Weekend Debrief: Don Carlo has the Midas touch

Everton to finish top 6
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Everton excelling under Don Carlo

When Marco Silva was sacked as Everton head coach in early December, the Toffees had just been humiliated 5-2 in the Merseyside derby and were entrenched in the Premier League’s relegation zone. The club had spent more than £100m on players in the summer but had tabled just four league victories under the Portuguese boss in 2019/20.

Former striker Duncan Ferguson was handed temporary charge with the club looking to appoint a new manager “as swiftly as possible” – understandable considering Everton’s upcoming run of fixtures included games against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, as well as Leicester in the League Cup quarter-finals.

Fast forward two months and the mood around Goodison Park is positively buoyant. Ferguson steadied the ship superbly and the ambitious appointment of Carlo Ancelotti has given the Blues confidence, clarity and overdue trust and responsibility.

The on-field resurgence has been remarkable – only Liverpool (30) have picked up more points than Everton (22) since Silva’s departure, with Man City the only side capable of beating the Blues in that 11-game sequence (W6-D4-L1). The upward-mobile Merseysiders have propelled themselves into serious contention for European qualification places.

Everton reside a solitary point off sixth and only five points adrift of the top-four following Saturday’s resounding 3-1 success at home to Crystal Palace. Nevertheless, Ancelotti’s outfit are 50/1 (Bet365) outsiders to conclude the campaign with a Champions League berth and interesting 5/1 (Bet365) shots to seal a spot in the Premier League’s top-six.

So what’s changed? Not a huge amount in fairness. Plenty has been made of the Italian’s reassuring calmness and the camaraderie he brings to the group, his hands-on approach to training at the club’s Finch Farm complex, as well as his preference for short and sharp sessions that focus on key points rather than long-winded and academic explanations.

It was Ferguson who switched the system from Silva’s 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, which is also Ancelotti’s preferred formation. The former Real Madrid boss has since added minor tweaks, such as asking his wide players to cut inside, allowing the full-backs to be more positive. He also wants a more “vertical” approach when Everton are in possession.

The statistics, albeit on a small sample size, emphasise this attacking up-turn with the Toffees’ Expected Goals (xG) output increasing significantly from 1.27 xG per-game to above the 2.00 xG mark. The Blues have also enjoyed a boost to average shot numbers, efforts from inside the penalty area and also a rise in forward and accurate passes in the final-third.

The biggest beneficiaries of Ancelotti’s appointment appear to be his front players Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. Pairing them together is Ferguson’s legacy, and both scored in a transformative win against Chelsea in his first fixture. However, the duo have continued to flourish in the aftermath, tabling 11 (79%) of Everton’s past 14 Premier League goals.

The Toffees now have a fortnight to regroup before a testing final furlong. Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are the club’s next four opponents with Leicester, Spurs, Southampton, Sheffield United and Wolves still to come in their last 12 games, but few could argue the Toffees are on the right track under Don Carlo’s tutorship.

Tractor Boys running out of steam

Ipswich manager Paul Lambert says ‘being the hunter rather than the hunted’ could help his team after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Sunderland saw the Tractor Boys drop out of the top-six in League One for the first time since August.

Chris Maguire rifled home an 81st minute strike from the edge of the box to settle a classic game of two halves. Town dominated the opening period, but the tide turned after the restart and Phil Parkinson’s hosts hit the woodwork twice before finally breaking the deadlock to consign Ipswich to a third straight league loss.

The Suffolk side’s record against the current top-eight now reads W0-D6-L5 and Ipswich’s return across all competitions since mid-October is alarming for Blues supporters (W6-D9-L11). The Tractor Boys have tabled just five triumphs in their past 19 League One outings and even-money (Betfair) quotes on Ipswich missing out on the top-six has to hold appeal.

The Blues have struggled to put together a convincing 90-minute display since Autumn and if the league began in mid-October, Ipswich would be three points above the relegation zone (W5-D6-L8) with only Blackpool, Tranmere and Southend posting a worse points per-game rate. Yes, even crisis-ridden Bolton have performed better than Lambert’s ailing outfit.

Fortunately for under-pressure Town, just five of their remaining 16 fixtures are against teams currently occupying a top-10 position but there’s little value in supporting Ipswich in their current guise and another campaign in League One may beckon after a 62-year spell in the top two tiers came to an end last May.


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