After last season, Evertonians have been understandably cautious in their optimism and outlook for the new campaign but with a significantly strengthened midfield and Ancelotti at the helm, there is hope that 2020-21 will be a season of marked progress
2020-21 Season Preview
If there was a feeling around mid-February that “the Ancelotti effect” might be enough to propel Everton into the reckoning not just for Europa League qualification then perhaps even the Champions League, by the end of a season disrupted severely by the Covid-19 shutdown reality had unquestionably hit home — not just for Evertonians accustomed to serial disappointment but for the new manager as well.
Had Carlo Ancelotti been under any illusions about the size of the task he had taken on when he succeeded Marco Silva in late December, they will have been shattered by season’s end… although the horror show that he witnessed at Anfield in the FA Cup in January, where his new charges were embarrassed by a team half full of untried kids, would have provided him an early indication.
There were flashes in between where the Blues threatened to rise above their collective torpor and give the new boss a higher platform from which to build in 2020-21 — perhaps, say, by sneaking into Europe — but three winless matches prior to the suspension of the Premier League in mid-March and a run of just one victory in the final six games was indicative of a team needing an urgent injection of fresh blood.
Marcel Brands, Everton’s suave Director of Football, arrived at the club in 2018 along with Silva with a clear intent to lighten a bloated squad and infuse it with younger talent than his predecessor, Steve Walsh had done over the preceding two years. Indeed, all six of the Dutchman’s first signings for the club that summer were aged 25 or under. The two 30-year-old’s he drafted in the following summer, Fabian Delph and Jonas Lössl, in addition to three more under-25s were aimed at adding experience and, especially in the case of the former, some much-needed leadership in the middle of park.
Delph, however, made just 13 League starts as he battled a succession of soft-tissue injuries and Jean-Philippe Gbamin, a highly-anticipated addition from Mainz, had his season wrecked by a thigh tendon tear and then a ruptured Achilles. In their absence, that limp conclusion to the campaign underscored the galling lack of drive, guile, imagination and presence in Everton’s midfield.
Ancelotti had seen enough and it probably didn’t take much persuading on his part to prompt Brands into making a sizeable change to his recruitment policy by advocating the need to sign some players capable of making a genuine and immediate impact, even if it meant acquiring talent on the upper end of his preferred age range.
The result was the arrival of three significant signings in the space of three hectic days a week before the new season was due to kick off. Brazilian midfielder Allan, one of Ancelotti’s most dependable players during his time at Napoli, came in for £21m; Abdoulaye Doucouré left relegated Watford to join the Toffees for an initial £20m; and the pièce de résistance, James Rodriguez, was lifted out of his frustrations at Real Madrid to link up with Ancelotti for the third time in his career.
Almost overnight, Everton’s midfield had been almost completely overhauled, with indisputable power, tenacity, physical presence, flair and a bona fide playmaker added to the ranks. A disjointed mid-section that had ambled its way through the final weeks of 2019-20 with the lackadaisical Gylfi Sigurdsson, the faltering Tom Davies, the ill-fitting Alex Iwobi, the half-fit André Gomes and the timid Bernard now had plenty of options and much-needed competition for places.
New Faces, New Options
As one of the most highly-regarded footballers in the world, a one-time World Cup Golden Boot winner and idol in his home country of Colombia, Rodriguez has grabbed the headlines and the imagination with his arrival on Merseyside. His move from La Liga has thrown up inevitable words of caution from pundits and journalists given that he has only played 28 games in two seasons, fewer even than serial treatment-room denizen Fabian Delph.
From the highs of his first season in Madrid under Ancelotti immediately after the 2014 World Cup, his statistics had been on a steady decline until they fell off a cliff last season when a combination of injury and Zinedine Zidane’s selection policy restricted James to just nine starts and one goal in all competitions.
His injury record will temper any unbridled optimism but the potential impact that a fit and firing James Rodriguez can have at Everton and on the Premier League as a whole really is a mouth-watering prospect. He has a deadly left foot, can score goals from anywhere, creates them just as frequently and has the talent to be the playmaker that the Toffees have so badly missed for more years than Evertonians would care to count. On top of that, being adept as a Number 10, wide player or sitting deeper, he opens up a raft of new attacking options for Ancelotti.
In terms of the difference made to the engine room of the team, though, it’s quite possible that the title of most important summer signing might go to one of Allan or Doucouré, both of whom promise to add bags of dynamism to a midfield that was depressingly ponderous for much of last season.
With his tenacity, mobility and touches of Brazilian flair, Allan could be a decent replacement for Idrissa Gueye who left Goodison for Paris Saint-Germain last year. He will cover ground in front of the back four, break up play and distribute the ball with confidence.
The rangy Doucouré, meanwhile, offers a genuine box-to-box presence, able to stop opposition attacks himself before powering forward to arrive at the end of moves, either to score himself or set up team-mates in the box. The Frenchman is a deceptively clever player for one having plied his trade for so long in the comparatively lowly environs of Vicarage Road, able to pick a pass through the opponents’ defence, while also possessing a venomous shot when he wants to unleash it.
With those two in the side and with Jean-Philippe Gbamin hopefully able to shake off his injury nightmares this season, Everton’s midfield should be much less of a soft touch and Ancelotti’s biggest headache in that part of the field might be whom to pick when everyone is fit. With André Gomes perhaps able to play further forward and express himself more and the likes of Sigurdsson, Davies and Walcott (assuming they all stay) now facing plenty of competition, the manager will have options from which to choose and genuine squad depth for when the fixture list gets heavy.
With an unlimited budget, Messers Brands and Ancelotti might well have taken a crack at strengthening all areas of the team but with only limited funds available, they have clearly addressed the most pressing needs. They may yet seek to add a goalkeeper capable of pushing Jordan Pickford and adding cover another option at right-back as cover for Seamus Coleman but they look like to start the season with familiar players at their disposal across the back line.
Pickford’s form was a mounting cause for concern over the run-in last season and it remains to be seen whether he will have used the break between campaigns to refocus mentally. On his game, he is excellent in one-on-one situations and provides top-notch distribution; at his worst, he is a veritable liability who costs the team goals.
A new season gives Mason Holgate more opportunity to grow into the commanding centre-half he showed he could be last season before he got injured during “Project Restart”. A captain-in-waiting, the young defender will, unfortunately miss the start of the campaign with the toe injury he sustained in the friendly against Preston but, when he is fit, it’s usually a question of who partners him.
Seeing as Yerry Mina’s time at Everton has been punctured here and there by injury, the default answer to that question has been Michael Keane, who was one of the most consistent performers over the final nine games of 2019-20. He was rewarded with a new contract over the summer but could face competition himself if a new signing like Fikayo Tomori comes in. Meanwhile, Blues fans have yet to really see the real Mina but with more protection in front of them, the defence as a whole should be generally more dependable this season.
With the new additions that have been made so far, it feels as though 2020-21 could provide the answers to a number of questions. Can James Rodriguez stay fit and can he produce the form that made him one of the most sought-after players on the planet a few years ago? Does Carlo Ancelotti have what it takes to rebuild a middling Premier League side and make it relatively successful?
This could also go a long way to demonstrating just how good Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean are as both could be the beneficiaries of a far more settled and productive team boasting significantly more competence and service in the final third of the field. Together with Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin in particular must be licking his lips at the prospect of playing with Rodriguez and his array of assist-providing talents. He didn’t score in any of the final nine games but his service had dried up; hopefully that will be very different in the coming months.
It will always feel as though Everton need another elite striker, more capable of making his own chances but the predatory instincts that Calvert-Lewin showed last season on his way to becoming the team’s joint-top scorer bode well for the new season.
The Competitive Landscape
If the onset of last season was pregnant with possibilities for a seemingly up-and-coming team like Everton, this time the Blues’ task looks a good deal more daunting. Last year, there were big question marks over the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal and all three did indeed have their wobbles before they got their acts together over the final third of the campaign to claim the last two Champions League spots.
For Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge, it seemed as though all he needed was time to get his arms around his first Premier League job and to get a talented squad playing effective football. For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was the January acquisition of Bruno Fernandes, arguably one of the most effective signings of the Premier League era. The Portuguese proved to be the missing link that transformed the Red Devils into also-rans to top-four finishers, edging out Leicester and Tottenham along the way.
Spurs, like Arsenal, struggled for consistency under a new manager but both were showing signs by season’s end and the Gunners’ FA Cup and Charity Shield successes might be indications that Mikel Arteta can be the successful successor to Arsene Wenger that that club was hoping he would be when they pried him away from Manchester City.
While City look well positioned to make a much better fist of challenging for the title and are hotly tipped to reclaim their crown from Liverpool, it is Chelsea who are expected to give them just as much trouble in terms of the race for top spot this season. It’s tempting very summer to look at the business done by other clubs and feel somewhat daunted, only for some of those new signings to struggle or disappoint. Chelsea’s recruitment, however, has been on another level this summer and the arrivals of the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva and Kai Havertz threaten to turn them into title challengers almost overnight. Plenty of pressure on Lampard’s shoulders, then, but he will have the personnel to do it and the West Londoners will be beyond Everton’s reach this season unless something seriously goes awry there.
Everton’s preoccupation will be with the teams that finished just below the top four last season and, assuming he now as the personnel to leapfrog the likes of Southampton, Burnley and Sheffield United, Ancelotti will feel that there are weaknesses to exploit in that group that placed between 5th and 8th.
Arsenal still haven’t demonstrated they can perform consistently under Arteta, although a defence that was considered fairly weak at times last season has been bolstered by Brazilian defender Gabriel who came very close to signing for Everton earlier this year.
Wolves should be a similar proposition this campaign and Leicester might experience a hangover from their dramatic fall from what looked at one stage as though would be almost certain Champions League qualification. Spurs, meanwhile, also flattered to deceive under Jose Mourinho but without significant upgrades this summer, they don’t look like a side capable of cracking the top four either.
So how high can Everton go in 2020-21? After that disappointing 12th-place finish and the manner in which the team as a collective seemed to lose their spirit and motivation down the “home stretch”, Evertonians have been understandably cautious in their optimism and outlook for the new campaign. According to the recently updated Premier League odds, Everton are among the top ten favourites with odds listed at +20000, ranked equally with Wolves but behind Marcelo Bielsa’s newly-promoted Leeds and Leicester on +15000. While the Yorkshire club’s return to the top flight will take up an inordinate amount of the oxygen of punditry this season and the Foxes will continue to be a force, if the Blues can get their act together, there’s no reason why they can’t finish above both of those clubs.
The three new signings made to date won’t completely transform the team – it’s very much the promised evolution rather than a radical overhaul – and concerns over Seamus Coleman’s advancing years and gradually declining effectiveness combined with doubts over whether there is quite enough firepower up front might keep expectations in check.
Combine that with the fact that there might not ever have been quite so many strong teams all vying for the top six, plus the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions on fans in stadiums and you have the makings for another challenging season.
There are always the “unquantifiables” and the unpredictable in football, though. One or two teams can hit problems early on, have their plans derailed and spend much of the season trying to get back on track. Others, like Wolves, Sheffield United and Leicester in recent years have caught fire early in the season and used that as a platform to remain in contention for the top four even deep into the campaign.
Could Ancelotti, with his new signings on board and the benefit of almost nine months on the job inspire Everton to one of those unexpectedly strong starts? And if he is able to get the team ticking along nicely, there is every chance that Everton could mount a decent assault on the cups, competitions that have typically been the Italian’s strong point throughout his career. An end to the trophy drought feels like a lifetime away but it only takes one good momentum-fuelled run to get the club to Wembley. If Carlo can get us there, let’s hope the fans are back in grounds to see it; football feels pretty lifeless without them.
Certainly, there was evidence in his first few weeks at the helm that he has the tactical acumen to make the team more organised and harder to beat than was the case under Silva. Some good results out the gate would build that ephemeral but vital commodity in football — confidence. With belief, wins beget wins and the League points and cup progress start to take care of themselves.
If you start to take aberrations like the defeats to Norwich, Sheffield United, Aston Villa, Burnley and Bournemouth (both of them) out of the equation and add a couple more wins against the so-called Big 6, you’re looking at dozen to maybe 18 more points and the difference between the bottom half of the table and knocking on the door of the top four.
If this season’s Premier League is to be as competitive as it promises to be, without the total dominance by one or two teams at the very summit, more and more of the teams that finished above the Toffees last season will be taking points off each other and that will provide windows of opportunity if Ancelotti can inspire consistency from his charges. It really is up to them — they’ve demonstrated their quality at times and with the new additions, they should be far better equipped with far less room to hide for the under-achievers.
Predicted finish: 6th
Carabao Cup: Quarter-Finals
FA Cup: Semi-Finals
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Top quality analysis. However nothing to say just yet. Hope to God it’s not another false dawn.
I can’t fault the analysis but I imagine like many others I have seen too many false dawns…especially in recent times to get too optimistic. It’s ‘the hope that kills ya’ is a frequent refrain and it is as true for me in the coming season as it has been every season since I enjoyed watching the team of the ’80s.
We have hope in a drastically overhauled midfield which everyone with eyes could see was needed. I have every confidence we’ll get more goals from midfield and an increase in opportunities for Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison that I’m sure they’ll take.
It’s at the other end of the pitch that I worry. Pickford will cost us points (ten?) if his former doesn’t improve dramatically (in both concentration and distribution) and we need a settled back four that can get organised and on the same wavelength to avoid more sloppy goals and generally panicky defending that gives the opposition encouragement to attack.
Having said all that, whilst I think top six will be a struggle (hope I’m proved wrong) I think we have a better chance of maybe lifting a cup (finally break our luck in the Carabao?) and getting into Europe that way. Most of all, I hope I can get back in my seat in the Balcony and enjoy watching James Rodriguez in the flesh! COYB’s !
Good read until the factors of the teams above us were revealed.
Simply put, we need to hit the ground running, stay free from injuries to key players, and have a shit load of lady luck… and there lays the problem…
I will not get my hopes up simply because Carlo got a few new players in.
He failed to motivate the shit heads that wore the famous blue shirt.
So good luck, Carlo…
We might have fixed the midfield but we are still light up front. Still a chance to offload Kean and bring in a goalscorer.
The pin-prick in the present euphoric bubble is James’s injury issues. All our eggs are in this one basket: if he remains fit and performs inspiring those about him hopefully improvement will follow but it is a monumental “if” looking at his record.
With Everton, more than most things, seeing is believing.
I’m getting a bit greedy now, first I want Tomori in on loan preferably with a buy option.
Then if it’s true Moise Kean wants to return to Juve, Carlo can use his charms and magic wand to bring in the Polish striker Ardcasz Milik from Napoli. This would transform us into no-nonsense top 6 plus material straight away. Look at the difference Aubameyang makes to a sub-par Arsenal team, Milik would bring some of that to a resurgent quality Everton team.
Tell Allan to text him and to jib Mourinho and Tottenham and come here instead.
I know it’s greedy to want more, considering the amazing week we’ve had, but if Moise is intent on going back to Italy some business will have to be done.
We still need an arl arse centre-forward, a decent right back – Arias behind James would be great. The links with Zaha continue. The more creative, goalscoring players we have up front the less kicking Richy will take. An utlity player who can play left-back and centre-back would be great.
Here’s hoping for a good season, with plenty of smiles amongst us blues.
COYBs – let start well against Spurs and keep it going.
Obviously the excitement of the new midfield has people focusing on the attack, but at the risk of boring the hell out of everybody with this repetition, I want to emphasize that I think these three signings will help our defense tremendously.
We have given up far too many goals the past couple of years that were not from defensive mistakes but from turnovers in the middle of the park. Our midfielders have been far too easy to hustle or bump off the ball (Bernard, Sigurdsson, Davies) or far too prone to dumb passes to the opposition in bad positions (Davies, Iwobi) that produce instant counterattacks or desperate fouls (Delph, Gomes) resulting in goals.
Allan and James will not lose the ball. They are superbly accurate passers who simply will not allow possession to be taken off them in bad positions. When they’re on the ball, there will be no idiotic turnovers becoming 4-on-3 counterattacks against our backpedaling defenders. That alone could save us six or eight goals a season. And with Doucouré to clean up behind them and carry the ball forward with his trademark aggression, the pressure will ease even further. So our center-backs should be much, much happier people right now.
I think 6th is a bit too optimistic, because after all we have currently upgraded only three of the 8 positions in the side that needed upgrading. And while I would have hoped that Chelsea could be one of the clubs we could leapfrog this season, their superb recruiting has bagged that hope — plus bypassing Leicester and Wolves will be challenging.
But let’s see who else arrives in this window — and who of our holdovers decides to step up their game. Maybe the optimism isn’t unjustified.
No top-six, no good cup runs, not my thoughts, but judging by the reaction of Barnes and Souness and the others that belong to the red propaganda machine, Rodriguez will struggle with the demands of the English game – if ever there was a time to shut these pundits up and their constant lazy cliched utterances – it is this season!
If we do struggle to break into the top six because the new players don’t bed in as well as we’d like, I do hope we see a more entertaining and enterprising style of football on a more regular basis, this coming season, we cannot afford another ‘wasted’ season, financially or for the sake of our collective sanity.
The team has very obviously had a midfield kick which will help massively in the new season. The real challenge will be the oppositions upgraded teams. No one is stagnant and all will be relatively improved.
Im holding cautious optimism until 10 games in. Then well know what the season holds.
Good scene-setter, Lyndon.
All the talk is naturally around the new boys, rightly so, but much rests upon Calvert-Lewin.
I was very disappointed in his performances post lock-down. The vast improvement he had shown earlier in the season seemed to go out of the window. Every team needs its strikers scoring goals in order to flourish.
If he wants to be a Premier League striker, now would be a good time to stake his claim. He may not get another chance like this.
This time last week, I was told Calvert-Lewin was flying, Darren, and he’s one of the younger players who I expect to really improve now he’s got better players around him.
Better players will demand more, so whoever plays out of Richarlison, Kean and Calvert-Lewin will definitely have to improve on their ball retention, something very few Everton players have been good at for a long time now.
If the new signings are available for the Liverpool match, we can give them a big test (as long as Pickford doesn’t mess up).
On the unexpectedly strong starts, with all the buzz around James it reminds me a bit of when Ravanelli joined Boro. He began with a hattrick, ended with two cup finals then relegation. I don’t see the latter happening to us but sometimes the great start can be a platform (e.g. Leicester 3 years ago) sometimes it peters out e.g. Tony Cottee after his debut, or the Joe Royle team in his last season. We also had Kendall two’s last year where we began with 3 wins and ended with 3 dodgy goals to survive against Wimbledon.
That being said, I think we need at least a solid if not spectacular start otherwise the nerves will kick in. There was excitement after Koeman’s big summer spend, likewise after Silva’s, but it quickly turned to panic. I really hope that this time we hold our nerve have at least a decent first month then kick into a higher gear.
A very good, detailed and balanced article. Let’s hope for a good start to the season for a change
Im prone to gather all opinion, especially those outside our lovely blue bubble, opposition fanbases often through friends, and all a manner of media.
What has struck me most, is whilst theres been hype and buzz that hasnt permeated the noggins of many of the broadsheet podcasts. Whilst Im all for the pinch of salt when they offer an opinion on a club like ours who they barely watch, not one thinks we will be a mover or a shaker and are doomed to finish middle of the pack. In some instances even the current strategy is seen as Everton still buying fading stars, lacking identity. Even in my current giddiness perhaps thats fair.
The truth as always is somewhere in between. However I was surprised no one thought we might spring a surprise, have we massively over egged the pudding?
As long as we didn’t “ruin the transfer window” the media should leave us alone this time
On EFC’s prospects, many pundits and bookies don’t seem so impressed.
I’m hoping for 6th and the League Cup. Oh, and an away win at Anfield and at least a draw at GP in the derby. City to win the league by 1 point.
This is going to be a hell of an exciting season.
The competition in the Premier League has never been so strong. El poo and Man City have to be a bit beyond us in an honest moment. I’m not sold on Chelsea, but do appreciate and enjoy Frank’s approach and style of football. So you have:
Chelsea, Man U, Leicester, Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs, and Everton in my opinion battling for 3rd through 9th place! That’s insane, and it will be insanely competitive, the likes of which I have never personally witnessed. Couple that with:
Burnley, Leeds, Southhampton, and Shefield U and you’ve basically set a “second table” of eleven teams vying for 4-5 European spots. Insanity!
So what to make of all of this? Same thing I think I’ve said for now near 14 years there or thereabouts.
We absolutely must win the games we “should”. No exceptions, no excuses.
If zero heart, know our place in the world, feather-strong constitution Everton starts to rear it’s ugly head, we’re fucked.
A lot of this will be mental fortitude. The will to win, and not just coast through and take a paycheck.
These boys better come ready to play, week in and week out. Ownership and management have 100% done their part in setting up a winning landscape. If the players don’t live up to their end of the bargain, I’d ship every single one of them out. Especially the weak of heart – I’ve had enough of excusing shitting out of tackles and going through the motions to last me a lifetime.
It’s time for the players to put up or shut up / get the fuck out of Everton Football Club.
After Spurs, there’s three very winnable games. If we’re on anything from 7 to 10 points after the first 4 games, we’re onto something. Anything less, and I’ll fear the worst.
Mike@23, yeap I would love Everton to disprove all the pundits, I think 5th may even be possible if DCL and Kean step up. Pickford is still a concern though.
RE- the boxing, yes 80s fantastic era and all on TV. Hagler to me also was awesome.
not one thinks we will be a mover or a shaker and are doomed to finish middle of the pack
Sir John, I am in total agreement with you, but I have to defend the pundits on this one.
Everton, in the Premier League era, have just been like that nice person who never ruffles feathers. Plods along with the “in” crowd but isn’t the center of attention. Never takes a stand on any issue and knows their place.
Frankly, until Everton turn the corner and start to upset the spoiled Princes of English football, the pundits are right to discount us. As far as they are concerned, we have and will always be a non-factor.
They think, “Show me something.” And I don’t blame them.
It’s down to the players now to show the pundits and honestly the world they mean business.
Oh, and by the way John, if Everton really want to make a statement, they can start by beating a boring, anti-footballing team in Spurs at their place on Sunday by two to three goals.
Might turn a few heads, that result.
The one time we ruffled feathers was the year we came forth and barring HKIII that was probably the time everyone had the bleakest outlook for us. I remember as a kid though watching the Saint and Greavsie show and the latter saying “its so boring every year either Everton or Liverpool win the league.” That was in1988. Ive never forgiven Greavsie for jinxing us
its easy to be intimidated by all the signings other teams make and get to believe that they are all stronger than they were the previous season In my experience it rarely turns out that way. Many transfers just don’t work out and its always hard to absorb a lot of new players at once, and existing players form may also fall away.
Same is true for us of course. Fact is a new season is a new season and it can be quite different from the previous season. I think we will be a lot stronger as we had a specific problem area that we have signed two players to fix. If only one of Doucoure or Allen works out we will be much better. 6th is a realistic target for me. If James gets going maybe 5th, but 7th would be a decent interim point to reach – it would be nice to win the “Everton Cup” again (7th).
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