Passion Play – Can Carlo Provide the Spark to Ignite Languid Blues?

Coming close to a year to day since Chelsea's last visit to Goodison Park, this weekend's clash with Frank Lampard's team offers an interesting contrast between the personalities in charge of Everton and, perhaps, the performance from the team

Lyndon Lloyd 09/12/2020 20comments  |  Jump to last

This week marked a year since the departure from Everton of Marco Silva. It's also a year since Duncan Ferguson took charge of a demoralised and relegation-threatened outfit and extracted from it a performance of such grit, passion and pride that it swept aside much-fancied Chelsea at a raucous, packed Goodison Park.

This year, the attendance will be reduced to just the 2,000 souls fortunate enough to have won a ticket through the club’s ballot and, while the atmosphere will unquestionably be different, it's also fair to wonder just how different the performance on the field will be.

Certainly, the stakes are lower this time but Evertonians will nonetheless be expecting a performance from their players after their disappointingly passionless display at Burnley last weekend. Whether they will get one remains to be seen because there has been a noticeable lack of fire in the collective belly in recent games. In contrast to the swagger with which they started the campaign, Everton have performed with a passivity and generally lackadaisical air in recent weeks. That’s in stark contrast to when Big Dunc’s inspired charges beat Frank Lampard’s shell-shocked mob 3-1 a couple of weeks before Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as Silva’s successor in December 2019.

In terms of their personalities, Ancelotti and Ferguson could not be more different and it leaves supporters waiting to see how the vastly experienced but mild-mannered Italian will respond to what is a lengthening sequence of sub-par performances. Dunc's still there, of course, but he's not the man in charge and there probably won’t be much fire or brimstone in the dressing room. At some point, though, there needs to be some evidence of the manager’s inspiration on his players.

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It’s possible that the visit of his former club and the three opponents that follow — Leicester, Arsenal (although Mikel Arteta’s Gunners are in even worse form than Everton) and Manchester United — will ignite some fire in Everton’s players and force them to raise their game. It shouldn’t come to that, obviously; a coach of Ancelotti’s repute should be able to bring the best out of his players but anything that gets the side back to winning ways will be welcome.

After blowing Blues fans away with a scintillating start to the season, Everton’s form has fallen away precipitously since the win over Brighton in early October. In the intervening 10 weeks, Ancelotti’s outfit have won just once in seven matches and toppled off the summit of the Premier League, dropping to 9th place. Since the 1-1 draw at Turf Moor, the Italian has spoken of his satisfaction with his team’s performance, particularly on the defensive side, despite the failure to keep a clean sheet for the 10th successive match, and that Everton “are where we want to be” in terms of the pursuit of Europe.

In terms of league placing, the Toffees are eight places better off than after 11 games last season under Silva yet have taken exactly the same number of points from the corresponding games as in 2019-20 (with West Brom, Fulham and Leeds substituted for Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth respectively). Yet, it’s hard not to feel a little deflated by where the club finds itself heading into four very difficult games in the run-up to Christmas, not least because of all the optimism engendered by that 100% five-match start to the campaign.

It would be unrealistic to expect Everton to still be top of the table at this stage of their development under Ancelotti, particularly given the suspension and injury troubles that have dogged them for much of the season so far, not least to key players like Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman. There is a feeling that Ancelotti’s first team can be a match for anyone but that, once a couple of key figures are lost, the squad’s lack of depth in quality is exposed.

At the same time, though, there is a burgeoning sense of disillusionment that Everton not only failed to beat any of Southampton, Newcastle, Leeds or Burnley – they lost three of those four, and on the back of pretty suspect performances. Added to the indignity of garnering a solitary point from the 12 available from those games were some worryingly questionable selection decisions from the manager.

The debate over the exclusion of Niels Nkounkou and Anthony Gordon is fodder for another column — their absence is troubling — but, even with important individuals missing, it was not unreasonable to expect this Everton squad to have gone up against poor sides like Newcastle and Burnley and played significantly better. Yet Ancelotti has obsessed over the defence and opted for experienced heads in unfamiliar roles while younger players more naturally suited to the positions in question have been completely overlooked. That conservatism translated into blunted attacking displays and, with the exception of the trip to Fulham, no wins.

Fabian Delph’s injury last weekend forced a move away from the increasingly dubious five-man back line formation at Burnley and saw Ben Godfrey perform admirably as an emergency left-back. It’s likely that the young centre-half will get the nod there over Nkounkou on Saturday in a more familiar 4-3-3 setup and, while he won’t provide the same width as the young Frenchman, the team as a whole will hopefully be more comfortable in that formation.

When that first-choice XI has been available, Everton’s quality has shone through and matters appear to take care of themselves on the pitch. When James Rodriguez was fresh on the scene, Coleman was raiding down the right, Digne was pinging crosses in from the left and Richarlison was generally making a nuisance of himself, you didn’t need to think much about how Ancelotti’s team play. They were quick in transition, could switch the play from one flank to the other with dizzying effect thanks to James’s passing range and were dangerous from set-pieces. Crucially, they could outscore their opponents in the early going.

Robbed of their overlapping full-backs, the Blues have struggled to consistently move the ball effectively and, for long periods in the defeat to Manchester United and in the draw at Burnley, they didn’t look like a passing team at all. Like Silva, Ancelotti has favoured playing out from the back with the centre-halves split either side of the penalty area but it’s a tactic that often leads up “blind alleys” and ends with Jordan Pickford lumping it long, the possession otherwise being turned over, sometimes in costly fashion.

Too often, the passing avenues open to the central defenders are restricted to the flanks — both Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré, despite their apparent roles as “water-carriers”, position themselves behind the press and are therefore unavailable and it makes Everton very easy to defend against. The best teams can work the ball through the lines, playing triangles and stretching teams with their movement but the current edition of Ancelotti’s Blues can be maddeningly static when in possession of the ball.

The lack of an out-ball from defence, with potential recipients like Allan and Doucouré either positioning themselves out of the passing lanes or too close to the opposition press, has been a feature of Everton's limited ability to consistently move the ball forward.

Is this something that will come in time as Ancelotti approaches his anniversary in charge… and how long will it take? Or is he waiting for the next transfer window, when he can add another quality piece to his puzzle? And what happens in the interim, against better teams who will be better equipped to punish Everton when moves break down?

These are the questions that will occupy Evertonians as the team faces arguably its toughest examination yet this season between now and the New Year. The three upcoming League games and the Festive season beyond comprise a run of six matches in 18 days to round out 2020 – during which time there will be 15 points on offer and the chance to take another step towards Wembley when the Carabao Cup resumes on the 21st.

It is a time of the season when teams can build up a significant head of steam and make strides up the table by putting together a run of good results. It’s hard to believe, based on Everton’s run since the derby, that it is they who will be catching fire and surging back into the national consciousness… but perhaps it just needs one uplifting performance and a stirring home win to get the confidence flowing again. Just like last year when Chelsea came to town…

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Reader Comments (20)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 10/12/2020 at 00:28:15
Lightning seldom strikes twice... in fact, with Everton, it's hardly struck at all just recently.

On form and with no one-off 'Dunc Factor', this, sadly, is Chelsea's game to lose.

The best we can hope for is some sort of result and a better all around performance that shows lessons, for both coach and players, are starting to be heeded and that all and sundry actually give a fuck.

Harry Williams
2 Posted 10/12/2020 at 00:51:31
Ancelotti and Ferguson are complete opposites in personality and playing style but hopefully they can sort it out; however, I just can't see Ancelotti getting the same results Ferguson got.

Last year against Chelsea, it was an unforgettable day for all Blues who were in that stadium. This time round, there's only 2,000 of us Toffees in the stadium; hopefully they will witness something similar to last year. COYB

Jay Harris
3 Posted 10/12/2020 at 04:15:03
I have this dreaded fear that the result will be closer to the 4-0 hammering at the end of the season than the 3-1 rally call at home.

On the other hand, the optimist in me says our luck and form has to change sometime and it's only 11 vs 11 and Chelsea were in Europe on Wednesday.

So come on, Blues, dig a win out from somewhere and let hope and faith take over from despair.

Darren Hind
5 Posted 10/12/2020 at 04:59:40
Another cracker, Lyndon.

One minor disagreement: while we all enjoyed the speed with which we came out of the traps (seven straight wins), I don't believe it was ever scintillating.

The win at Tottenham was fantastic and had many a Blue believing the three signings were going to be the answers to our prayers... but (Spurs game aside), there was always a hint of "all fur coat and no knickers" about us. If you take away the dismissals of the lower league teams, you have to remember that we were involved in a few games which could very easily have gone the other way, the scorelines flattered us.

The defeats have not been that much different to the victories. There are always periods in our games when you hope or fear the result will go either way. We rarely dominate and we are rarely dominated.

The real Slim Shady has stood up and he is an inconsistent motherfucker.

I think our two Columbian internationals epitomise what we are. Everytime you think the penny has finally dropped with big Yerry, he turns in a Weston. We all knew that we were getting a blindingly talented player when James arrived. Many thought landing a world class player on the cheap was simply too good to be true. That's because it was. We are now seeing the flip side, the reason there was no battle for his signature, even when it had become clear that both Bayern and Madrid decided he was surplus.

Ancelotti has not signed bad players, but ask Norwich fans about Godfrey. They will tell you he is top notch "On his day"...

And what about Doucouré? He has many Blues frustrated wondering when we will see the very best of him. Watford fans felt the same for years. They were still saying it about him as he packed his bags to come here.

Carlo inherited an appallingly inconsistent group of players, but all he has done is add a little more inconsistency – possibly a little harsh on the tackling machine.

I never look too far ahead but, having seen the up-coming fixtures laid out by Lyndon, I fully expect many a Blue to be watching them from behind the couch. Not me. I don't even trust this team to be bad. I won't concede a single point before these games are played.

Gareth Williams
6 Posted 10/12/2020 at 07:23:58
I can't see us beating Chelsea myself but I hope I am wrong. Our form since the derby game has gone right down hill. Let's hope Carlo can change things around.
Eddie Dunn
7 Posted 10/12/2020 at 10:07:17
These games are no more worrying than any other. On most occasions, a draw at Burnley would be seen as a good point and I am sure that they will finish midtable.

We have usually upped our game for the big boys and Arsenal are a strange outfit at present. Leicester have also had some off-days of late.

I also hope that a win on Saturday could rekindle our confidence and give us a much-needed fillip. With the fans in (even just 2,000), it will make a huge difference, then let's see what we can do.

Barry Rathbone
8 Posted 10/12/2020 at 11:06:46
" At some point, though, there needs to be some evidence of the manager's inspiration on his players."

And there is the issue many feared when he arrived.

Historically his success is via a plethora of quality players in quality squads; tub-thumping speeches in such circles would be seen as the behaviour of a heathen.

Furthermore, there is no evidence careerwise to suggest he can inspire a team to exceed the limitations of its component parts.

The fear Everton and Carlo were an incongruous match is being confirmed with every passing week.

Paul Richardson
9 Posted 10/12/2020 at 11:36:30
I agree that Ancelotti doesn't appear to have the spark that Big Dunc has... but, if that's the case, surely the partnership should work? For some games (vs Chelsea comes to mind rapidly), why does the manager not let his assistant give the before kick-off team talk?

Surely the best way forward (step up here, Marcel Brands) is to allow Carlo to coach and cajole in the build-up and then let Duncan loose 15 minutes before kick-off to add the fireworks?

Clive Rogers
10 Posted 10/12/2020 at 12:24:30
Our midfield is the big problem at the moment. It had been the back line, but there was a big improvement at Burnley with Mina playing better and Godfrey improving rapidly.

The midfield however is far too slow and don't chip in with goals or even assists. Allan has only scored 11 goals in his entire career and Gomes only 13. When was the last time Gomes put someone through for a goal?

At present, while Richarlison's goal touch is off, the manager's team talk must be keep tight on James and on Calvert-Lewin in the box.

Tom Bowers
11 Posted 10/12/2020 at 13:38:46
Nothing will surprise me these days.

I have seen so many disappointments when all buoyed up expecting a good run with a team that can be right up there with the best.

Whilst not expecting great early success under Carlo, I would have thought that, after a year, there may be signs of a new era emerging; after the first month of this season, we all could have been forgiven for thinking we had arrived.

Since then, it has been an almighty letdown… so why think the next bunch of games will be any different?

Carlo is no Svengali, that's obvious… and his success in the past throughout his career may be over.

We cannot point to the Richarlison suspension, or the absence of Seamus and Lucas. Everton had ample opportunity to have a deep squad available but it seems it still is quite weak.

The people we have on the bench don't seem to fit the bill and, in January, we all hope some more quality players can come in, especially in midfield where we are particularly wide open at times.

Chelsea are not that great and Everton can beat them but they need to match the workrate in midfield; otherwise, it will be another miserable day.

Patrick McFarlane
12 Posted 10/12/2020 at 14:23:48
I hope that Carlo realises that he's the fourth best-paid manager in the Premier League:

1. Pep £20M
2. Jose £15M
3. Guy with the beard and glasses and regular visitor to the dentist £15M
4. Carlo £11.5M
5. Brendan £10M
6. Bielsa £8M
7. OGS £7.5M
All the others: less than £6M

From that perspective, Everton FC and its fans are right to demand more from Carlo than we've seen so far. I appreciate that it will take time to reshape things and we will have blips in form from time to time, but we really should be seeing signs of life from Carlo's team and not some of the stuff we've seen in some games this season.

On another note, there are changes afoot to European competitions with the 'big six' set to be almost guaranteed a place in a revamped Champions League format, which will add more games to the competition (Jurgen will be pleased!), but will make it more difficult for clubs like Everton FC to access – there is no time to lose, Carlo.

Tony Everan
13 Posted 10/12/2020 at 18:41:43
I think the wingback experiments have to be now put on the (wing)back burner. Back to the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

Whatever formation or team we select we will have our work cut out big time on Saturday. Chelsea just have too much quality and energy.

I have been impressed with Ben Godfrey. Right-back, central defender, left-back and he's only been here a few weeks. The lad seems as honest as they come and he has done the club and his teammates proud.

A more stable organised team needs to be used through these matches. Coleman if fit, or Kenny needs to be played. Godfrey at left-back for now as he's more experienced and done relatively well. Even though I am desperate to see Nkounkou play, so either I just want to see a stable organised defence.

Siggurdson and Delph (when fit!) cannot be starting matches, that leaves Gomes or Tom.

Gomes is the slowest midfielder and suffers acute mobility issues. He maybe better of as the holding midfielder where he can just do his jog every now and then but play to his strengths at shielding the ball and passing out wide to James or Richarlison or over the top to Calvert-Lewin. Either side of him, Allan and Doucouré can be freed to attack with the ball a bit more.

Or forget the lot of them and try Holgate or Godfrey as the holding midfielder. They both have limited experience of the role, but the question is would they be worse than the slow static and 80% fit Gomes?

Can Mr Ancelotti motivate this team like Duncan did in this fixture last year? We live in hope.

Paul Swan
14 Posted 10/12/2020 at 20:00:52
The answer to the question is No.
Tony Abrahams
15 Posted 10/12/2020 at 20:08:04
Such irony in that last paragraph, Barry @8.
Tony Abrahams
16 Posted 11/12/2020 at 09:15:12
One thing looking at those pictures, Lyndon, is that you could at times, write this about any team, and also show pictures to back it up, like you've done there.

Everton's biggest problem is not when they have got the ball, it's when they haven't got the ball imo, and it's the reason why we are giving up way too many chances to the opposition.

Looking at that clip, I'd say we must have three players near the halfway line, so it's a 4 against 3 defensively for Burnley?

Our balance hasn't been right since Liverpool exposed our midfield; until we get proper pace at the back, we must surely go back to defending deep as a team.

Otherwise, the mixture, is totally wrong, because we have midfielders wanting to press, and defenders preferring to drop off, and the only thing being created is big holes for the opposition to exploit.

It looks obvious enough to me, and I'm not sure we can be so open when we haven't got the pace at the back.

Dave Abrahams
17 Posted 11/12/2020 at 09:50:17
Paul (9), yes you would think the combination of Carlo and Duncan would lift the team and inspire confidence all around.

Maybe it it is just me but, looking at the TV pictures of Carlo and Duncan during games, Carlo doesn't appear to take much notice of Duncan and it's always Duncan approaching Carlo, never the other way round. I'd like to know how much input Duncan has in his position as one of the coaches at Finch Farm?

Brian Harrison
18 Posted 11/12/2020 at 10:02:50

Why you have highlighted these 2 still frames as if they prove a point? If you took a picture of most teams having the ball at the back, this is what you would see.

The only exceptions would be Liverpool and Man City were most teams wouldn't dream of pressing these 2 sides so high up the pitch because the quality they have would tear the opposition apart if they pressed high.

Tony Abrahams
19 Posted 11/12/2020 at 10:20:59
I take the opposite view with regards to Liverpool, Brian. Maybe it's possible that this is why Liverpool play a lot of long balls because, if teams leave their front three against only one extra defender, then maybe they've got the players to exploit this type of situation.
Geoff Williams
20 Posted 11/12/2020 at 18:46:15
Paul beat me, NO is the simple answer
Rob Dolby
21 Posted 11/12/2020 at 20:50:14
If we can somehow manage to have half of the luck that we got against them in Duncan's first game then I don't see why we can't upset the odds.

Man for man they are on paper a much superior team but as we all know football isn't played on paper.

No Coleman, Digne or Rodriguez will show the strength of our squad.

I wouldn't mind seeing us revert to 2 up top now that Rodriguez is out.

Patrick #12 I hope our players don't realise that every one of them is on less money than all of the Chelsea team it might provide an inferiority complex.

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