manager to prepare for just one game per week; Ancelotti can drill his players effectively and plan out a specific gameplan dependent on the opponent.

That combination, along with the form of James Rodriguez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin should hand Everton hope that this run can continue for the months to come.