Ahead of Everton’s first game since March in the Merseyside derby on June 21, we’re recapping how the Blues have fared in each area of the pitch in what’s been a pretty trying season, for the most part.
Today we look at the coaching side of things, which in true Everton style, has been far from dull.
Where we are now
Carlo Ancelotti said “everything was wrong” with Everton’s last performance at Chelsea before the coronavirus lockdown. So if you are desperately searching for positives as we embark on the most curious return to Premier League action, it’s that the only way is up.
I admit I am being a touch disingenuous given the Toffees’ display at Stamford Bridge was comfortably their worst under the Italian and a general outlier compared to what we have witnessed since December.
Ancelotti had quietly revived Everton’s fortunes after a dire first half of the season brought yet another Goodison managerial change. He is known for his light-touch approach, so it is no surprise he opted against making sweeping changes following his arrival at the end of last year. He switched formation back to his tried and tested 4-4-2, which has brought the best out of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who both benefited from having a strike partner alongside him. Calvert-Lewin was believed to be on the brink of an England call-up before the shutdown.
Unfortunately, the legacy of a muddled transfer policy and a conveyor belt of managers with competing styles means the rest of the team remains in flux.
Ancelotti’s good, but not THAT good.
These final nine games will likely be the last chance for some players to prove themselves before yet another summer of upheaval, even if the impact of coronavirus limits transfer spend.
The team lacks a right winger, is short of quality in centre of midfield and, after a summer spent trying and failing to sign Kurt Zouma, have just three senior centre backs (currently just two, with Yerry Mina set to miss the restart through injury).
But how did we get to this place?
Let’s go back nine months (if you dare)…
Silva on the slide
Marco Silva’s undulating first season in charge of the Toffees had ended on a high, with a run of just two defeats from their final 11 games featuring wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and, most memorably, Manchester United.
As a result, optimism was once again high going into the 2019-20 campaign, with most Blues hoping that the ideas Silva was looking to impose on his side had finally ‘clicked’. Sadly, this proved to be yet another false dawn as familiar failings reared their ugly head once more.
The warning signs were there following a limp 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in August, when a victory in the Friday night game would have briefly put the Toffees top. Though they deserved to lose, Everton could point to misfortune when Alex Iwobi’s low shot came off the inside of the post late on with the score at 1-0, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed a sitter in the first half with the game goalless. That combination of poor finishing, bad luck and sloppy defending would characterise the dying embers of the Silva era.
They were a defensive shambles in a 3-1 defeat at Bournemouth, while Sheffield United only had one shot on target in a 2-0 victory at Goodison the following week (their first goal was a Mina OG, in case you’d forgotten).
A grim 1-0 defeat at Burnley made it four successive league defeats and left Silva on the brink. Most clubs would have pulled the trigger then, but the Toffees board were desperate for Silva to succeed given the turbulence of recent years. A battling 2-0 win over West Ham gave him some more breathing space, but their VAR-induced horror show at Brighton the following week piled on the pressure once more.
The final straw for many was the miserable 2-0 home defeat by Norwich, a performance which displayed all the classic symptoms of a manager out of ideas and inspiration. In hindsight Silva could - and perhaps should - have gone then, but he clung on for yet another cruel last-minute defeat, this time at Leicester, before Liverpool delivered the final devastating blow at Anfield. The 5-2 defeat left Everton in the relegation zone with league games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to follow.
Only one man could save us….
Dunc to the rescue
It was hard not to feel sorry for Marco Silva in the 24 hours after the Liverpool defeat. Everyone knew has fate was sealed, but it wasn’t until late the following evening that the announcement of his dismissal was made. At the same time it was confirmed Duncan Ferguson would take temporary charge of the weekend game against Chelsea.
Ferguson is a hero among Evertonians, particularly those, like me, who grew up watching him from the stands. But Ferguson the manager? It was a heart over head decision, but one that paid off emphatically.
The 3-1 win against Chelsea was one of the most memorable Goodison afternoons in a long while. All the raw energy and passion that characterised Ferguson as a player was projected onto the current generation, as they snapped and snarled at Chelsea ankles, the Dogs of War revisited.
A battling draw at Manchester United followed, before a Leighton Baines howitzer against Leicester sent their Carabao Cup quarter-final to penalties, which would ultimately end in heartbreak.
By the time Arsenal arrived to play out a dour goalless draw at Goodison the following Saturday Silva’s permanent successor had already been confirmed.
Carlo steadies the ship
Even now, Evertonians have to pinch themselves when they see Carlo Ancelotti as their manager.
In the days following Silva’s sacking we were told such an illustrious coach was beyond our reach, we should just get back into our box and accept David Moyes as the best we could hope for.
At 61, Ancelotti is not the young up-and-coming coach we were told formed part of the long-term plan. But when someone of his stature becomes available, you don’t say no.
Ancelotti’s impact was immediate, with back-to-back wins over Burnley and Newcastle during the festive period. Defeats to Manchester City and, inevitably and painfully, Liverpool (reserves) followed, but a five game unbeaten run after that lifted Everton up to seventh and within a real shout of Europe.
It was with a sense of inevitably then that the Toffees would stumble away at one of the ‘big six’ the following week, though they were a touch unfortunate not to claim a point at Arsenal. They were also left to rue VAR against Manchester United, which saw a late winner chalked off.
Which brings us back to the Chelsea game, a comprehensive 4-0 hammering that sunk Everton back into mid table and needing an impressive string of results in the restart to secure European football.
Strap yourselves in...