In a season that ultimately left Evertonians disappointed and managerless, here are three of the negatives from the club’s 2020-21 campaign.
Back to Square One... Again
Admittedly, this is more of a post-season negative, but Carlo Ancelotti’s hasty, unexpected departure to Real Madrid leaves Everton in all too familiar territory.
This summer, the club will appoint a new permanent manager for the fifth time in as many years - and even if, for once, there was no sacking this time, there is a sense that yet another 18 months have been wasted at Goodison Park.
Ancelotti delivered a 12th-placed finish after taking over from Marco Silva last term, before leading Everton to tenth this year (albeit with a ten-point improvement). This is not sparkling by any means, and you’d perhaps expect a more marked upgrade from such an elite, revered manager, but a sense of continuity that would have been afforded to Everton by him sticking around would have made for a welcome break from the constant flux of recent years.
There were certain understandable reservations about Ancelotti, namely how well-suited he was to overseeing the overhaul Everton need, the dreary style of play, and the signings of older players, but only time will tell if the club are better off without him. As it is, starting from scratch yet again just feels incredibly frustrating for all concerned.
The worry, too, is what comes next. The most forward-thinking clubs should arguably have contingency plans for their boss departing, but on this occasion, you can almost forgive Everton for being caught totally off-guard by Ancelotti upping sticks. A brief glance at the betting odds for his successor reveals a list of wildly differing managers; again, Everton smack as a club without a cogent plan or identity.
Not since 2014-15 has an Everton manager (Roberto Martinez) completed a second full season in the Goodison hot seat. Even if it feels different this time, in that the manager has walked away rather than been shown the door, that must change for Farhad Moshiri to yield more bang for his buck.
It was often said before coronavirus that Goodison could be an intimidating place to be - but for Everton players and staff, not the opposition.
And while Silva, for instance, may point to that Norwich defeat as evidence of that, we have surely seen enough while football has been played behind closed doors to debunk that theory.
Everton were truly wretched at Goodison without fans - only the Premier League’s eventual bottom five managed a worse return on their own turf than the Blues’ 22 points from 19 home league games in 2020-21. It was, in fact, the worst points return at Goodison in a league campaign in the Blues’ history.
Not only that, but while Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Leicester were all either beaten or held at Goodison, five of the league’s bottom half beat Everton in their own back yard, while the Blues could only muster three goals at home to Leeds, West Ham, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Burnley, Fulham, West Brom, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace combined.
It rather sums up what a galvanising impact fans can have by the fact that Everton played three home league games in front of reduced capacities at Goodison this season and won all three, yet of the other 16 played in entirely empty stadiums, they also won just three.
The fans’ absence had a detrimental effect, no doubt, but every club was in the same boat as Everton and plenty of others coped far more admirably than them. What was worrying, particularly, about the defeats to lesser sides was how identical the games all were to one another: Everton concede sloppy goal, Everton play in front of opponent without threatening to pierce through them, Everton give opposition goalkeeper the day off.
Is this a problem that will leave with Ancelotti, or with the return of fans? Time will tell, but it is one such issue which plagued Silva, Ronald Koeman and Roberto Martinez at Goodison, too.
Worrying Lack of Depth Laid Bare
In Everton’s final game of the season, the 5-0 trouncing at champions Manchester City, departing City striker Sergio Aguero came off the bench to score twice in five minutes in his farewell game.
Here’s a not-so-fun fact for you: Aguero scored more goals as a substitute in those five minutes than all of Everton’s substitutes managed in the entire Premier League campaign.
The only time one of Ancelotti’s subs scored in a league game this term was Gylfi Sigurdsson in February’s win at Liverpool, and even that was from the penalty spot. In total, the Italian’s substitutes mustered four goals and five assists in all competitions, a paltry return which sums up just how threadbare this squad is.
Consider also Everton’s bench in the truly awful 0-0 draw at Brighton in April: only eight substitutes of a possible nine, two of whom were rookie goalkeepers, while of the six outfield players, only Alex Iwobi and Niels Nkounkou had first team experience (and even then, Nkounkou had played in one league game for Everton until then).
This was going to be a problem which needed addressing with or without Ancelotti this summer; there are undoubtedly good players at Everton, just not enough of them. See also the unfairly heavy dependence on Dominic Calvert-Lewin for goals, or the rushing back of key players from injury like Allan, Lucas Digne and Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Beyond their best XI, Everton have precious few players capable of changing a game. Whoever replaces Ancelotti could do with being made aware of this from the get-go - it could save the club precious time in that regard.