Ancelotti and Everton one year on

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Arsenal FC at Goodison Park on December 21, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Arsenal FC at Goodison Park on December 21, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

Yesterday’s Boxing day match at Sheffield United marked exactly one year on from Carlo Ancelotti’s first game as Everton manager. So how has his first year at Goodison Park gone?

When Ancelotti arrived to replace Marco Silva, Everton were well and truly in the doldrums having just a few weeks ago conceded five goals in the derby at Anfield. They had endured a terrible season so far and appeared to be facing a desperate battle to avoid relegation.

Confidence was low and the team were struggling to find any kind of form, although interim manager Duncan Ferguson had steadied things with a morale-boosting win against Chelsea and then a draw at Manchester United.

But it was clear there were deep-seated problems throughout the side with a chronically leaky defence, a soft and ineffective midfield and an attack that was anemic and misfiring.

Despite another summer of expensive signings the club itself seemed equally rudderless, lacking direction and a clear strategy even though Marcel Brands had been brought in to deliver that. They were now searching for the fourth permanent manager since Farhad Moshiri’s takeover.

When he took the job Ancelotti decided to stick with Ferguson’s switch to a 4-4-2 after the various formations Silva had employed. It had given Everton some much-needed solidity and had shored up that vulnerable defence.

When he picked his first team to play Burnley at Goodison Park on Boxing day 2019, the Blues secured a 1-0 win in a tight and dour game (just like last night actually) but a win was a win.

After this decent first result the team went on a little winning run that saw striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin start finding the net with great regularity while the defence was consistently solid.

There were tactical innovations along the way and a sense that with Ancelotti Everton at last had a coach with the subtly and nuance to compete with the best.

With all this came renewed optimism and hope for a radical change in fortunes as Evertonians were getting used to the fact that their new manager was one of the most high-profile, respected and successful in the game.

On and off the pitch was visable evidence that the team were responding to Ancelotti’s influence and they were playing with much improved confidence, even occasionally a little swagger.

Then came a trip to Stamford Bridge where the Toffees have a terrible record and they came unstuck big time losing 4-0. Just after that defeat the league was suspended due to the Covid 19 crisis.

So it seemed as if some definite progress had already been made, but it was clear that the squad Ancelotti had inherited was still a long way from the kind of players he is used to coaching.

When the season resumed Everton were lacking match fitness as were a number of other teams and early performances and results reflected that.

Towards the end of the season though things started to go wrong again and the Blues began playing like they had done before Ancelotti joined the club.

Too many players were coasting again and seemed to lack the will and determination to fight for results when things weren’t going well. In addition Ancelotti occasionally picked some odd sides and was trying to shoe-horn his players into the 4-4-2, which didn’t suit them.

It seemed that the honeymoon period was certainly over as Everton produced some very poor efforts and slumped to several costly defeats as the season petered out and the team finished a lowly twelfth. Even the manager seemed a little surprised at how easily the team succumbed. Perhaps he had underestimated the size of the job he had inherited.

Over the summer the Toffees were linked with a bewildering number of new players but gradually these rumours solidified around two in particular – Allan and James Rodriguez.

Both these South American stars were signed with Rodriguez being the most high-profile of course and a genuine marquee signing. They were joined by Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure as the club backed their new manager in the market despite the financial consequences of Covid.

With these three additions Ancelotti transformed both his team’s midfield and gave the side a genuinely outstanding attacking talent with the highest technical ability and flair.

He then added goalkeeping cover and on deadline day signed the talented young Norwich City defender Ben Godfrey.

The three new high-profile players made an immediate difference and Everton got off to a flying start as they were unbeaten in their first seven games and sat top of the table.

However, after the first international break and a series of injuries that fine start was undermined and again the old demons returned to the team’s performances.

Now after another international interlude the Blues have righted the listing ship, despite a Carabao Cup loss to Manchester United and have got the season back on track again.

Overall then some real and genuine progress made and plenty to feel positive about but I think more work to do before Everton will be able to win trophies and consistently expect to secure European or Champions League football.

But let’s be honest, if we’d known when he arrived that exactly twelve months on the Toffees would have gone from 15th the day he arrived to be sitting second in the Premier League, we’d all certainly have taken that!

Verdict: 7/10