In a parallel universe, one where Everton are still managed by Marco Silva and are battling it out with David Moyes’s West Ham to see if either or neither club manages to save themselves from relegation this season, the Toffees’ sequence of results since the resumption of the Premier League has probably yielded just one point, ground out unspectacularly at doomed Norwich.
Jamie Vardy has just scored his long-awaited 100th Premier League goal, Everton are denied yet another penalty by VAR, and Michael Keane has put through his own net in a home defeat to Leicester City after the Toffees had squandered an early lead.
Thankfully in this universe, we have Carlo Ancelotti and the future is significantly brighter. This team have had their “Everton, that” moments under the new manager — the humiliation at the hands of Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup and the 2-2 draw with Newcastle come to mind — but this game offered hope that the wily Italian could be gradually hammering it out of them.
Vardy had a couple of dangerous moments but a towering performance from Keane, that included bailing out his error-prone goalkeeper, largely kept the League’s top scorer quiet; VAR took their time about it but eventually returned a verdict that handed the Blues their first penalty in 38 matches (and Gylfi Sigurdsson didn’t miss it!); and Everton held on to their first-half lead to record the rare feat of beating a team sitting in the top three. More of this, please!
The three points were greeted with as much relief as joy, though. While the first half had been entertaining given the manner in which the Blues engineered their 2-0 lead at the interval, with young Anthony Gordon more than justifying his second League start by laying on the opening goal for Richarlison, the second was an altogether more nervy affair.
What it did reveal, however, is that in Ancelotti Everton have a head coach with the ability to actually manage a game and it he did that with aplomb this evening. Granted, the “Moyes sub” with half an hour to go can be a little disconcerting, particularly given how much possession the team was ceding to the opposition and the danger going forward that Leicester possess, especially when James Maddison is on the pitch. But while it made for a tense and often frustrating finale, the strategy worked and ultimately that’s what matters.
Everton’s first-half performances in their first two games since the end of lockdown were mind-numbingly dull but today there was life and purpose about their play in the early going. After Vardy had almost been played in by Youri Tielemans at one end with just one minute gone, the Toffees put together the incisive move that would yield the opening goal in the 10th minute.
Lucas Digne headed into the path of Gordon, reprising the role wide on the left of midfield he fulfilled in the Merseyside derby 10 days ago, and the youngster drove towards the byline, cut the ball back perfectly to find Richarlison who buried the chance with a strong, first-time finish.
The Foxes tried to reply immediately and came close to an equaliser when Dennis Praet’s shot grazed André Gomes and flew narrowly wide but just two minutes after the goal, Everton won a free kick in a dangerous area after James Justin had fouled Richarlison. Digne swung the free-kick in, Ndidi and Keane challenged for it in mid-air where the Leicester man appeared to handle it with a raised arm.
Three minutes of review by Video Assistant Referee Craig Pawson later and Everton were finally awarded a penalty that Sigurdsson coolly despatched to make it 2-0. The current handball rules are convoluted and inconsistently applied so whether it should really have been handball is academic to Blues fans because it made amends for the spot-kick they should have had against Tottenham back in November when Dele Alli somehow got away with one in that game.
Everton were content to let Leicester have the ball, remained a threat on the break and could, with more composure in the final third, have put the contest to bed before half-time. Gordon sent Calvert-Lewin away down the channel with tremendous vision and an excellent first-time ball but the striker was chased down by Caglar Soyuncu and barged off it by the Turkish defender before he could shoot. Then, DCL and Alex Iwobi counter-attacked together but the Nigerian’s final ball was poor and the chance evaporated.
Brendan Rodgers’s men rallied towards the end of first half and Keane blocked a Tielemans volley off a corner and when the Belgian dinked a ball over the defence to Johnny Evans, Jordan Pickford spread himself to make a superb save and preserve the two-goal lead heading into half-time.
The warning signs of a more fractured second-half display came early after half-time, with Everton, and Gomes in particular, letting themselves down with poor distribution as they tried to move the ball out of their own territory.
Digne forced a good save from Kasper Schmeichel with a raking drive from distance in the 49th minute that took a heavy deflection and threatened to sneak inside the near post before the Danish international batted it behind. But just two minutes after that, the Midlanders pulled one back.
Tielemans took advantage of time and space outside the box to clip another teasing ball into the box to substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and though the Mason Holgate got to it first, his attempted clearance came off the striker’s chest and fell invitingly for him to fire it past Pickford.
Richarlison departed with a knock to his ankle six minutes later, Everton began to adopt their more defensive posture with the introduction of Davies to help counter the arrival off the bench of Maddison and in the 62nd minute, it looked as though the complete cession of the 2-0 lead was complete.
Pickford went to claim a routine ball across his six-yard box but somehow missed it, Keane inadvertently stabbed it towards his own goal but was able to recover in time to hack it off the line to safety.
By this stage, there was very little structure to Everton’s play. Calvert-Lewin was plowing a lonely furrow in a 4-5-1 formation that eventually became 3-6-1 with the introduction of Yerry Mina for Iwobi with 22 minutes to go, but while it was pretty much all Leicester, Maddison’s effectiveness would wane as the match wore on as the Foxes were stymied by a highly organised back line.
Iheanacho squandered a great chance to level in the 65th minute when he sliced over from fairly close range, Maddison cleared the crossbar with a couple of wayward efforts of his own and it wasn’t until stoppage time that Ayoze Perez popped up with one last chance to steal a point after good work from Vardy but shot took a crucial deflection and skidded wide.
Moments earlier, Davies, who looked a different player to the one that had to be hauled off at Norwich following a horrendous first half, had danced his way past a clutch of pink shirts and eventually laid it off for Seamus Coleman but the Irishman’s cross deflected into Schmeichel’s arms.
European qualification may end up being elusive this season but, regardless, these last few games of the season have been hugely instructive of what Ancelotti is trying to do and where he might be able to take Everton with the benefit of some key summer signings.
The work that has been done on the defensive side during the latter part of the lockdown is clearly evident; the Blues are much harder to break down and in three matches, they have conceded just one goal. At the top end of the pitch, Calvert-Lewin hasn’t yet found the net but his work-rate remains undiminished, while Richarlison proved he’s lost none of his predatory instincts in front of goal.
In the wide areas, Gordon impressed and Iwobi, while still erratic with his final ball, was a dangerous outlet going forward while still providing plenty of reliable cover for Coleman.
Central midfield, particularly when it comes to invention and creativity, remain a huge concern, however. Picking up from the second half at Carrow Road, Sigurdsson was solid and did his job well and Gomes was satisfactory in the first period this evening but from an attacking perspective, neither player offered enough.
That is nothing new where Gomes concerned. Perhaps still establishing his fitness following that horrible injury, he looks a little ponderous and is still playing “within himself”; quick and decisive to snuff out an opposition attack one minute but pedestrian and easy to dribble around the next.
That area of the pitch is an issue that will continue to hold Everton back if it isn’t addressed and you get the sense that it’s going to take a special central midfield acquisition; someone to come in and have a similar effect on the side as Bruno Fernandes has at Manchester United. Let’s hope Marcel Brands has someone in mind.
For now, the season rolls on with a flurry of matches that will offer Ancelotti yet more opportunity to really get a handle on what players are at his disposal.
Reader Comments (56)
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1 Posted 02/07/2020 at 02:10:18
Today was such a day, and Carlo is such a manager. Up against the 3rd-place club, he had his side perfectly prepared, and they took the 2-0 lead.
And when things went a bit sideways, as they were always destined to, Carlo made the proper changes, both in his subs (Davies and Mina) and in his alignment to deal with what Leicester was doing.
And although it was a bit frantic in our area at times, the defense never lost its composure, never made the crucial error, and gave up only the one goal (which was sheer accident, not a failure by anybody). And we won a game that we would not have won under several of our previous managers.
Another characteristic of a world-class manager is the ability to elevate his players to another level. Not all of them, and not all the time, but specific players at specific times.
Michael Keane is playing with a level of confidence I have never seen before, not even at Burnley. Carlo gets some credit for that too, as well as Mason Holgate's confident emergence.
2 Posted 02/07/2020 at 02:45:18
Exactly. He can't turn a frog into a prince — not even Digne. He can only work with the tools he's given.
Imagine if Kenwright's lad, Eddie Howe, was managing us today, or Roberto Martinez? 2-3 I'd imagine.
Carlo can and has produced free-flowing attacking teams. But he's smart enough to see our limitations and adjust accordingly.
He came of age in the Saachi Milan team and I'm sure he'd love a Rijkaard, Donadoni or Van Basten in the team. But he has who he has and is adapting.
3 Posted 02/07/2020 at 02:52:21
The Ayoze Perez shot was deflected by a last-gasp interception by Holgate, which most missed, including commentators. Another rare Everton event, but vital difference. How many times have we seen such a positioned player's shot go in? I bet we all thought it would.
In your article, you have perfectly encapsulated the difference under Ancelotti. Under Everton's previous illustrious managers, this game would have been drawn, but more likely have been lost in the manner you have hypothesized. The difference was Ancelotti's game Management and the fact he has instilled fight and a never-give-up attitude in Everton's mostly often flawed squad of players.
Vive La Difference.
4 Posted 02/07/2020 at 04:23:20
I said before the game, I could see Carlo defending deeply and doing a "Leicester", ie, hitting them on the break with Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Iwobi and tonight's star, Anthony Gordon.
Thus we nullified their strength, scoring lots of goals from breakaways (I hate that word turnovers), and played them at their own game by encouraging their defence to move forward.
It wasn't till they brought Maddison on that they looked a threat but he faded quickly (maybe carrying an injury).
I heard that, since Ancelotti came, we have better form than Chelsea and, projected over a season, might get top 4.
And all while we are waiting for the quality reinforcements that we need.
5 Posted 02/07/2020 at 04:48:42
Terrific to see young Gordon thrive in the first team, it's been a fair while to see a young lad coming through the ranks and, to me, this was one of the most heartening aspects of the match.
6 Posted 02/07/2020 at 06:04:11
7 Posted 02/07/2020 at 06:12:36
His hold-up play is getting better and better, he's winning a lot more headers and working the defenders more and more. He sometimes shows skill I thought he never had.
8 Posted 02/07/2020 at 06:16:57
9 Posted 02/07/2020 at 06:32:39
Liverpool are out on their own in front with 34 points, Man Utd 2nd with 27 then, just 2 points behind on 25, are Man City, Wolves and Everton.
We are ahead of the likes of Arsenal on 23, Chelsea 22 and Spurs on 19.
Not bad considering Carlo has done that with an inherited team of underperforming misfits without a single signing of his own.
10 Posted 02/07/2020 at 06:59:56
Good tactics for the match in question from the onset as opposed to repeating the same for every fixture. And how refreshing to finally have a manager making substitutions that affect the game or deal with the increased threat from the opposition rather than because it's the time of the game when token substitutions are made.
11 Posted 02/07/2020 at 07:06:19
Our first touch and ball retention remain remarkably poor. This has been a problem for us over years, God knows why.
Anthony Gordon looks to have a good football brain. His movement and his first time pass to Calvert-Lewin were very promising.
13 Posted 02/07/2020 at 07:20:01
Players are starting to look like they fit into a system and understand their roles. Some strategic reinforcements over summer should make all the difference
14 Posted 02/07/2020 at 07:23:25
Clear some more deadwood and 3 astute signings would see us press on next season.
I genuinely can't believe we have a manager of his standing and capability. I'm feeling optimistic about the future for the first time in a long time.
15 Posted 02/07/2020 at 08:22:58
We aren't strong everywhere but to win against good sides when that is the case is something for us to be very proud of. We're close to being a very good side and it may be just one good signing in midfield that is the catalyst for lift-off.
I disagree that Pickford's game was error-strewn, as always he saved us often with his exceptional shot-stopping, his positioning and distribution were good too; he made one mistake but we recovered well from it.
16 Posted 02/07/2020 at 08:34:46
Stand-outs from the game for me were at least:
Gordon's pass to Richarlison for the first goal;
Keane's outstanding performance;
Holgate's outstanding performance;
Richarlison needs to learn to smile at least occasionally;
Jordan Pickford needs to improve his distribution;
The midfield performance was okay, if not startling, so work on it;
Substitutions were way beyond what I was thinking but Carlo knows better than me;
It was a penalty but likely 7 times out of 10 it would not have been given;
Leicester's goal was just good luck for them.p>
17 Posted 02/07/2020 at 08:41:06
I hope he can reach such a standard but he is no longer a youngster and age is no longer a factor to judge him. As I said in my previous comment, I sincerely hope Carlo can do what is needed.
18 Posted 02/07/2020 at 08:56:12
Given that, it is amazing how well he does; when the ball is passed to him as it should be then, for me, his skill and success rate is good. He is well thought of by all commentators, except some Everton fans that is.
19 Posted 02/07/2020 at 09:18:59
20 Posted 02/07/2020 at 09:45:01
He now appears to be struggling a little, but last night's tactics didn't really help him. Since Carlo arrived, he's improved massively, so I've every confidence he'll get his mojo back.
I know that Silva only bought Iwobi because he couldn't get Zaha, but I'm really struggling to see what he brings to the team. He can't tackle, runs up blind alleys, rarely puts a cross in, rarely finds a teammate with a pass & last night was pulling out of tackles. Frankly, I'd rather see Bolasie back than put up with him next season.
21 Posted 02/07/2020 at 09:47:53
Centre-half no longer seems top priority to me with Keane much improved and Gibson and Branthwaite coming through.
Although Calvert-Lewin has some good points, he doesn't yet threaten the goal enough for me and doesn't look a natural striker.
22 Posted 02/07/2020 at 09:59:39
It is getting about 2-3 more that will be the challenge.
But maybe a good time to get a bet on for Sheffield to be relegated in 2020-21 season.
23 Posted 02/07/2020 at 10:02:49
24 Posted 02/07/2020 at 10:08:02
They got a very lucky goal in the 2nd half, and when we lost Richarlison to injury, Carlo changed the shape of the team. As he proved against Liverpool under his guidance this squad which always struggled defensively now look a completely different animal. They are compact and both Keane and Holgate marshal the players around them perfectly.
I have to hold my hand up and say I would quite happily have seen Michael Keane sold prior to the shutdown. But what a revelation he has been since the comeback, he looks a much more confident and dare I say more agile player. Whether this is down to Carlo or just Michael Keane himself or a bit of both but its great to see. I can't remember the last time I have seen Vardy have so little impact on a game against us.
I think Carlo knows that in Gomes and Sigurdsson they arent box to box players, and neither has any pace, so it's difficult for them to get up and support the front players as much as he would like. But when he brought Davies on and played him in a more advanced role it gave Gomes and Sigurdsson to get on the ball a lot more, and well done to Davies after struggling against Norwich he gave a lot better performance when he came on yesterday.
Also I thought Anthony Gordon was terrific hardly lost possession and looked a threat throughout the game. Then laid on Richarlison's goal, he looks to be a natural footballer to me, he knows instinctively what to do and that can't be coached you either have it or you don't. I think we have found a very promising youngster and a massive shout out to Carlo for having the courage to start him in the derby and recall him again last night.
So many plusses since the return and a few minuses, but I would rather just talk about the positives than the negatives. The biggest plus for those who doubted and some who still do, be in no doubt Carlo Ancelotti is world class and we are extremely lucky to have him.
25 Posted 02/07/2020 at 10:22:44
I'm suddenly totally relaxed about the transfer situation, if Keane and Davies continue in the form they've shown, it takes all of the pressure off. I certainly wouldn't be advocating lashing out another £45M unless the candidate is compelling.
I suspect there won't now be a big signing, but I do think there will be one or two big loans. Suddenly, a Coutinho or a James might just make the difference for us.
26 Posted 02/07/2020 at 10:44:41
Gordon on his debut in a derby and in the first, far from ordinary, the game after Lockdown, did look out of his depth, as would be possible for any player under those circumstances. But Ancelotti kept him on and Gordon kept trying.
Against Leicester, we started to see why. He is a fundamentally good footballer with skills that have been lacking in the positions he occupied throughout the game, particularly being mean in possession and exercising good pass completion.
27 Posted 02/07/2020 at 11:50:42
Before him we had a string of 'custodians' the likes of Lawson, Mimms, Davies and Hodge, who all had many a mistake in them. And just think of the stick we gave to Tim Howard in more recent times.
Okay, we were spoiled by West, Southall and Martyn but even they 'dropped one' occasionally.
Brought up on Albert Dunlop, Jordan will certainly do for me!
28 Posted 02/07/2020 at 12:07:30
29 Posted 02/07/2020 at 12:28:49
I have been delighted with our four defenders since the restart. All four have been a revelation. Seamus looks sharp, focused and committed as does Digne. Holgate and Keane are forging a first-choice partnership. At this point in time, one of the leagues best.
The back line has become an organised unit again, and as the game against Liverpool showed, with a bit of luck you can win games against any team with that foundation. We were inches away.
The players deserve credit as does Carlo and his coaching staff. His demands to make us more compact and hard to beat are being addressed.
As everyone with blue blood will know, for us to move up a level we need that dynamic central midfielder. Lyndon alluded to Bruno Fernandes and the transformational effect he has had on the dynamic at Man Utd. We need such a player who can bring all that to Everton's midfield. Whoever Carlo wants as his man on the pitch, Brands has to get him in.
30 Posted 02/07/2020 at 12:45:39
Someone in the mould of Anderson in his early Man Utd days would complement Gomes and his lack of athleticism.
31 Posted 02/07/2020 at 12:46:30
Jonny Evans was clearly onside, and while everyone stood and watched, Pickford was alert enough to rush and block Evan's shot.
32 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:07:10
33 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:07:35
I like what Carlo is trying to do with this bunch of players – he is settling people down into their proper roles. Digne, Keane, Siggy, Coleman, even Iwobi – all seem to be finding their confidence.
Gomes has been disappointing in the 3 games so far, hopefully he can build up his fitness and with that exert more of his authority on games.
Tom Davies – is he the new Osman? He does the unspectacular work, always available for the manager in whatever role he is asked to play, chips in with the odd goal, the local whipping boy. At only 22, Davies has more than 100 appearances for the club – he could overtake Ossie's appearance record for Everton. I like him, although he does have the odd stinker (Norwich?).
I always felt that Davies has done better when he drifts in from the right side of midfield – remember the Man City goal? Also, it was noticeable yesterday that when he went wide right, he was very effective in dribbling past players, and created some very decent chances.
34 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:11:27
I believe that since retirement, Bobby has beeen a much sought-after goalie coach!
35 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:17:05
Rather like with player purchases, it makes sense to invest in quality as far as possible, rather than wasting money, a lot of it, on mediocrity.
36 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:26:03
Pickford dropped a massive bollock last night. Although the ball bobbled slightly as it rolled across the box, a more experienced keeper would have gone to ground and got his body behind the ball (rather than stooping to pick it up). This means that, even if your hands let you down, your body covers you. I reckon that Jordan will be punishing himself for that error today. Us keepers only remember our errors, never the saves!
However his save from Evans when all around him were statuesque was, in my opinion, world class. He was off his line like lightening and smothered a point blank tap in. It's saves like that which give me the confidence we've got a special keeper, because those reactions are impossible to teach.
He's still only 26, he will get better. Alisson and Ederson defy the mould for quality young keepers but I don't believe Pickford is far behind. I've said it before and I'll say it again: goalkeeper is way down the list as to where we need to recruit.
37 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:28:21
I think we paid a record fee for a goalkeeper to sign Lawson from Huddersfield when we could have signed Shilton, so even in the 1970s we were wasteful with money.
There was also the fiasco of a young Nigel Martyn being messed about by agent Johnson, so he got in the car, drove to Leeds and signed for them. We eventually got him 10 years later when he was about 37 and still our best goalkeeper (besides Southall) of the past 50 years.
38 Posted 02/07/2020 at 13:52:38
The other stat is that we have scored more goals from corners (10) than any other team in the league. What a turnaround that is.
39 Posted 02/07/2020 at 14:00:05
We need to keep and support him. I'm sure, staring at Ancelotti across the dressing room, he knows he needs to be on it.
Other areas such as the midfield need to be adressed over the next two seasons. Plus holding onto Richarlison who is world class and can walk into any top 4 side.
40 Posted 02/07/2020 at 14:47:15
Spurs away next will be tough ask. Perhaps start with blanket defence, and attack on the break.
41 Posted 02/07/2020 at 14:49:20
42 Posted 02/07/2020 at 15:03:07
43 Posted 02/07/2020 at 15:08:34
He has helped Michael Keane's game to great effect and overall when out of possession we look very well organised. Leicester had a great amount of ball yesterday and, on another day, we could have been punished.
This type of game suits Keane who is a solid defender and sticks to his task manfully. My point is that when (if) we bring in reinforcements, our game plan will need to change. We will need to be further up the pitch for longer periods of time.
I know I'm probably going to be vilified here but, if we want to truly challenge for top 6 or top 4, a new centre-half alongside Holgate is required.
44 Posted 02/07/2020 at 15:21:56
Thank you for the goalkeeping insight. I think you are right that a new goalkeeper is 'way down the list'.
45 Posted 02/07/2020 at 15:39:52
I agree that Ancelotti's tactics suited Keane. I also agree that a attacking unit, where the back have to move forward in support, would not suit Keane.
Once Ancelotti has them stablised in defence, midfield and attack, he will expect Everton to progress to a supporting attack level unit and will want players who are capable of handling it. Mina could also find himself challenged.
Whilst Schneiderlin sitting in front of the back four was a regular fixture for successive managers, Ancelotti got rid of him.
46 Posted 02/07/2020 at 15:41:29
Whilst I doubt we would have persuaded him to join us instead of Bayern Munich in 2016, if we'd knocked on his door again in 2018, we may have had a chance of enticing him here instead of Napoli, you never know.
Nonetheless, I'm very pleased that we have him now. If he stays and achieves as much as he has shown himself capable of, then we'll be putting up a statue of him when he retires!
47 Posted 02/07/2020 at 16:01:47
When you watched Everton under Martinez and Silva it was very apparent that players had no confidence in their leadership and methods. Now, like any good team, we need players that can lead on the pitch when the going gets tough.
48 Posted 02/07/2020 at 16:14:37
I wouldn't say that's an issue to do with lack of experience; rather for me it's a lack of technique. Pickford frequently goes for relatively routine low stops with his hands only. It's a style that he shows no interest in altering.
49 Posted 02/07/2020 at 17:20:46
50 Posted 02/07/2020 at 19:06:17
The structure of our team is now better. The full backs are staying in the full back positions. The centre halves are playing better consequently. We are moving the ball quicker.
We are starting to see the Ancelloti identity in this team now. We are hardworking and organised. With some quality additions in midfield, we will improve further.
51 Posted 02/07/2020 at 21:30:46
Ancelotti maybe able to get more out of Keane and Mina, because who would have thought Everton could be so effective at defending, with the existing players.
Ancelotti in coaching concentrates on getting the basics right. He has done that defending, so why not midfield and attack as well.
i don' t think that there is going to be alot of big money transfers. More liking fine tuning.
52 Posted 02/07/2020 at 23:08:54
53 Posted 02/07/2020 at 23:44:49
54 Posted 03/07/2020 at 01:24:33
You do the now fashionable thing of...taking a knee.
The knee and leg on the floor backs up the hands, so that if the hands are badly placed and/or a bit to far apart or the ball has more power on it than you are expecting, the knee/leg on the ground stops the hands being pushed apart like wild west saloon doors.
55 Posted 03/07/2020 at 09:14:29
I'd be happy with Allan and Sangare too. Carlo will want Allan in at a reasonable price and wages. At 29/30, if his or Napoli's demands are prohibitive, move on.
Sangare would be an excellent young signing who we could improve. He would be perfect to act as back up and a challenging to start.
56 Posted 03/07/2020 at 10:36:00
57 Posted 03/07/2020 at 11:52:08
We also need to heavily improve our wide options. I say we try to offload Iwobi as I've seen him for 4 years in the Premier League and he has never impressed me. Maybe Chiesa and Ünder on loan?
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