When Marco Silva left Everton in December, they were in the relegation zone having lost three games in a row, including an absolute horsing in the Merseyside derby.
Now, after a couple of games under Duncan Ferguson and yet more with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, the Toffees are in seventh place, just two points behind fifth place and five away from the Champions League spots.
Where has it all gone right? Is this the magic touch of football’s most famous eyebrow, or should Big Dunc get a nod too?
“Ferguson deserves a lot of credit,” said Tom Williams on this Monday’s early edition of the Totally Football Show, “in that we saw at Arsenal we saw what happens when you don’t make the right interim appointment. That’s not to criticise Freddie Ljungberg because he inherited a very difficult situation, but he didn’t have any discernible impact on Arsenal’s results so you couldn’t say the ground had been prepared for him.
“Whereas Duncan Ferguson – albeit over shorter period of time – had such a positive effect on Everton, changed the shape, he was the one who started playing Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front which Ancelotti has continued. Ferguson shook up the players…and I think that made it easier for Ancelotti because there was already a bit of momentum and [Ferguson] had changed the dynamic.
“What Ancelotti has done very successfully is built on that – I don’t think he’s changed all that much.”
Michael Cox offered a tactical perspective on what’s changed under Ancelotti.
“The organisation without the ball has been very good, I’ve been impressed by their defensive shape, especially when you’ve got Theo Walcott and Bernard who are very attack-minded wingers, but they’ve tucked in and done their jobs very well. It seems to me that they’ve probably worked very hard in getting Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to combine on the training ground, because their interplay has been excellent – they combined really well for the Richarlison goal on Saturday.
“I’ve liked the way the wide players have got into goalscoring positions – for the first goal on Saturday, when Walcott crossed the ball for Bernard, I think it’s so important, whatever system you’re playing, that the wide player on the opposite flank comes in to provide a goal threat.
“The general compactness of the side, which as Tom said was really obvious in the Ferguson period – they were so difficult to play through in that win against Chelsea. I think there have been various little factors that have improved the side.
“A lot of people – myself included – were sceptical of Ancelotti’s appointment, because things hadn’t gone very well in his last couple of jobs at Bayern and Napoli, and there was a suggestion that his training sessions weren’t particularly intense and he wasn’t working the players hard enough.
“But from what I’ve heard the Everton players were basically just a bit uninspired by Marco Silva, and without wanting to sound patronising when you’re playing for a club like Everton and suddenly Ancelotti comes in…players do tend to respect managers who’ve won things, and he does seem to have brought in a sort of order and purpose to Everton’s play, as much as tactically improved them.”
It hasn’t been a success story from day one though, as Frida Fagerlund recalled:
“I’ve been especially impressed with how well they’re doing at the moment, as I still have the Liverpool game in the FA Cup in my mind, which was absolutely dreadful. That was a moment where I thought “Wow – this is how it’s going to go down with Ancelotti. He’s not going to be able to turn this around.” But he actually has.
“Everyone is suddenly talking about Calvert-Lewin maybe going to the Euros, then Richarlison – I don’t think there was much in the rumours about Barcelona [making an £85million bid for him], but it says something about how he’s improved since Ancelotti came.”
Finally, Tom Williams sounded a minor note of caution:
“We should also probably say there’s an element of regression to the mean for Everton. When we were doing our pre-season previews, Everton were one of the clubs we cited as being able to break into the top six. They’re now seventh, just off the top four, which is where we predicted them to finish at the start of the season.”
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