New-Look Everton Can Push for European Places This Season


After a disappointing 2019/20 season in which they finished 12th in the Premier League and yet again failed to come close to a trophy, it became pretty clear that Everton had a big close season ahead of them.

They were lacking in creativity, dynamism and control all over the pitch, particularly in midfield. Despite having one of the all-time great managers in Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, this was a side in desperate need of reinforcements.

Everton Can Push for European Places This Season

Impressive Recruitment

Initially, things took time – left-back Niels Nkounkou was the only addition – but then, in the space of a week, an explosive trio of signings was made. Allan, James Rodriguez, and Abdoulaye Doucoure all joined for fees in the region of £22 million and, suddenly, Everton’s midfield had a completely different look.

Sunday’s impressive 1-0 over Tottenham Hotspur showcased just how much the trio could improve Everton as a team. Allan produced a man-of-the-match performance at the base of the midfield, completing 46 of his 55 passes, winning possession on eight different occasions, making four tackles, seven interceptions and three clearances. The Brazilian added the sort of control and reliability that was desperately missing for The Toffees last season.

James, starting on the right side of a front three which also included the excellent Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, also had a positive impact, often cutting on his favoured left-foot for crosses or shots. His shooting ability looked menacing too, with one of his efforts whizzing just past the post in the first half. The Colombian played five key passes in total, more than any player on the pitch, and looked a consistent threat going forward, making 33 passes in the opposition half. He also put in a defensive shift, making four interceptions as Ancelotti’s emphasis on a more intense press from the front was evident.

Doucoure, meanwhile, offered the sort of athleticism, energy and versatility that allowed Everton to press more effectively than Spurs, which stifled the home side of any promising attacks that they could potentially muster. He made two important tackles and the same number of interceptions but also four key passes and two completed dribbles from midfield, offering a viable attacking threat as well as a typically energetic shift when it came to the press. His important attributes should allow for fellow midfielders Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies, and Andre Gomes to focus on their favoured ball-retention-style games.

“Abdoulaye is a fantastic midfielder, a complete midfielder,” said Ancelotti after signing the Frenchman. “He can defend well. He is a box-to-box midfielder. He can bring energy to the club and different quality. We don’t have midfielders with his kinds of characteristics. We have midfielders with quality and midfielders who are tactically good. He is the only one who is box-to-box. I know him really well, what he did with Watford. He is a player with strong character and he uses that in games. These are the reasons he is a good signing for us. He is going to improve the quality of our squad.”

Bright Start

As a club who don’t always begin seasons on the front foot, the was an impressive start to an important Premier League campaign for Everton. Yet, what was perhaps even more significant was that this was their first victory away at a top-six club in 40 attempts. Ancelotti realises that being compact tactically and improving the strength of the midfield is vital to his side becoming more consistent in their hunt for a return to European football.

So can this be achieved? The midfield has indeed been majorly strengthened and in Ancelotti, they have a manager who is as experienced, tactically astute and successful as they come but the fight for European football has perhaps never been greater. As well as the ‘big six’, the likes of Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and even Burnley have entered the mix in recent years. Everton, on the other hand, have been left behind.

However, the impressive balance of Everton’s squad points to a potentially positive season for Ancelotti’s side. In addition to the improved midfield, Richarlison remains a menacing force in attack, while Calvert-Lewin’s 13 league goals last year point to a forward so is becoming increasingly threatening. There is depth, too, with Theo Walcott, Bernard, Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean providing adequate back up for a long season.

In defence, questions remain. Everton conceded more league goals (56) than Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley and Sheffield United last season but Ancelotti’s knowledge should improve a backline with promising personnel. Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford has made a reputation as an erratic goalkeeper but also an admirable shot-stopper. His unpredictability will be something for Ancelotti to look out for.

There was plenty there in that performance against Tottenham to suggest that Everton may be a side to look out for this season. The squad is not a complete one, but it is now vastly improved and Ancelotti has given himself and his side a good chance of bringing European football back to Goodison Park by the end of the season.


Main Photo

Embed from Getty Images