Carlo Ancelotti could never quite engineer a Chelsea win in their sixth clashes with Everton during his two years at Stamford Bridge. He probably should have, so superior were the 2009-10 Premier League and FA Cup winners to David Moyes’ shoestring side. Sadly, Louis Saha, Leighton Baines, Phil Neville and Jermaine Beckford had other ideas.
Alas, on Sunday it proved seven and out for Ancelotti, now in the opposing dugout in SW6. But then again, what better way for Chelsea to welcome back one of their most revered managers than this merciless, free-scoring thumping so reminiscent of the Italian’s Chelsea sides in their pomp? And what better way for Everton to remind him of the gravity of his current job than this pitiful, if inevitable, reversion to type?
In truth, the only real surprise is that it’s taken the Italian almost three months to be force-fed 90 unedifying minutes of quintessential Everton. Compared to this 4-0 drubbing, January’s dismal FA Cup defeat to Liverpool’s also-rans and teenagers was just the taster, the free trial. Now, Ancelotti must feel like a fully-fledged member. Strap in, Carlo - you only signed up for another four-and-a-half years more of this.
Of course, the belief among the Everton hierarchy is that a manager of Ancelotti’s calibre can finally buck this trend and make chastening afternoons, all too frequent in recent years, a thing of the past. Supporters evidently back him too; for the first time since Roberto Martínez’s thrilling first season, odes to the Everton manager are a permanent fixture in the matchday setlist. And well they might, given his glistening CV, charming persona and dashing coat. But even he can only take such a dysfunctional mishmash, with which he is saddled until May, so far. There may not be four-and-a-half years more of days like this for Evertonians, but even with Ancelotti, there could still be at least another two months’ worth.
Truly, all of Everton’s bad habits came to the fore here, ticked off one by one like squares on a bingo card. Shrinking at a ground of a top six side? Check. Djibril Sidibé’s chronic lack of spatial awareness? Check. Michael Keane turning slower than the QE2? Check. Gylfi Sigurðsson offering absolutely zero both defensively and offensively? Check. A permeable midfield, not fit for purpose, overran time and again? Make that a full house. Indeed, if there is to be any saving grace from this debacle, it’s that all of these deficiencies, the hallmarks of many an Everton side for the best part of the last decade, arrived virtually at once, and so soon into Ancelotti’s reign. At least now, he can survey the wreckage before really nipping this in the bud at the earliest opportunity.
Above all else, this performance, or lack thereof, should reiterate to Ancelotti that he and the club cannot afford to be redemptive. Yes, they’ll have to soldier on for nine more games, but then there’s a bevy of repeat offenders who need hurling out of the last chance saloon, so far beyond the point of no return they have already plunged. Sigurðsson, whose legs have simply given way, serves no purpose anymore to Everton, as his grand total of zero tackles and interceptions on Sunday attested. Indeed, the only thing he is accelerating now is surely an overdue Goodison departure.
To name a few, Keane, Sidibé, Theo Walcott, Morgan Schneiderlin and, regrettably, Tom Davies, disturbingly out of his depth on Sunday, should follow. You even wonder whether star turns like Lucas Digne, whose fall from grace this campaign has been as saddening as it is unfathomable, will leave if a fair offer is tabled. Hastily recalled at the expense of the faultless Leighton Baines, the Frenchman’s lack of both form and fitness together mean he does not justify a place in the starting XI currently. He should not be actively put up for sale like the aforementioned others, nor is he anywhere near the forefront of Everton’s biggest woes. But, ultimately, every player has his price.
There are hints at real potential beneath the rubble; namely the partnerships between Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina in defence and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison in attack. Moise Kean, though the living embodiment of a rough diamond for now, will only improve with more game time. André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, who only rises higher in Evertonian estimations with every game he misses, will hopefully provide a far more durable midfield next season. The likes of Anthony Gordon and Lewis Gibson show great promise. Ancelotti cannot risk all of this being undermined by allowing age-old cancers to fester into his first full campaign at the helm.
The irony in all of this is that, for such an embarrassingly brittle team lacking any semblance of mental fortitude when the heat cranks up, Everton have been curiously resistant under Ancelotti’s predecessors. Rather than allowing any of these managers to bend them, they have broken each and every one of them blow by blow. It doesn’t take Ancelotti’s managerial expertise to identify the issues besetting Everton; that much is obvious to even a footballing layman. But it will take every last drop of it to resolve them adequately and halt this ghastly vicious cycle.