We continue our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. Next up: the manager, Carlo Ancelotti
After the flawed Marco Silva era left egg squarely on Farhad Moshiri’s face, Everton’s majority shareholder turned to one of football’s most prestigious and decorated managers to try and awaken this sleeping giant.
Carlo Ancelotti was eventually appointed 16 days after Silva’s sacking in December, and 11 after his own departure from Napoli, by which time a skittish, heart-on-sleeve Duncan Ferguson had already led his own revival as caretaker boss to steer a bruised, fragile Everton out of the bottom three.
A dismal FA Cup defeat to an under-strength Liverpool aside, the early signs under Ancelotti were promising, and a particularly fruitful honeymoon period meant any relegation fears were allayed by early 2020.
As the gruelling 11-month season wore on, though, Everton slowly reverted to type, and plodded along to the end of a campaign which saw them record a league finish of 12th, the lowest since 2003-04. Not much of the blame, if any at all, can be put on Ancelotti, but he knows now just what a mess he must swiftly clean up.
Though it was terribly depressing season, Everton’s 12th-placed finish is still an improvement on where they were when Silva departed, and when they kicked off their first game under Ancelotti at home to Burnley on Boxing Day.
For that, the Italian deserves a hefty amount of credit. Though not always the case, Everton at least often looked a more solid unit under him than under Silva, and showed greater mental resilience at times, too. The 3-2 win at Watford in February having been 2-0 down, for instance, marked the first comeback victory under Ancelotti just six weeks into his reign - Silva never managed one of these in the league in his year-and-a-half in charge.
Underlying numbers suggest the Ancelotti era has offered little improvement, but I think this suggests a lot more about the quality of the squad.— Jœl (@Joelissimmo) August 2, 2020
The fact our xG has improved, whilst our midfield has got a lot worse, is a good sign for the DCL + Richarlison combination. pic.twitter.com/Wz59atik2D
To pick up four wins on the road from his ten away league matches is also a decent if hardly remarkable improvement - Everton had just one of these to their name by the time he arrived and only five in the entirety of 2018-19.
But major frailties remain. The Blues’ top six mental block has not yet been erased - see defeats at Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea under Ancelotti - while a handful of performances (Chelsea, Spurs and Wolves away, Southampton and Bournemouth at home) smacked of Ancelotti’s side simply phoning it in. The less said about the capitulation at home to Newcastle, meanwhile, the better.
There have been numerous strides forward, but much work is still to be done.
Rather than opting for a radical overhaul, Ancelotti mostly picked up where Ferguson left off, usually plumping for the Scot’s preferred 4-4-2 led by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, who ended the season with 15 goals each.
The football has not been sparkling under the Italian, but with the squad he inherited, it was never likely to be. Rather, it has been effective, played to the strengths of the likes of Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina and that talismanic front two.
Tactical tweaks in July’s win over Leicester and draw with Southampton, both involving changing to a back three, struck as a more proactive, forward-thinking manager who knew how best to approach different types of matches.
And when you’re trying to win matches with a team whose midfield is invariably bypassed by whatever opposition it faces, it’s doubly hard to do so.
It would be hard enough to gauge what a successful 2020-21 would look like for Ancelotti without the added complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As it is, Everton are in a race against time to be well-prepared for the new season.
What’s clear, though, is that not too many of these players should be coming with him. The Italian talked of ‘evolution’ rather than revolution, which is understandable given it would be impossible to gel an entirely new side in these time constraints, but now is the time for him to put his own imprint on the team.
After all, if a man with almost as many trophies in his managerial career as Everton in the club’s history cannot break the vicious cycle, who else can?
Ancelotti’s reign has not been without its flaws - persistence with an over-the-hill Gylfi Sigurdsson and an overworked André Gomes have been jarring, if perhaps necessary evils - but it has been a marked improvement on what came before.
In truth, it was commendable how quickly he steered such a supine side clear of relegation trouble following his arrival, and it’s difficult to lump much of the blame for another dismal season on his shoulders.