From languishing in the bottom half last Christmas to sitting pretty in the top four the next, it’s been some first 12 months at Everton for Carlo Ancelotti. Even if Wednesday’s EFL Cup defeat to Manchester United soured the anniversary celebrations, we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
The Italian has presided over a fantastic turnaround at Goodison Park since his appointment last December, markedly improving Everton’s away form, their threat from set-pieces, and a number of individual players, too.
But which five have been the best so far in the Italian’s reign?
*NOTE: Only including players who have been at Everton for the duration of Ancelotti’s reign so far
5) Michael Keane
What a peculiar Everton career Michael Keane has had. Following the centre-half’s £25 million move from Burnley in July 2017, he endured a torrid first season, then an excellent second year under Marco Silva, then lost his way again for much of last year.
Indeed, it was only really once Silva departed 12 months ago that Keane began to show any signs of form again, and having been in and out of the side at times under Ancelotti last term, he has played (nearly) everyminute of Everton’s 2020-21 campaign so far.
In the recent wins over Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal, Keane has really come into his own, as he booted, blocked and cleared every ball in sight - indeed, it was no coincidence that Everton’s only conceded goal in this run came from a penalty.
And he’s started to become more of a goal threat at the other end, having already notched three from set-plays this term, which is already a better return than in his three other Everton campaigns.
Clearly a confidence player, it’s a testament to what excellent man-management skills Ancelotti has that he’s sparked a renaissance in Keane.
4) Mason Holgate
Though he’s played fewer games under Ancelotti than Keane due to injury, Holgate has to rank above his defensive colleague because of how much more surprising his form has been under the Italian.
In truth, Holgate has never really looked back since Silva gave him a chance in the starting XI at Brighton last October, but is another who has really kicked on under the Italian’s tutelage.
Since Ancelotti arrived, Holgate has played as a centre-back, defensive midfielder and most recently at right-back and excelled in all of these positions - and the 24-year-old was also handed his debut as Everton captain in last month’s defeat to Leeds.
A calming figure at the back but also a more vocal presence, Holgate is certainly a viable future candidate to take the armband permanently at some point. To go from fourth-choice centre-back to a mainstay in Ancelotti’s defence in little more than 18 months is some feat.
3) Lucas Digne
Though the assists column wouldn’t have suggested it, there was just a feeling that Lucas Digne was another player whose form waned towards the tail-end of Silva’s reign - then again, he set the standard so high for himself in his maiden Merseyside season.
But under Ancelotti, the Frenchman has come on strong again, notching four assists in eight league games this term, with four of his seven in the Premier League last season coming after the Italian’s appointment.
An irreplaceable component of Everton’s attack, the left-back’s dovetailing with Richarlison down the flank is being dearly missed as he continues recovering from his ankle ligament injury - even if Everton have found a way to win four consecutive games in his absence.
Here’s hoping he signs that new contract he’ll reportedly be offered soon by the club, because up until his injury, Digne had been an integral part of Everton’s early-season success.
He may have struggled for many goals lately, but there’s no doubting what a talismanic figure Richarlison is for Everton under Ancelotti.
A deadly dribbler, devastating in the air and an impressive finisher (usually), there are so many facets to Richarlison’s game which will only improve with Ancelotti’s guidance as the 23-year-old’s career progresses.
Plus, Ancelotti has made Richarlison a more versatile player - sure, he had played up front previously under Silva, but not quite with the same level of productivity. And while it may not be the left-winger’s natural habitat, the partnership he struck up front with Dominic Calvert-Lewin certainly reaped rewards, as the pair ended on 15 goals apiece for 2019-20.
And if nothing else, the fact remains that, in the nine league games Richarlison has missed since he moved to Goodison in July 2018, Everton won just the last one of them in his absence. Which, for as much as occasional selfishness or moodiness can infuriate, should underline what an important player this precocious talent is to Ancelotti.
1) Dominic Calvert-Lewin
No prizes for guessing who’s number one, though - Ancelotti admitted himself last week that Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been the most improved Everton player on his watch.
Unfairly hung out to dry under previous managers, Calvert-Lewin often looked as though his technical attributes would not match his physical merits - indeed, for a while, it felt he could do everything but score, which is a quite important thing for a striker to be able to do.
But having netted just nine times in 48 games under Silva, Everton’s number nine has 22 goals in 39 appearances since the arrival of Ancelotti, who has moulded Calvert-Lewin into a real all-round centre-forward.
He’s also made his England debut - and broken his international scoring duck - in the last year, while his work rate, hold-up play and aerial ability continues to be faultless. By some distance, Calvert-Lewin is the biggest success story of the Ancelotti era at Everton so far.