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View from the enemy: Ancelotti’s influence and Everton’s European ambitions

Q&A with Matthew Chandler from Royal Blue Mersey ahead of Sunday’s game

Everton FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Chelsea take on Everton this weekend, which will see the return of Carlo Ancelotti to Stamford Bridge at long last after his sacking in 2011. Everton already beat Chelsea once this season, so will more of the same be in store for us? We asked that question, and more from Matthew Chandler of SB Nation’s Everton blog, Royal Blue Mersey. Be sure to check out the reverse edition on RBM, where we talk more Ancelotti, plus a bit of Frank Lampard as well.

WAGNH: Where did it all go wrong for Marco Silva after the promise of last season?

RBM: Kurt Zouma and Idrissa Gueye couldn’t be kept, and were pivotal to our end-of-season resurgence under Silva. Gueye’s replacement, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, has been injured since August, and André Gomes obviously missed a hefty chunk of the season, too.

But Silva must shoulder most of the blame. For whatever reason, he seemed to lose his way. His tactics often seemed one-dimensional and stubborn, epitomised by the fact that we never came from behind to win a Premier League game in his 18-month tenure. A pleasant, likeable man by all accounts, but just not good enough to manage Everton, ultimately.

WAGNH: Carlo Ancelotti has been, rightly or wrongly, seen “only” as a massager of egos at the biggest clubs in the world, but so far on Merseyside he’s showing that he’s still got a few tricks left up his sleeve. What changes has he made, on and off the pitch, to right the ship and get Everton back in the hunt for European places?

RBM: Nothing radical, just small changes here and there. He’s continued with the 4-4-2 Duncan Ferguson first implemented as caretaker manager, which has gotten the best out of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front. There’s also a welcome sense of calm about Ancelotti; he doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone, unlike Silva, who often looked uneasy and on edge. It’s easier for the players to buy into a manager as successful as Ancelotti.

Everton have a stronger mental resilience under him, too. We’ve already won a league game from behind under him (3-2 at Watford having been 2-0 down). Among many Evertonians, there is a feeling that we would not have managed to win many of the games we’ve won under Ancelotti had Silva been in charge.

WAGNH: Last time we played Everton, Duncan Ferguson prowled the touchline in a blaze of interim glory. What’s happened to him since Carlo arrived?

RBM: He’s been promoted to a more senior role, acting as a joint assistant manager with Davide, Ancelotti’s son. The dynamic between Ferguson and Ancelotti seems to have worked extremely well so far; Ancelotti clearly values Ferguson’s expertise and knowledge about both the squad and about Everton as a club. Some see Ferguson as Ancelotti’s potential successor, and it’s not hard to see why. (Ed.note: sounds very much like the role Ray Wilkins, may he rest in peace, used to play for Ancelotti.)

WAGNH: Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrow: best, bestest, or the very best?

RBM: Good for staring down referees, as Chris Kavanagh discovered after his sub-par display in our draw with Manchester United last week.

Everton FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

WAGNH: Dominic Calvert-Lewin seems to be putting it all together under Carlo; could he be the surprise candidate to lead England at Euro 2020 (assuming it doesn’t get cancelled because of a global pandemic)?

PBM: No. I still suspect one of Tammy Abraham, Harry Kane or Marcus Rashford to lead the line, but Calvert-Lewin fully deserves to at least make the squad on current form. Gareth Southgate doesn’t seem the type to suddenly bring in new players straight in to the starting XI, though, so I can’t see him being a regular.

WAGNH: What are your expectations for the rest of this season? Next season?

RBM: To qualify for Europe this season would be remarkable; the league is sub-standard this season bar the top two but given how utterly atrocious we were under Silva, who left us in the bottom three in December, it would be some turnaround. Next season, the top six must be the aim, especially as I can still see Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal being in a state of flux.

WAGNH: Ancelotti has seemingly turned the clock way back with his Sacchi-esque approach and tactics, so what can we expect from Everton on Sunday at the Bridge?

RBM: We play good football under Ancelotti. We play to our strengths: feeding Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin primarily with through balls from the wing. Our midfield largely consists of dreadfully slow players who aren’t good enough anymore (Gylfi Sigurdsson, Morgan Schneiderlin, etc.), so I think we are at our most dangerous from the flanks feeding the front two. I can’t imagine it’ll be too different to the game plan Ferguson employed in the 3-1 win in December’s reverse fixture. Though, in defence, despite the good form of Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate, Djibril Sidibe and Jordan Pickford are prone to the odd gaffe. Lucas Digne, should he recover from injury in time to play, hasn’t been himself this season, either, though Leighton Baines has made a superb deputy.

WAGNH: Care to offer a prediction for Sunday?

A tight game, but I’d back Everton to get a point, all things considered. 1-1.

A big thank you to Matthew for once again taking the time to sit down for a chat! Be sure to give them a visit at Royal Blue Mersey.

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