If football has taught us anything, it’s no one is infallible. Carlo Ancelotti likely cost Everton a win at Anfield on Sunday.
I’m a little hesitant to put any football match in terms as simple as that — the outcome of any match is always the product of a number of complex factors, including a handful of missed chances in the first half. But this match featured such obvious managerial malpractice that it’s hard to put it any other way.
The main talking point of the match was clear from the moment the teams were announced. Ancelotti had, reasonably, fielded a full-strength side, while Jurgen Klopp sent out James Milner, Adam Lallana, Adrian, and a bunch of children.
No disrespect to the children, mind, who are a very talented bunch of lads. But they’re children.
I don’t know if Ancelotti expected this to happen, or if he was surprised by Klopp’s indifference toward the FA Cup — it doesn’t really matter in the end. I also don’t know what his tactical plan was before he saw the team sheet, or if it changed at all after lineups were announced.
I do, however, know two things.
- Despite the youth in his team, Klopp’s Liverpool came out playing the same high-pressing style that his first-team generally utilizes. If there’s one thing true of Jurgen Klopp, it’s that the man could teach a mailbox and a traffic cone to gegenpress.
- Everton’s counter to that was to play long, direct passes over the top from the start of the match — and for the most part, it worked. The young Liverpool defense lacked the pace, positioning, or both required to keep Theo Walcott, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison from creating chances on the break. This became even more true after James Milner departed with an injury.
If we’re being honest, Everton probably should have scored in the first half. Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison both failed to convert chances they’d score on more often than not, and Mason Holgate sent an absolutely free header from a set piece directly into the hands of an appreciative Adrian.
But the plan was working as intended. Ancelotti’s 5-3-2 / 4-4-2 hybrid was creating space for the attacking three to move freely in, while still providing the defensive solidity needed to keep a respectable attack that included Divock Origi and new signing Takumi Minamino at bay.
This is normally the time I’d show you graphics detailing Everton’s long-ball strategy to prove my point, but such data isn’t readily available from my usual sources for FA Cup matches (i.e., Everton’s website), so I’m just going to have to ask you to trust me and what your eyes told you watching this match.
The halftime whistle came, with Everton outpossessed pretty handily in the first half, but easily the team with the better scoring chances. Another half like the first, and the Toffees would be the obvious favorites to go on and get a hallowed victory at Anfield for the first time in 20 years.
Except that isn’t what happened.
For whatever reason, Everton came out in the second half and completely eschewed what had worked for them in the first half. Gone were the long balls to Walcott, Richarlison, and Calvert-Lewin, replaced by quick spells of short passing between the defenders and midfielders.
In the face of a team managed by a man synonymous with a high-pressing style, Carlo Ancelotti decided he needed his team to play out of the back through the core of Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Predictably, it was a shitshow.
The fresh-legged Liverpool youngsters forced turnover after turnover from the overwhelmed Everton players, and finally, in the 71st minute, Curtis Jones made the Toffees pay for their sloppy play out of the back with an absolutely outstanding goal. Credit to Jones and the Liverpool youth players for taking advantage of what was given to them, but Ancelotti made life extremely easy on the young Reds.
There’s just no reason for Everton to have made such a drastic tactical change at the break, and there’s really only one cause I can point to as a possible explanation — Carlo Ancelotti’s pride.
The Italian manager must have felt that his senior team should be able to pass their way through the Liverpool kids, and altered his team’s tactics as such for the second half of the derby. I too would like that to be true, Carlo, but within about five minutes it became very clear that it wasn’t the case.
And yet, his team persisted with that strategy for the full second half — despite the fact that they only created chances on the few occasions the defenders simply kicked the ball long for the attackers to chase it. The Toffees couldn’t even create meaningful chances via short passes — a problem that is worrying on its own, but could have easily been avoided on the day by simply reverting to the tactics of the first half.
But Everton’s new, big-name manager evidently didn’t see it that way, and he got utterly thrashed by the superior manager across Stanley Park. This Everton team simply isn’t talented or coherent enough to make plays based on its manager’s pride, and on Sunday, that pierced a knife through the heart of every Everton supporter.