We begin our review of the past Everton season, in which each department will be recapped and rated. First up: the manager, Carlo Ancelotti
Editor’s Note: This piece was written and first published before Carlo Ancelotti’s surprise departure.
A strange season, in many ways, for Everton. Superb on the road but woeful at home, Ancelotti led them to 59 points, their third-best since David Moyes’ departure eight years ago, yet the Blues finished a disappointing tenth.
At times, Ancelotti was to blame for some questionable tactics or line-ups, but while you’re loth to give the manager a totally free pass, there’s still the sense that he’s still playing with his predecessors’ broken toys.
This season, if he needed a reminder of this already, should serve as an eye-opener as to how much he needs to revamp the squad and transcend the club.
Though it was an unsuccessful season ultimately, Everton’s tenth-placed finish is still an improvement by two spots on last term under Marco Silva, Duncan Ferguson and later Ancelotti, while they amassed ten points more than in 2019-20, too.
There are signs of improvement, undoubtedly - Everton are far better defensively (usually - let’s forget about the final-day drubbing at Manchester City) under Ancelotti, and numerous individuals have raised their game on his watch - namely Yerry Mina, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Ancelotti has also helped erase the away day mental block, not least at grounds they’ve rarely, if ever, won at, such as Anfield and the Emirates Stadium, and 11 victories on the road was bettered only in the Premier League by the top two.
But he must take some blame for the pitiful home record - better only than the Premier League’s bottom five - which saw relegated Fulham and Sheffield United both win at Goodison Park, as well as Burnley, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Leeds, West Ham and both Manchester clubs.
This is what really kneecapped Everton’s season, and there are three ways of looking at it: either Ancelotti showed a worrying inability to turn the tides in these games, or it is a problem simply due to empty stadiums which will iron itself out after the pandemic, or the manager just had no faith in the alternatives on his bench.
Whatever the reason for them, it was those galling defeats which kneecapped Everton’s season and stymied real progress in Ancelotti’s first full term.
Ancelotti started the season with a more fluid 4-3-3, battened down the hatches with an entire back line of central defenders to help Everton win four in a row in December, while nullified Liverpool perfectly with a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation in February, with which he largely persisted for the remainder of the season.
The problem was that Everton weren’t always brilliant to watch as the season wore on - it was a compressed year due to COVID-19 and the squad isn’t exactly brimming with quality beyond their best XI - but the Blues only scored more than once in one of their last 14 league games, and their final five victories of the campaign were all by a 1-0 scoreline.
So, while the football in the early weeks was sparkling at best and Ancelotti’s tactics probably won Everton more points than they lost, particularly in the headline wins against Chelsea and Liverpool, you were left feeling at times that this side had become stale and predictable, at least in its worst moments.
Again, though, whether that’s the fault of the manager or the personnel at his disposal, time will tell. He needs more of his own squad first before you can offer a fair critique of his style of play at Everton.
First things first, Everton ought to stick with Ancelotti, unless things go absolutely apocalyptically badly, for probably at least two more years, if not longer.
Two reasons for this: they’ve gone through enough managerial changes in the last five years already, that sacking another would leave them back at square one yet again, and more to the point - if they dispense with a three-time Champions League winner, who will they attract who is an upgrade on Ancelotti?
Ancelotti needs to be backed to the hilt by the club so he can build his own squad and shed the dead wood. Only then, you feel, can we properly judge his tenure.
The fact that eight of the 11 players who started in the 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City also began the 5-2 defeat at Anfield last season (Silva’s last game) rather tells its own story in that regard. This is a team with pockets of potential and a top-class manager, but which needs surgery urgently.
There has been growth in Everton this season, however tentatively, but at the end of the day it was another campaign where no tangible success was achieved.
Ancelotti doesn’t deserve much of the blame, but as manager he can’t absolved altogether for the way Everton’s season imploded with three wins from their last 12 league games - they were second on Boxing Day and fourth on March 4, remember.
Taking everything into account, a B grade is probably the most generous you can award to an Everton manager who finished tenth. Not that he should be under any pressure whatsoever, mind.