Everton’s season promised so much. And then it didn’t. And then they somehow got one of the great European coaches…
Best player: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The coronavirus outbreak came at just the wrong time for Liverpool, but across Stanley Park, Calvert-Lewin is also cursing his luck. Prior to the pandemic, the Everton centre-forward was playing his way into the England senior squad for Euro 2020 while earning himself a fat new contract to fend off reported interest from Manchester United.
Calvert-Lewin has perhaps benefited more than any team-mate from the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti. The new manager saw something in the 23-year-old even before he took over at Goodison Park, with Ancelotti admitting he pursued the centre-forward while he was in charge at Napoli. Back then, with Marco Silva in charge and perhaps even before the Portuguese’s reign, Everton would have probably been willing to talk terms. It is to Calvert-Lewin’s credit that he grafted through the doubts, becoming the second-highest scorer currently available to Gareth Southgate.
The bulk of those goals have come on Ancelotti’s watch after the Italian immediately instructed the Toffees to play up to Calvert-Lewin and service him in the box with quality from wide positions. Calvert-Lewin has notched 13 Premier League goals this season, with eight coming since Ancelotti took over 11 games ago.
Biggest disappointment: Moise Kean
It’s fortunate that Calvert-Lewin has stepped up since Kean has been such a crushing disappointment since joining Everton in the summer.
The Juventus striker joined the Toffees in a deal which might have reached £27million but that seems unlikely if any of the additional payments are dependent upon his productivity. Kean has netted just a single goal in 26 appearances, though only seven of those have come as a starter while Silva and Ancelotti remained unconvinced by the teenager.
It’s gone so horribly wrong for Kean that his dad branded the move ‘a mistake’ in November, which came before the youngster was subbed as a substitute at Old Trafford. Since then, Calvert-Lewin’s partnership with Richarlison has gone from strength to strength, with both forwards in double figures for the season so far. Richarlison floats; Calvert-Lewin plays down the middle; Kean watches from the bench.
Without either Richarlison or Calvert-Lewin leaving Goodison Park, it is hard to see how Kean will get the game time he so clearly needs to adapt to English football.
Best performance: Everton 3-1 Chelsea
As if Everton’s players hadn’t made Silva look bad enough already, they compounded the ex-manager’s misery by turning it on a few days after he was sacked, with Chelsea falling victim to the new spring in the Toffees’ step.
Duncan Ferguson eked as much as he could from the new manager bounce by pushing his players from the sideline with the kind of enthusiasm Silva struggled to muster. He reinforced his cult status with the home supporters by charging off down the touchline after Richarlison headed Everton in front and celebrated with a ball-boy after Calvert-Lewin added to their advantage.
Silva’s Everton might have folded after Matteo Kovacic halved the deficit but instead, it was Calvert-Lewin who calmed the nerves to add a third and haul Everton out of the bottom three.
It is too easy to simply accuse Premier League players of not putting a shift in when things are going wrong but with Ferguson’s boot up their arse, the difference was tangible.
Did Duncan Ferguson make a difference? Everton made 37 tackles against Chelsea. That’s the most by any team in the Premier League this season and the most that Everton have made in a Premier League game all decade.
— Adam Bate (@ghostgoal) December 7, 2019
Worst performance: Liverpool 1-0 Everton
Few grounds do angry quite like Goodison Park but the Evertonians were forced to take their ire to Finch Farm in the wake of their embarrassing FA Cup exit to Liverpool’s reserves in January.
Everton supporters had not seen their team win a derby at Anfield since 1999, a period which took in 13 defeats and 10 draws. Jurgen Klopp offered the Toffees a golden opportunity to end two decades of hurt by naming a second-string XI amid the Reds’ fixture pile-up around the New Year, but the visitors were too gutless to grab it.
Ancelotti, in contrast, picked the strongest XI available to him and what unfolded served as a reminder of how great the task facing the new manager really was.
“I am going to speak to each player and tell them that was not good enough,” he said. “Honestly in the second half we were not good enough.”
Others went further. Dominic King, writing in the Daily Mail, summed up the feelings of Evertonians rather more accurately: ‘This wasn’t a derby defeat. This was surrender, an affront to everything Everton as a club represents. They may have suffered heavier losses numerically at this stadium in the past 21 years but never before have they given up so pathetically and feebly.’
Biggest VAR moment: Calvert-Lewin’s ‘winner’ disallowed against United
Instead of languishing in 12th place, Everton still feel aggrieved they they aren’t sitting *checks notes* slightly better off in 12th place after VAR deprived them of a last-gasp victory over United at Goodison Park at the start of the month.
Chris Kavanagh initially allowed Calvert-Lewin’s goal to stand, sparking jubilation at Goodison Park. But Harry Maguire and David De Gea immediately drew to the official’s attention the presence of Gylfi Sigurdsson sat on the floor in front of the United goalkeeper.
Sigurdsson wasn’t blocking the Spaniard’s line of sight but he did pull his legs out of the path of the ball, making “an obvious action that impacted De Gea’s ability to make a save”, according to the Premier League.
It was the correct call, but Ancelotti was not having it. He stormed the pitch moments later after the final whistle and received a red card for his protests to the officials.
Dick move: Fabian Delph retaliating on Instagram
You can’t blame footballers for fighting back against some of the abuse they receive on social media, but Delph should have learned by now to pick his fights. Calling one Everton fan a ‘disgrace’ and a ‘gobsh*te’ and another ‘a delusional little boy’ was not the smartest move after he was part of the side which surrendered so meekly to Liverpool’s kids in the FA Cup.
“I spoke with him and said it was a mistake,” said Ancelotti, taking the sting out of the issue like only he can. “He should not have reacted like this.
“After the game everyone was frustrated and sometimes you can react emotionally. Of course that is not good, but I think everyone can understand.”
Delph did himself few favours again with the Everton fans three weeks later by getting himself needlessly sent off at Watford, though luckily for him, his indiscretion did not cost the Toffees.
10. After the game, many of the poorer performers receive criticism from fans on social media. Fabian Delph, signed in the summer to be an experienced leader, gets into a spat with one fan on Instagram. Manager Carlo Ancelotti says the midfielder made a mistake. pic.twitter.com/jUVQUZ2Y9Q
— Matt Desai (@MatthewDesai) January 22, 2020
Did their recruitment work?
They’re 12th, so no.
The Everton brains trust last summer signed Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Delph permanently; Andre Gomes had his loan move turned into a long-term arrangement while Djibril Sidibe arrived on loan. Plenty of savvy business there, it seemed…
Kean and Iwobi have contributed two goals; Gbamin has managed just a game and a half because of injury; Gomes too has suffered terrible injury misfortune; Delph has been inconsistent in form and availability; Sidibe is the only bright spot in a bleak summer of recruitment.
In January, when it was clear Everton needed more, it seems they opted to hold fire and save their ammunition for this coming summer. And there is little doubt that the Toffees have the cash, but FFP means they can’t go balls out to chase Ancelotti’s stated aim of Champions League football.
Manager’s job security:
Ancelotti has had half a season to get his feet under the table at Everton and the lack of January signings makes this still Silva’s side. So he has had the luxury of time to assess what needs to be done. Which, as he has learned, is a sh*t load.
The Toffees were punching somewhat when they teased Ancelotti, a serial winner, back to the Premier League and there is perhaps no manager outside Liverpool more secure and snug in his seat right now. But, as Ancelotti knows when money is spent, as is expected from Everton this summer, that patience doesn’t last for long.
If the season wasn’t to restart, a 12th-placed finish would probably suit Ancelotti. Even if the transfer window was somehow cancelled too, you would back the Italian to get even this group further up the table. But should they get most of the names he will already have identified, then they will be expected to be pushing for the top six.
In the meantime, he has a year’s grace, but plenty of work to do.
What they need in the summer:
For a start, to do better than last summer.
A centre-back must be their priority. Silva needed one last year but the Toffees waited too long for Kurt Zouma only to be custard pied by Chelsea when it was too late to look elsewhere. Waiting for Zouma was forgivable; not having a back-up plan was not.
There has been talk of Everton looking for a goalkeeper, with Gianluigi Donnarumma being linked. Which is a) solely on the basis of him being Italian and Everton having dealt with cuddly Mino before, and b) mental. They will need a competent number two capable of pressuring Jordan Pickford into maintaining some form, but an Italy No.1 looking for a massive pay day is not their guy.
Ancelotti has an abundance of central midfielders yet still looks light. The new boss would dearly love to sign his own string-puller while Brands has already admitted that he will be looking for a right winger, probably a left-sided one.
Then, should Kean return to Italy, Ancelotti needs a striker capable of partnering or standing in for Calvert-Lewin.
So in short, Everton need a new spine. Get cracking, Marcel.
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