Ancelotti: The Benefit of Doubt?
Carlo Ancelotti has won almost everywhere he has coached. He is one of the most heralded managers and tacticians in the game. The excitement on Merseyside following his appointment was warranted, but how long of a leash should his résumé buy him? A pretty long one, to be fair, especially since his first season and a half have been marred by the special circumstances around COVID-19.
Everton looks a far better side than when Marco Silva or Ronald Koeman were in charge. That said, every contest — and disappointing loss — suffered by the Toffees pushes Europe that much farther out of reach. The Italian has a talented squad (on paper), and while injuries have dented his ability to deploy his most formidable side, the results just aren’t coming. At what point does he lose the benefit of the doubt? When does his somewhat mediocre track record — 29 wins across 62 matches in all competitions — begin to look like the mean as opposed to an outlier?
A Deserved Loss
The Blues had no right winning Saturday’s affair. When Anwar El Ghazi curled a perfect strike past Jordan Pickford in the 80’ to put the game to bed, you couldn’t help but applaud the moment of brilliance. It was yet another loss at Goodison, bringing the Toffees’ home record in their last 10 to 1–3–6 — not exactly the line of a team destined for anything but a mid-table finish. Villa had more shots, shots on target, possession, passes and corners. Everton had no business sneaking a point out of a fixture they were always meant to lose.
And that’s how much of this season has gone: The Blues either manage to eke out a win — like they did last week at Arsenal — or they crumble to Burnley, Newcastle or Aston Villa. The problem is that Ancelotti’s tactics have become stale and predictable. It’s too easy for a team to sit back and defend, dominate in midfield and strike on the counter. Europe is now almost officially a pipe dream, and I can’t say I’m too surprised.
How Many Points?
With five remaining fixtures to close out the season — West Ham United, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City — the pessimist in me sees five losses and an 11th-place finish, although that’s just the disappointment talking. Realistically, the Toffees should defeat the Blades and have a chance to take points from Villa, West Ham and Wolves. Pencil in the City outing as a loss, no questions asked, even if the Mancunians will have the title won and their eyes on a possible Champions League final.
Based on recent form, however, it stands to reason that the Merseyside club will end the season with a 2–1–2 record and finish another Premier League campaign as a we-could-have-made-the-top-six-but-didn’t team, ruing missed opportunities, of which there have been many this season. Another promising season seems to have gone off the rails in early May, but the ever-hopeful refrain of sports fans still beats on: There’s always next season!