Premier League Preview - Matchday 7Sep 29
Amid the natural optimism that accompanied Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at Goodison Park, Everton fans were left with one burning question: is the vastly experienced Italian the right fit on Merseyside?
The three-time Champions League winner, who has managed Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, is viewed as a legendary man-manager and the ideal facilitator for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo. He often inherited a squad of superstars and calmly guided them to glory.
The brief at Everton was vastly different. The Toffees were 15th in the Premier League table and four points above the relegation zone when he assumed the reins in December 2019. They needed root and branch reform.
The whirlwind of Duncan Ferguson’s brief spell at the helm as interim manager after Marco Silva’s dismissal lifted the gloom temporarily but Ancelotti knew he was unable to ride the crest of that ephemeral wave for long. Could he preside over a period of reinvention, build a team in his image and bring back the glory years?
Nearly 12 months later and those questions have been emphatically answered. Everton are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League after four wins from four games, scoring 11 goals in the process.
Ancelotti is already revered in the blue half of Merseyside, but his popularity will skyrocket should he mastermind a rare win over bitter rivals Liverpool at Goodison Park on Saturday, exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online.
It has been ten long years since the Blues last tasted victory over Liverpool, when Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta both scored in a 2-0 win for David Moyes’ side.
The fixture has become synonymous with heartache for Everton fans, but the mood in the northwest has changed.
Champions Liverpool cantered to a first league title in 30 years last season but they were humiliated 7-2 by Aston Villa before the international break in one of the most shocking results in Premier League history and they trail Everton by three points.
The collective weight on Liverpool’s shoulders was finally lifted after a barren spell that could never have been foreseen when they last ruled England in 1990.
A consequence of that cosmic sigh of relief, some argued, would be Liverpool taking their foot off the gas, however slightly. Proponents of that argument will point to the abysmal performance at Villa Park as supporting evidence.
As such, Saturday’s derby may be Everton’s best opportunity to buck the trend of the previous decade and finally beat Liverpool. This season might even be their best chance to knock Liverpool off their perch and finish above them for the first time since 2012/13.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who sat down with BT Sport for a fascinating chat this week, will be the primary goal threat. The 23-year-old English forward has enjoyed a blistering start to the season, scoring ten goals for club and country already, including a hat-trick in a 5-2 demolition of West Brom.
He’ll be brimming with confidence after a debut England goal against Wales and Ancelotti has heaped praise on the in-form marksman.
“He is a complete striker. It is not easy to find a striker with these characteristics,” said the Italian. “He has a lot of energy, is really fast. I am really pleased he is doing well and scoring goals because at the end a striker is judged on the goals he scores.”
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Two Tribes, which is available to watch on BTSport.com and the award-winning BT Sport app, explores Liverpool and Everton’s success in the 1980s amid political and cultural upheaval.
Read all about Two Tribes, the BT Sport Film that explores how football gave the city of Liverpool new hope during troubled times.
Calvert-Lewin has been ably assisted by James Rodriguez, who was signed by Ancelotti for a third time in September. The Colombian maverick joined from Spanish giants Real Madrid for £12m and, much like his manager, has showed no signs of ring rust.
The 2014 World Cup top scorer has notched three goals and two assists, providing some much-needed ingenuity in the attacking third. Calvert-Lewin and James will hope to wreak havoc against a shell-shocked Liverpool defence that was ripped to shreds by Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish and company less than a fortnight ago.
The summer arrivals of midfield enforcer Allan from Napoli and proven Premier League campaigner Abdoulaye Doucouré have reinforced a formerly brittle central midfield. Alongside Richarlison, Andre Gomes, Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina to name four, Everton have a competitive starting XI with a coherent identity.
Under the calming influence of the statesman-like Ancelotti, Everton are justifiably recognised as contenders once again. What they contend for is the next question.
For BT Sport pundit Joe Cole, they won’t be too far away from the top of the table.
“Ancelotti has had time to implement his style on the squad. You’ve got James Rodriguez, recognised in the past as one of the top players in the world. I don’t think this is a false dawn for Everton. I don’t think they’ll be threatening the league [title] but they’ll be up there,” he said.
“You know with Farhad Moshiri [Everton’s majority stakeholder], if he sees that, he’ll go again in January. It’s exciting times to be an Everton fan.”
For Ancelotti the target is simple: no less than European qualification. “I think that the goal we want to achieve is to fight to reach Europe next season. The goal is quite clear,” he said.
Finally ending a decade of hurt against the champions would be a perfect way to move one step closer to realising that ambition.
Watch Everton take on Liverpool on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online from 11.30am on Saturday 17 October.