As momentous as it was, the triumph over Liverpool can’t be the be-all and end-all of the Blues’ season. Rather it should be used as the catalyst for a decisive change in the players’ belief against lesser sides, particularly at home
Heavy defeat in the Anfield Derby proved to be a disaster too many for one Everton manager and probably should have been for another in April 2016. Failure to win there in over a decade between 2002 and 2013 came to define one manager’s tenure while a historic victory and the game plan that underpinned it in 2021 has merely reinforced the reputation of another.
The coming weeks will determine whether the events across Stanley Park on Saturday will prove to be as pivotal to the Blues’ season as is hoped but if they do, what was the most dreaded fixture on the calendar will have provided two historic milestones on Everton’s journey back towards some semblance of success.
A miserable 5-2 loss to Liverpool in December 2019 was the last straw for Farhad Moshiri where Marco Silva was concerned. Within 24 hours the Portuguese’s 18-month spell at Goodison Park was over. No one knew it at the time but it was a decision that would put in motion the events that led to Carlo Ancelotti joining the club and eventually lead to the joyous scenes in this past weekend’s derby as 22 years of pain came to an end.
No one was in any doubt how much ending that painful run of results at Anfield was to the fans. Evertonians have recounted the major events that had transpired in their lives — from marriages and the birth of children to divorces, remarriages, career changes and moves away from Merseyside — since Everton had last won on their turf of the enemy way back in the last century.
What was pleasing, writ large by the celebrations at the final whistle, was the reaction of the players and the proof that they, too, knew the magnitude of what they had achieved. It didn’t matter that Burnley and Brighton have achieved a similar result in recent weeks; Everton crossed the Park with the weight of history and all the psychological baggage that has come with this fixture on their shoulders and banished it with 90-plus impressively managed minutes.
Ancelotti’s astute tactical approach has been documented by Paddy Boyland at The Athletic and Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports. A fluid defensive shape, that morphed between a back four and a back five depending on who had the ball and where Andy Robertson, in particular, was when Liverpool had possession, and immense performances across the back line successfully stifled an attack that carried the reds to an emphatic title triumph last season.
Abdoulaye Doucouré recovered from a rocky start to play his usual all-action game of seeming omni-presence and inextinguishable energy and Tom Davies continued his recent metamorphosis from raw misfit to midfield general with another commanding display in front of defence. And crucially, of course, thanks to the class of James Rodriguez, the well-timed introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the clinical finishing of Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton had the ammunition in the final third to score the all-important goals.
As a well-travelled and decorated campaigner, Ancelotti has acknowledged the significance of this victory for the Evertonian collective but he is mindful that it shouldn’t be the high point of the season. On one level the Derby win has to be regarded as just another three points and its importance should act as a marker along the road of this squad’s mental progression, not the be-all and end-all. If it is to define the season, though, it shouldn’t do so in isolation as a triumph over the neighbours but rather as the catalyst for a decisive shift in the players’ mentality that finally pushes them to believe in themselves as top-four material.
And that shift has to be reflected immediately in Monday’s home clash with Southampton because what has thus far been the difference between Everton entering the last third of the season in seventh place and them potentially sitting in second behind Manchester City has been their failure to beat the teams they should, especially at home.
October’s defeat to Southampton was the Toffees’ first of the season and it came as something of a shock to the system. In many ways, it was due to the fall-out from the Goodison Derby — Richarlison was suspended, James played the full game but was clearly suffering the effects of Virgin van Dijk’s clattering challenge, and psychologically the team wasn’t right.
The defeat that followed at Newcastle was worse and was followed by a third straight loss when Manchester United left Goodison Park with a convincing victory but while Ancelotti has overseen an eight game unbeaten run away from home since, Everton have lost important home fixtures against Leeds, West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham while dropping points against Leicester in a match in which they really didn’t do themselves justice.
In winning a fixture they haven’t for more than two decades, the Blues have made up three points that felt beforehand as elusive as those that went to Manchester City three days previously. It has put them back on the heels of the top six and opened up a pathway once more to possible Champions League qualification.
Because of those slip-ups in winnable home matches, particularly at times when results elsewhere have gone their way, ending up in the top four has consistently felt like a noble but ultimately overly-ambitious goal. But performances and results like the ones at Elland Road, Old Trafford and Anfield and the FA Cup rollercoaster against Tottenham have shown that the kind of run required to make that once far-off dream a surprise reality this season is not beyond Everton, even with tricky trips to places like Chelsea and Arsenal (which also carry hoodoos for the Blues of more than two decades) to come. Even more so since Ancelotti has an almost fit squad.
Again, the key will be their home games — against Saints, Burnley, Palace, Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Wolves. Ancelotti and his men have proved they have the tactical acumen and the mentality to set up the right way away from home and win. Now they have to rid themselves of the complacency that has dogged them at Goodison and find the intensity, tempo and guile to stamp their quality on inferior opposition when playing on their own turf but in the absence of fans.
Do that and the legacy of Saturday’s cathartic victory at Anfield will be more than just the “annual cup final” reds fans mock us for; it will be another transformative moment under the stewardship of Ancelotti and a notable step up in Everton’s standing in English football.
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I really hope so, Lyndon, and genuinely believe that we’re on the way. It won’t be as quick as some will demand but that just doesn’t happen now.
Excellent assessment, Lyndon.
The derby win was undoubtedly very special and we hope it proves to be catalytic, not just for this season, but in perpetuity; the players living ( and playing ) up to our motto.
Nevertheless, as we entered injury time on Saturday I felt quite calm (in contrast to the rest of the game!). For me it was the Leeds game and its immediate aftermath that annealed a collection of players into a team. Another turning point ? Inchy at Oxford ? We’ll see…
It would be really nice if, just once, instead of collapsing we can actually go on a run of good results after playing the shite. Carlo has a well deserved reputation of being a phenomenal man manager. Let’s hope he can get the players feet back on the ground and focused on kicking on for that CL/Europa place.
We are all still euphoric over our much waited for victory at Anfield, but I think its a little early to say whether or not this result will be a mentality shift for this group of players. Certainly it should give them more confidence going forward, I think we have had some very good away performances this season at Spurs and a very important confidence builder at Leicester and a great comeback at Man Utd. But these games were interspersed with losses to Newcastle and Fulham at home, which have undermined the confidence we got from our good away performances.
The mentality shift is a very difficult thing to asses and usually the mentality shift takes teams to win a trophy before you really see a mentality shift or an inner belief that they can beat anybody you come up against. But what I think we can say is that this group of players are getting better week on week, yes we still get set backs but you can see the individual and collective improvement in players. But this is a really strange season throwing up some unusual results, I mean if I had told a West Ham fan that they would be in the top 4 after 24 games they would rightly have told me I was talking nonsense. Also Aston Villa like West Ham last year battling against relegation now comfortably in the top half of the league.
So is it the empty stadiums that is having an impact on the results, certainly in our own case you would have to go back to the 80s since Everton won so many away, yet our home form that has been our saviour on many occasions is pretty dreadful.
So I would just hold fire a little longer to see if there has been a mentality change or we are basing that on getting a fabulous result at Anfield, which is slightly tempered when you factor in that in recent weeks they have also lost at home to Brighton and Burnley as well as being hammered by City.
Brian (4), a good post Brian and you are right to question if the times have finally changed at Everton, yes it was a great result because of who it against and it has given us all that feeling that the tide has turned and good times are ahead, I think they are but the Derby was the first, good, step of a long trip into a good era, next step is Southampton next Monday, its just as big as the Derby game.
Thanks Dave I hope it didnt come across as being a negative as I have said from day 1 getting Ancelotti was a transforming acquisition and I genuinely believe we will win things with him in charge. I just question if one result however pleasing can be classed as a mentality change. I know many say the same thing about Inchys goal against Oxford, but I think it was a real kick up the backside that they had just avoided yet another embarrassing defeat in the FA Cup. For me the mentality in that team changed when Colin Harvey was made first team coach. Colin was a fabulous coach just a pity it didnt work out for him as a manager.
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