After a perfect start to the Premier League season, Everton hope to maintain that momentum with victory in their Carabao Cup second round clash with Salford City at Goodison on Wednesday.
The Toffees were superb against Tottenham on Sunday, with the only disappointment the fact they did not score more than the one goal.
James Rodriguez captured the headlines with a sparkling display, but Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure were equally superb as Everton looked a side transformed from the one that limped to defeat against the same opposition just two months ago.
Tony Cottee’s hat-trick in 1988 is arguably the greatest Everton debut of recent times, but rarely have I seen three players dovetail so perfectly into the side on their first Toffees appearance than on Sunday.
It has understandably sent expectations soaring, and why not. It has been a tough few years for Evertonians so it’s about time we had something to get excited about.
A European challenge is a clear priority, but that long trophy drought, now certain to tick over into a 26th year, is also a pressing concern.
With no European football to contend with, there is no reason why Everton cannot (and I sound like a broken record here) have a real go at the cups.
And if Carlo can finally end that long wait for a trophy, you may as well commission that statue now.
Wednesday’s match will be Everton’s first ever meeting with Salford City, becoming the Toffees’ 151st opponent in a competitive match.
The Ammies have enjoyed a fairytale rise up the divisions in recent years. Though they were formed 80 years ago (as Salford Central) the club has spent the majority of its history in the lower reaches of the English football pyramid. But that all changed in 2014 when the club was taken over by five members of Manchester United’s ‘Class of ’92’ - Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, former Everton captain Phil Neville and Paul Scholes.
They promised significant investment with the aim of playing Championship football within 15 years. They also changed the playing strip from tangerine to red, white and black (a move that angered some hardcore supporters) re-designed the badge and rebuilt the stadium.
Further financial clout was secured shortly after when billionaire Peter Lim, owner of Valencia, bought a 50% stake. David Beckham then joined the party in January 2019, buying 10% of Lim’s stake.
At the time of the takeover Salford were playing in the Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football. But backed by that fresh investment they soon rose up the divisions, going fully professional in 2017.
They earned four promotions in five years to reach the Football League in 2019, finishing 11th in League Two last season, with the final standings decided on a points-per-game basis.
They are managed by former Preston and Burnley midfielder Graham Alexander, who took over in 2018.
Wednesday’s game will see a return to Goodison Park for midfielder Darron Gibson, who made 69 appearances for the Toffees between 2012 and 2017.
Salford beat Championship side Rotherham on penalties in their first game of the season to reach this stage, before being thrashed 6-0 by Manchester United U21s in the EFL Trophy. They began their League Two campaign with a 2-2 draw at home to Exeter on Saturday.
With owners as ambitious as theirs, you can guarantee Salford will not arrive on Merseyside just to make up the numbers.
Everton have no fresh injury concerns from Sunday’s win, though Ancelotti may seek to rotate his squad as he looks to build up their match fitness.
The likes of Jonjoe Kenny, Theo Walcott, Moise Kean, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Davies could be handed starts.
Jarrad Branthwaite and Lewis Gibson could also be called upon, though they are also rumoured to be under consideration for a loan move, so their potential selection or non-selection may be significant.
What they said
Salford manager Graham Alexander: “It’s a massive tie in the size of the club we’re going to play, the venue, the history of Everton is so famous and prestigious, so from that point of view it’s a great tie for us because there’s absolutely zero pressure on us and the players to go there and win because the gap in the level that they play at compared to us is massive.
“But we’ve got to go there and enjoy ourselves, and actually hold our heads high, show pride in our work, show that we are good players and that we are a good team.
“That’s the thing about this game, I know there’s no pressure on us but I know that in ourselves we put pressure on ourselves to perform well all of the time including in training and any game we play, so from that side of it the players have got nothing to lose except to go out there and show what good footballers they are.”
Everton defender Michael Keane: “On paper, we should be winning but if your mentality is not right they become tough games.
“We have to make sure we are on it, we have already spoken about that – and we will be.
“We want to finish as high as possible in the Premier League but we also want to get on a good cup run and see if we can win something.
“It is a massive game for us. They are lower league opposition but it is still a huge game for us.”
A home tie against League Two opposition should be relatively straight forward, though Salford’s rapid rise means they are likely to be a tougher prospect than their league position suggests.
Still, if Everton take the game seriously they should have enough to progress. To not do so would a huge disappointment and blow to morale after such a positive display on Sunday.