Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure as Everton manager is set to begin with a baptism by fire.
The Italian has a short week to prepare his new club for a Boxing Day fixture against Burnley, after which the Toffees will head out to face both Newcastle United and Manchester City away from home. The ridiculousness of the holiday period in the Premier League catches me by surprise every season, but none more than this one.
What does that mean for Thursday’s home match against Burnley? It’s tough to say at this point.
Tactics and Formation
If there’s one thing that has characterized Carlo’s tactical preferences throughout his career, it’s that he doesn’t necessarily have one preferred system the way that many big managers do. He’s relatively open to simply accepting the style of play that suits his current players, at least until he’s had a chance to bring in some players of his own.
Ancelotti’s preferences are one component to consider heading into this match — Everton’s opponent is the other. Burnley have made their place in the Premier League on the back of being the premier bunker-and-counter club of the bottom half of the table. Sean Dyche’s side owns just 42.8% possession (second-lowest) this season and completes a league-worst 67.9% of its passes.
For Everton, that means a need for a system capable of breaking down a deep-lying opponent, while being prepared to handle long balls over the top. I’d guess that means a move away from Duncan Ferguson’s 4-4-2, which lacked creativity that wasn’t generated through transition, and back into a more familiar 4-2-3-1.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Lucas Digne - 10/10
Yerry Mina - 10/10
Amidst so much chaos at the club this season, Mina has continued his quiet excellence. He’s rarely been at fault for goals conceded, been solid in his distribution, and been one of the few overall reliable players at Everton. Now if he could just remember how to score on headers...
Mason Holgate - 10/10
Burnley pose an attacking threat primarily via the counter-attack and set pieces. Holgate’s pace makes him better equipped to handle counters, and Michael Keane’s last start saw him fall asleep on Jonny Evans’ set piece goal for Leicester City. It’s hard to see any way Holgate doesn’t start over Keane.
Djibril Sidibe - 10/10
Fabian Delph - 10/10
Delph was quiet, but decent in his return to the starting lineup over the weekend. His calming presence in the midfield was a welcome sight after both he and Morgan Schneiderlin missed the last few matches. The Frenchman is out for a couple more games, so I’d expect Delph to start again.
Tom Davies - 10/10
Bernard - 8/10
Alex Iwobi is injured, so Bernard is the obvious choice on the left of midfield.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - 7/10
Before his illness, Sigurdsson was another object of frequent scorn — but by the time he got back, it’d been so long since we’d seen a player other than Davies who had any idea how to play central midfield that Everton supporters collectively seem to have dropped the whole thing for now.
I know pockets of supporters would still rather see Iwobi at the No. 10 that Sigurdsson, but I think Ancelotti will want to give his most proven (in the long term, anyway) creator a chance at his natural position before trying other options. I’m interested to see if finally away from Marco Silva’s width-focused attack, Sigurdsson can regularly influence matches.
Richarlison - 10/10
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6/10
As has been the case for much of the season, any of Richarlison, Cenk Tosun, Moise Kean, or Dominic Calvert-Lewin could start up top without really surprising me. I’ll pick Dom simply because he’s been in the best form and has the most goals from the central striker position this season, but his struggles against teams that play the way Burnley does have been well-documented.
It’s been over two decades since Carlo Ancelotti managed a squad with as little talent as the current Everton setup has. Part of that is due to injury, while part is due to the fact that Carlo has managed a lot of incredibly talented teams.
This fact, as well as the fact that Duncan Ferguson did pretty damn well with an even more limited group, sets the Italian up for a fascinating debut. Just how much can he get out of Everton?