Everton 19/20 Review: Ancelotti restores optimism

The Premier League is suspended until at least the end of April, and in the meantime we're reviewing every club's 2019/20 season so far. Next up, how Everton's Jekyll & Hyde season played out...

Managerial hiring and firings tend to define a club's season, and yet Everton have been particularly influenced by changes in the dugout this year. The Toffees have had three head coaches this year, two permanent and one temporary, each with wildly different approaches, so we must break down our analysis of their campaign into three parts. It's been a rollercoaster year at Goodison Park.
Marco Silva just couldn't sort out his defence, either from open play or set-pieces, and what had begun so promisingly ended in relative chaos. His departure in early December was inevitable. What happened next was not.
First, Duncan Ferguson brought a frightening level of emotion to the role, re-energising Everton with a couple of manic performances, most notably a 3-1 victory over Chelsea in which they completed more tackles (37) than any other team in a single game in the 2010s.
Next Carlo Ancelotti came in to calm things down a bit, piggybacking off Ferguson's morale boost to instil a clear tactical identity onto the team.

Season so far

When Silva was finally dismissed Everton were in the bottom three, on 14 points from 15 matches, and had just been humiliated 5-2 by rivals Liverpool. Having spent another £100 million in the summer in an attempt to draw a line under the Koeman/Allardyce farce, one could argue it was the lowest the club had been in five years.
And so Ferguson's instant revival deserves serious recognition in any season review. The pandemonium of his short tenure won Everton five points from Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United, puncturing the malaise at a time when most expected a further slump before any recovery could begin.
It was unlikely to last, and thankfully Ancelotti arrived just in time as Everton and Arsenal played out a 0-0 draw that looked completely bereft of quality or direction. The Italian has since laid the foundations for a more ordered future at Goodison Park.
His hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 involves sitting in a mid-block with limited pressing, before counter-attacking as a front three, with Theo Walcott advancing from the right to join Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. These two have rightly grabbed the headlines so far, their burgeoning partnership the clearest example yet of Ancelotti's tactical coaching.
Results have been mixed, but at least the new manager is attempting to prioritise playing the most talented young players, and has a clearly identifiable style of play. That's more than could be said for Silva.

Highlights

The victory over Chelsea is the high point of the season, and in fact Everton's 4-4-2 shape that day - compact off the ball, countering on it - has to some extent influenced Ancelotti's thinking. There haven't been many other standout performances, although beating Watford 3-2 with an injury-time winner, despite being down to ten men, was an impressive show of resolve.
Richarlison's and Calvert-Lewin's blossoming are the real highlights, and a welcome distraction from a litany of embarrassing results in the first half of the season.

Lowlights

Losing 5-2 to Liverpool is bad enough, but to then lose 1-0 in the FA Cup to their youth team is embarrassing. Ancelotti will want to forget that one, as well as the 2-2 draw with Newcastle in which Steve Bruce's side scored in the 93rd and 94th minutes. For lowlights under Silva, see the abject 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa in August, 3-1 loss at Bournemouth, and Norwich's 2-0 at Goodison Park.
In terms of individual performances Moise Kean has sadly endured a difficult debut year in English football and will hope to be given more chances by Ancelotti if the season resumes. Tom Davies has also struggled, adding to the club's midfield problems that developed after serious injuries to Andre Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin.

What they can achieve in 19/20

Everton are only six points off Sheffield United in seventh, meaning they are among a handful of clubs still chasing European football despite a mixed campaign. Given the dramatic upturn in form under Ancelotti, they have a fighting chance, although their odds to finish in the top six are understandably 11.00 with Betfair Exchange.
In truth, this is just a transitional year for Everton and Ancelotti. The last nine matches, should they take place, are a free hit for the new manager.

What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21

Everton badly need to address the brittleness of their midfield. Davies' progress has stalled while Gylfi Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin have both shown they aren't good enough, meaning Ancelotti must prioritise buying at least two all-action midfielders. Playing a 4-4-2 makes athleticism in this role particularly important.
An upgrade on Walcott is also needed, while Jordan Pickford's frequent errors suggest he may not be trusted long-term in goal. With a few new additions Everton can definitely push for Europe.

Summary

No club in English football has had a Jekyll and Hyde season quite like Everton, whose fans have gone from complete despair under Silva in December to renewed optimism under Ancelotti little more than a month later. This is not fickleness. The new manager has given the club a clear tactical direction, instantly lifting them back towards their natural level, seventh.
Consequently, Everton are once again faced with the problem that has plagued them for several years: how to bridge the gap between themselves, in a financial league of their own in the Premier League's middle-class, and the 'big six'. With Ancelotti, they at least have the elite-level manager needed to tackle the dilemma.

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