Some victories are larger than the score line indicates. The draw against Manchester United for example, although not the victory I stated we needed, felt like the largest draw one has ever felt. A 2-0 Everton victory against Liverpool at Anfield, the first stomping grounds of the Toffees, was a victory far larger than the score might ever indicate however.
The sheer joy, enthusiasm and passion, brought tears to more Blues than they would likely care to admit. Nonetheless, Evertonians everywhere felt unified in a feeling of pure thrill and elation; not only did the Toffees draw in the Goodison Park leg of the Derby, but to then win at Anfield? For the first time in twenty-two years? Truly incredible. It will be the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign that the Toffees will have gone the year undefeated against the Reds, taking a win and a draw from their Merseyside rivals across two encounters. With the victory, passion and belief are surely surging through each player on Don Carlo Ancelotti’s squad; the fanbase are similarly impassioned.
Yet there is still much to do with this campaign, in the Premier League and FA Cup.
Ambition and Volition: A Toffee Tale up to this Point
While the victory at Anfield is historic and worth celebrating and considering, its practical application after a draw, a shock defeat, and a proper lesson had the team on a three-game winless streak is equally as interesting. Everton are now level with Liverpool on points, albeit not on goal difference, but with a game in hand over their derby rivals. With games against Southampton and West Bromwich Albion next week, the team could with proper focus turn that previous streak into a three match undefeated spell. After that they come up against Chelsea revitalized now under former Borussia Dortmund and Paris-St. Germain boss Thomas Tuchel. Yet such is how this young, ambitious team has seemed to fare this season; feast, famine, and then feast once more.
The Toffees are a team with great ambition, derived from the legendary boss who prowls their sidelines, as well as his assistant, legendary Toffees striker Big Duncan Ferguson. The difference both of these men have made on this club since the sacking of Marco Silva must be lauded, and with proper time and hindsight, likely will be more loudly than we hear at present. And while they have helped to coach up a squad full of talented players at different stages in their careers, they have also brought in players of varying ages who are simply unafraid to succeed on Merseyside for the Royal Blue. For all teams that are fighting to break through to the next, upper echelon of footballing clubs, no matter the nation or league, it is almost always a matter more of volition than of ambition.
And that is what we struggle with. While it is easy to get up for a Derby match or an FA Cup game versus Tottenham Hotspur, Everton have struggled to get as motivated to play against Newcastle United, Southampton or Fulham. It is not that the team has no ambition to beat these teams, but that they know they are capable of doing so, and so the level of focus and execution lacks the tenacity of the doubted challenger, and instead appears sluggish and lazy. Gone are the crisp moves we see against Spurs and Chelsea earlier this year, or United and Liverpool over the last few weeks; instead, because the team knows they can win, and knows everyone else knows that they can win, they inevitably lose focus and fall to a defeat. Paradoxically, when they feel as though the belief in themselves lies only within themselves, against larger competition, they play even larger and more beautiful than most clubs they will run up against in England.
Our volition to this point, has found itself cut off every time it appeared that Everton were really making a statement of intent for this season. The issue has not been the ambition, but the volition, and if this Merseyside Derby victory can unify both of these concepts into one intrinsic notion at the club, they will be one of the most difficult teams to beat in whatever competition they play in.
After the Chelsea match, and the possible chance at twelve straight points in the league, Everton will have the chance to match intensity further while hosting Burnley. Again, with the right focus off of this Liverpool victory, Everton could absolutely make a serious run with the matches coming up. Consistency will be key; maintaining the volition of the club, driven by the ambition of the club.
Yet by the twentieth of March, the Royal Blue will once again have to face the best club in English football currently, Manchester City. This time however, it will be in the FA Cup quarterfinals with a trip to the semis at stake; this match, potentially the toughest and most crucial of the Toffees season so far, could very well be the most difficult victory the team would have to earn in that particular competition. While a trophy should the team shock City is never a guarantee, it would be an absolutely massive step for the club to take towards winning their first silverware since the 90’s, as well as their spot in some European competition.
A Run and a Rest
After the match against Manchester City the subsequent break stretches until the third of April, when the Toffees host Crystal Palace. A proper run, alongside sincere focus and enthusiasm, might leave Everton in a remarkable place in the standings by this break. It will be a much needed break, although just how well earned will depend on the team’s recent run of form to that point. The victory against Liverpool might very well be the springboard for the rest of this campaign if the club plays their cards correctly, yet should they squander these chances and matches, they could also be hardly any better off than they are now, or still worse.
It will be up to the players, whether they wish to play how they have during their positive periods or their negative periods. The differences are striking between the two, with all players demonstrating noticeable variations to their games for what can only be considered a lack of consistent focus. Should the team be able to put this focus together over the next five matches, essentially all of March, they can be the iteration of Everton that silences the torments of history, for at least one year. Much like the joy born of this recent victory at Anfield, a joy born of silverware or European qualification is a joy that almost certainly defies words, that must simply be experienced to be understood; it is the joy born from undying belief and passion, of struggles and ultimately, of triumphs.