Are Everton really able to challenge Liverpool for the Premier League title?
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for Everton counterpart Carlo Ancelotti, but is it really possible that the blue side of Merseyside can challenge the Premier League title holders for their crown this season?
Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton celebrates with his team after scoring his sides fourth goal during the Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park on September 19, 2020 in Liverpool, England.
Jurgen Klopp has suggested that Everton could challenge Liverpool for the title, but that claim does not stand up to proper examination - yet.
Nobody can deny that Carlo Ancelotti has won plenty in his time as a manager. He has three Champions Leagues, two with Milan and another with Real Madrid. He has league titles in England, Italy and Germany, and cup success in Spain. He is experienced and competent.
Klopp praised him ahead of the weekend, explaining to the BBC the strengths of his derby rivals: "What I think about Carlo Ancelotti was never a secret. I couldn't respect him more. He's a wonderful human being.
"When I heard he was going to sign for Everton I thought, 'Uhhh, the next proper challenger in line'.
"They did the perfect business in the summer. They found exactly the players that they needed to improve an already pretty good football team.
"Together, getting more used to what Carlo wants them to do makes them a pretty strong team.
"Calvert-Lewin, I really expected him to make big steps in the next few years and he did."
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What Ancelotti is known for is not necessarily assembling great teams, but gelling squads together. At Chelsea he was able to unify a team that was full of insurrection and complaint. He impressed in both his seasons, and while he may have lost out to Manchester United at the second attempt, he did not make it easy.
At Real Madrid, he was able to withstand the pressure of a meddling board and an impatient set of fans, and cheer up a squad that had imploded under the provocative and constant aggravation that Jose Mourinho had cultivated.
With AC Milan, he was able to alight upon the Christmas tree foundation that helped please Silvio Berlusconi by accommodating his favourite players and his esoteric approach to squad-building. His spell at Bayern Munich was hardly impressive, but it is not like Pep Guardiola won much more than him on a per-season basis. And as a managerial low point, there are few managers who wouldn’t take that.
FOOTBALL 2008/09 Serie A Milan-Atalanta Inzaghi Ancelotti
Image credit: Getty Images
All those achievements though, are to take glamour clubs with no desperate shortage of talent and to turn them into a whole. The job now for Ancelotti is something entirely different, and he has yet to comprehensively demonstrate he can do it.
Let’s not forget, Everton finished 12th last season. That does not mean the Italian failed, or he’s a fraud. He gets a pass for the first season as he attempts to build his side. But it is not evidence that he can succeed. Similarly, a handful of impressive games this season are entirely welcome and not a mammoth shock, but they only mean something if they last until Christmas. For now, the jury is out, on sick leave, and self-isolating for another fortnight or six.
However, there is no reason to begrudge Ancelotti the excellent progress he appears to have made so far. With a promising start to the season, we can make the positive case.
Abdoulaye Doucoure attracted interest from Paris-Saint Germain, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the past and Everton appear to have been rewarded for taking a risk where others ignored the gamble. Allan and James Rodriguez are both 29, but Ancelotti has brought in two players who have almost 1,000 professional games between them, and who have immediately improved their side while showing little struggle with the intensity of a league that often suits far younger footballers.
Dominic Calvert Lewin (L), Yerry Mina (C) and James Rodriguez (R)
Image credit: Getty Images
Players who were already at the club, like Lucas Digne, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison continue to improve, and in the case of Calvert-Lewin, they may have the next great English striker. Nine goals in six games is a remarkable start, to mirror his side’s.
But that’s all it is for now. A start. They are free-scoring, but they have tonked clubs like West Ham, Brighton and Fleetwood. They beat Crystal Palace by a single goal and their best result, a 1-0 win over Spurs, came when neither side were at their sharpest. They all count, and they deserve praise for maintaining the form so far in a way that is so unlike Everton, but this is barely worth mentioning in the context of the season to come.
Usually when a side makes an unusually bright start to the season, there are reasons to be sceptical, and there are here. But in a coronavirus-hit season, when everything is working for Everton as Ancelotti will have hoped it should, it may be worth accepting they have simply done their job far better than the rest of the league so far.