‘Football Is Simple’: Ancelotti Can Be Everton’s Anchor to Calm in a Chaotic Premier League

Although the circumstances are undesirable, Carlo Ancelotti feels like a man who will come into his own in them and Everton’s high-class performances indicate he’s doing just that.

Matt Jones 07/10/2020 43comments  |  Jump to last

The ongoing edition of the Premier League has been wild, hasn’t it?

An absence of supporters has paved the way for a dereliction of defending and a flood of attacking football. And even with a pandemic still present across the world, teams in the top flight in England have parted with an estimated £1.24 billion on 107 permanent signings this summer.

Alright for some, eh?

Results have been jaw-dropping too.

Wolves conceded four against West Ham United.
Manchester City conceded five against Leicester.
Manchester United conceded six against Tottenham Hotspur.
And Liverpool conceded seven against Aston Villa.

Everton, the Premier League leaders — just nice to say, isn’t it? — somehow have James Rodriguez. But, as we survey this anarchic competition, perhaps more crucially they have Carlo Ancelotti too.

After the Toffees smashed Brighton & Hove Albion 4-2 to make it seven wins from seven in 2020-21, a journalist asked the Everton manager whether he was surprised by the manner in which Rodriguez — who already has three goals and three assists to his name in royal blue — has been able to flourish so quickly.

“A player with quality doesn’t have a problem to adapt,” shrugged Ancelotti. “The quality is there. Football is not so complicated, the pitch is always the same, the opponents always have 11 players, the ball is the same and the goal doesn’t move. Football is simple.”

Football is simple. It’s not so complicated, everybody.

For a long time, it hasn’t felt that way for Everton.

In reality, at the moment football shouldn’t be simple given the challenging circumstances clubs and players have to cope with. They are being frequently tested, have various painstaking protocols to follow and many will be anxious away from their families while the virus remains a real threat.

It’s not a great situation for the game and such significant alterations to the Premier League were always likely to yield to major changes in the way matches are prepared for and played.

Although the circumstances are undesirable, Ancelotti feels like a man who will come into his own in them and Everton’s high-class performances indicate he’s doing just that.

When Everton appointed Ancelotti they knew they were not necessarily getting a philosophy-centric coach who was exclusive to a system and a way of playing. They were getting someone who had huge experience, tactical nous, adaptability and star quality, as well as the ability to attract star quality.

They were also getting a leader. A quiet leader. Someone who through that leadership would help elite footballers — and Everton look to have a few of them all of a sudden, don’t they? — walk a little taller, play a little better and feel comfortable in their surroundings.

While he hasn’t had to deal with a pandemic running concurrent with a football season previously, Ancelotti has seen pretty much everything else in football. Perhaps it’s therefore unsurprising that already he’s shown at Everton he can be an anchor to perspective and an embodiment of assurance regardless of the scenario. In times of such uncertainty away from the field and with chaos seemingly ruling on it, that pacifying presence feels like it will count for a lot over the coming months.

It’d be fair to say the ability to take stock and take a deep breath is something Everton have lacked in recent years. Ancelotti, who has become a reference point for supporters already due to the team he’s built and the personality he’s put across, feels like he can be a catalyst for all tied to the club being a little calmer.

We’ll need to be, as much as we’re all riding high at the moment. Because, as unlikely as it might seem at this stage, Everton will (probably) lose a football match soon and potentially lose one heavily. Crazy scorelines simply look as though they’ll be par for the course this term.

When they do slip up, it’s comforting to know Ancelotti will be there and that he’ll know what the required next steps are.

After all, football isn’t so complicated, is it?

Matt Jones is a contributor to World Soccer Talk and a host on both Team Talk Radio and The Blue Room, the Internet’s most listened-to Everton-related podcast. Subscribe today where you download podcasts and check out The Blue Room Extra on Patreon for even more content.

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Barry Rathbone
1 Posted 07/10/2020 at 20:57:29
"football is simple"

What a pleasure to hear this ageless truism from one of the greatest football men on the planet. The complicated drivel pundits and computer game tacticians come out with makes me despair at times.

Well said Carlo.

John Davies
2 Posted 07/10/2020 at 21:04:29
"Football is a simple game, made difficult by players and coaches".

A brilliant quote attributed to the brilliant Brian Clough.

Carlo's quote echoes the sentiments.

Both men - totally right.

Stan Schofield
3 Posted 07/10/2020 at 21:14:32
In any sphere of activity that needs thought and motivation, a key element of 'expertise' is the ability to take a problem that looks complicated, and simplify it by identifying the central features of importance, understanding them, and acting to solve that problem.

In contrast, a lack of 'expertise' is usually associated with making the problem even more complicated than it seems at first, and usually ends up failing to solve the problem and creating an even bigger problem. Such a lack of 'expertise' is the domain of armchair pundits, charlatans, and bullshitters.

Carlo Ancelotti clearly belongs in the first category, of highly competent and talented individuals who have the intellectual nous, and personality, to solve the difficult problem of making a top-level football team better. Unfortunately, the previous incumbents were not in this category, instead falling into the second category of general non-achiever who could talk-the-talk without being able to walk-the-walk..

Football definitely mirrors professional life in general, where real talent and substantial achievement are the exception.

As an Evertonian of many years, I feel thankful that we have Ancelotti as manager. God knows we've suffered enough with the snake-oil salesmen we've had to endure over the years.

Andy Walker
4 Posted 07/10/2020 at 21:17:58
Just hope the calm remains. Problem is it's beyond everyone's control including Ancelotti. We could get Covid cases in the squad (players flying all over the planet at the moment) and heaven forbid, the manager comes down with it.

We need some good luck, or at least no bad luck.

Stephen Brown
5 Posted 07/10/2020 at 21:40:18
I've rarely been as concerned about getting injuries in these ridiculous international fixtures!

We keep our 15 or so top players fit especially James, Allan, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin and we have a real chance this season?!

Dreading these games this week!

Si Cooper
6 Posted 07/10/2020 at 22:12:06
Football is simple but people are generally pretty complicated.

What James obviously has is fantastic ability, absolute confidence in that ability, and a natural awareness of how he should combine with his teammates.

I don't think all three attributes always come as a package. I've known some with great ability (in a variety of circumstances) who are riven with self-doubt. As I suggested on another thread not everyone who plays a team sport is necessarily a good ‘team player'. I would guess the great ones do have all three combined.

Steve Ferns
7 Posted 07/10/2020 at 22:25:01
Carlo might say it's simple, but his tactics are very complicated. We shift formation several times per game. Players have roles rather than set positions. There is nothing simple about the way we are playing.

An example of this is Doucouré. He is playing as a box-to-box midfielder. Allan is usually behind him and whilst Gomes is alongside him, it's Doucouré who gets further forward and it's Doucouré who gets back into his own penalty area.

Another part of Doucouré's Role, though, is to cover James Rodriguez. James likes to track back and put a shift in. But he's not reliable. Watch James when he's lost his man, and Coleman is under pressure, it's Doucouré offering support, always. He's clearly tasked with tracking James's man.

James plays from right forward, but he's rarely there. Inside he comes and hits the number 10 spot, making it harder to be picked up and creating space for Doucouré and Coleman to get into. Richarlison pushed inside and joins Calvert-Lewin and makes a front 2.

Gomes is pushing out into the space Richarlison has vacated for the “go to” Everton move. We work it to Gomes and he draws players to him before hitting the switch to James. This is the third most used switch in the premier league. The first is that when James gets it, he draws plays to him and switches it back to Digne who is in acres of space.

This double switch is often used by Liverpool. The bait and switch move is very predictable but impossible to defend against when you have players like James and Gomes pulling wide and players like Doucouré who can carry the ball quickly down the pitch if the opposition vacate the middle.

Carlo might want it sound simple but it ain't. We're clearly playing 4-3-3 but this looks more like a 4-4-2 on position maps with James deep and inside Doucouré.

Paul Birmingham
8 Posted 07/10/2020 at 22:53:00
Realism and perspective and thank God we have a manager whom knows the game having played and managed at the highest levels.

Carlo has got a great spirit and respect in this squad which looks like it's enriching the whole of EFC.

Good times, and hopefully no injuries. Probably too early yet to know whose the officials for the derby, but regardless if Everton play to their potential, we have a very good chance to beat them, and beat them well.

James Flynn
9 Posted 07/10/2020 at 23:03:35
Steve (7) - You remain an interesting and fun read.

Carlo calls the game simple because the game's been played under pretty much the same conditions for the last 150 years. There's nothing new.

"James likes to track back and put a shift in". His all but flat refusal to do those things combine as the #1 reason those big clubs he played for were willing to let him leave.

James could be to us what Cantona was to Fergy. A player who stood around the pitch doing nothing until the ball came forward to him to attack the goal line.

But tracking back and putting a shift in? That would be a first.

And not what we need from him.

Steve Ferns
10 Posted 07/10/2020 at 23:08:02
You need to pay more attention then James. Your namesake has often got back to help Seamus Coleman, not as often as Richarlison helps Digne but he does.

Digne can rely on Richarlison and the tactics are they defend together. On the other side, as James is not reliable, Doucouré comes into it.

Steve Ferns
11 Posted 07/10/2020 at 23:17:51
According to Stats Bomb, James Rodriguez has made 47 pressures in his 4 league games, 17 of which have come in the defensive third. By comparison, Richarlison has also made 47, but only 11 have come in the defensive third.
Mike Gaynes
12 Posted 07/10/2020 at 23:39:11
James #9, I agree with your comment about Steve's great post. BUT... nobody has ever dropped James because he didn't "track back and put a shift in."

Nor has he ever "refused" to defend. As Steve said, he does get back but he's just not reliable at it. Sometimes he chases the man, sometimes he goes for the ball (as he did with the interception that set up his second goal). The effort is consistent, but he doesn't stay in a particular channel -- attacking or defending.

Bayern didn't keep him because they felt Muller and Gnabry were better in attack. Zidane didn't play him at Madrid because he didn't like him personally and because he didn't seem to fit Zidane's preferred style. Nobody ever said a word about his defending... or lack thereof.

David Cooper
13 Posted 08/10/2020 at 00:28:34
The football that Carlo wants us to play is basically simple because he finally has players who understand his tactics and are good enough and can be relied upon to carry them out. He has assembled a team of 10 players plus some subs who have become very good decision-makers. No guessing who is the 11th person!

James is the classic example of this skill when collecting the ball, passing the ball and moving off the ball into space. He is not going to regularly close down opposition who run into our defensive right-hand side of the pitch and it is a very good job that Coleman has been outstanding and Doucouré knows that he has to do this covering role. Richarlison does this magnificently in front of Digne.

If James stays out of our penalty area and hangs about between there and the half-way line, he is open to receive the ball when we win it back which we have been doing very well this season.

I do think that we may well be caught out at times using this play and, with Pickford in goal, we might be susceptible to a shot from outside the penalty area as a player cuts in from our right side, as Liverpool did in the FA Cup. Plus I think I have observed other players attempting to beat Pickford at his left-hand top corner.

But while we continue to make our football basically sound and simple, we are going to be challenging on all fronts this year.

James Flynn
14 Posted 07/10/2020 at 00:39:52
Steve – Let's see how that plays over 38 games. By Carlo's design or James's inclination.

His history in the big leagues is that he's a lazy defender.

I expect him to put in a shift like the rest. But if it's track back or stay up front? He stays up front.

Mike Gaynes
15 Posted 08/10/2020 at 00:50:12
Steve #11, you are a serious research wonk.
Mark Andersson
16 Posted 07/10/2020 at 01:12:48
Carlo says it's simple because to him it is simple.

He has his vision and he is getting the right players in who can translate his vision... simples!

Derek Thomas
17 Posted 08/10/2020 at 01:39:44
Nothing works as well as a carefully rehearsed ad lib (said somebody – Bob Hope?) And in Carlo's case – it did... because he's right:

KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

My big worry is that players, especially Liverpool players, will come back with infections. There will then be a 'dispensation' which will cause the derby to be postponed and, as long as they've kept up the payments in their pact Old Nick, the Premier League will dock us 3 points because they have no game.

Re James tracking back. There are some forward and midfield players you don't mind in your own box... Cahill, Fellaini, Jelavic, come to mind. And there are some players who just need to get to fuck: Limpar, Pienaar, Lukaku, Gomes, they are just penalties waiting to happen.

I think James is in the second group... let him do his thing further up the field.

Darren Hind
19 Posted 08/10/2020 at 04:17:17
Steve F,

You are trying to complicate a simple issue. We finally have a manager who knows the beauty of simplicity. This is no Marco Silva or Sam Allardyce, filling the players' heads with tactical gibberish and rigid formations. Like Alex Ferguson, Bob Paisley and every other great manager, this one trusts good players to do the right thing. No magic formula. There is a joy in the simplicity.

I'll never go down the route of describing every simple act of common sense Carlo applies as the work of a genius. However, he has been very impressive since last season's nightmare. Something has happened to him. Last season, he looked for all the world like he would rather be someplace else.

This season, he seems to be embracing the culture of the club. He is expressing admiration for all departments. He is including everyone. I do not remember an EFC being this together.

For me, "Mr Simplicity's" biggest achievement has been the turnaround in the way the staff feel about themselves. We didn't have bad coaches or players here. We've just been badly managed on every level. Our club has, for years, been broken. For as long as I can remember we have had different factions pulling in different directions.

I recently heard from a reliable source that a much criticised member of the board broke with club protocol and revealed the name of a transfer target to one of our players. The player's brief was to speak to an international teammate with the instructions to "Get him over here"...

Do I believe that? Absolutely I do; both players have confirmed the conversations took place and the target is here... The manager already knew the player and was confident that, if he could get him over here, show him around and tell him about the project and his role in it, he would get his man. So it transpired. From all accounts, there was no deliberation from the player when asked to join. He was like the man from Del Monte. He simply said Yes.

That story alone tells me there is a togetherness which has been missing for years at this club. An inclusion. The whole ship seems to be rowing in the same direction. Throw in reports that another much-maligned member of the board has been selling the "history" of the club to targeted players and a new, united Everton begins to emerge.

I have to confess, when I hear names like "Carlo Fantastico" my toes curl. They make our fans sound like teenage girls talking about their pop idols. But you would have to be blind not to see the positive effect Mr Ancelotti is having around these parts.

He praises his coaches, promotes them, entrusts them with more authority, tells his strikers they can be the best in Europe. He has good encouraging words to say about every one of them.

"I have had a lot of captains in my career, but how Seamus expresses his love for the shirt, is really top. He's a great captain. I don't want to forget anyone, but he is up there as a captain with Maldini, John Terry and Sergio Ramos"... Seamus must have felt 10 feet tall.

Our new players have gone from feeling unwanted to knowing they are very much wanted. Our much-maligned existing players are being compared to the very best.

Respect, togetherness, inclusion, flattery and patience. Good players are being trusted to adjust to circumstances beyond the control of the dugout. Motivation seems to be taking care of itself. It's a huge gamble, but even our weakest link has been told he will be given time to rediscover his form.

For the first time since Big Joe's competitive squad was unfairly dubbed "The Dogs of War", we are one.

We are all too battle-scarred not to know this could unravel with a couple of bad injuries at crucial times, but I can't disagree with the basic premise of this article. There is a beautiful simplicity about what we are witnessing now. Long may it continue.

Most of the fancied teams will settle down. but we are witnessing some bizarre results and scorelines at the moment and, if we can slip the pack and find any sort of consistency, how many of them will be able to find the consistency to overhaul us?

Fuck me, this is a big game coming up. There may only be three points at stake, but it could be hugely significant in terms of belief.

Peter Warren
20 Posted 08/10/2020 at 07:36:09
Sorry, Steve, I'm not buying your theory it's complicated. Left side is fine as Richarlison and Digne are reliable going up and down.

Right side, James is so good and creative that he drifts and he's not always there to track the opposition's player so he gets cover. I will ask Einstein who covers – what a surprise: it's Doucouré when he plays as, guess what, he has the biggest engine.

Hold on: What happens though when Doucouré is not playing, like in the last Carabao Cup game – no way... guess what – it was Allan! Wow, couldn't have predicted that!

Guess what: space is often free when James gets the ball and attracts players – yes, the opposite side. I'm not kidding. Guess what happens as the opposition get a little more tired and start anticipating that exquisite crossfield pass from James – more space... guess what that means – James often plays in a striker's run as he has more time to see it.

Sorry, I am ribbing somewhat, but my point remains that, if we give the ball to James, he creates, creates, creates... and guess what happened when Brighton concentrated on him – more space for left-side attacks. Personally I think it's simple and players are left to play and simple instructions – Calvert-Lewin I want him where he is dangerous.

Clearly everybody can see the shape defensively has been very good, the defending on free kicks I've never seen before – no doubt Carlo's son and Ferguson do a lot of tactical stuff but I'm with Carlo: it's a pretty simple game.

Peter Warren
21 Posted 08/10/2020 at 07:44:04
Two more observations by me about our team – I wouldn't say tactical. Since Carlo's come, because most teams are doing the press on defenders (at least that's my theory), Carlo tries to get his central defenders to play through them (usually on the floor so midfielders or strikers control first time) and so we are piercing through the press.

This is working okay at times but we're not good enough at it – hence why I think he's bought Godfrey (as well as speed obviously since, guess what, Mina and Keane are slow!)

Other ways to stop the press is to play football through them – this is the farting around at the back. We're definitely a little better but still not very good at this. We have been making lots of mistakes and have given up many chances doing this still.

It will be interesting to see if they are instructed not to do this tactic against Liverpool who remain the best at getting the ball back in this situation.

Steve Ferns
22 Posted 08/10/2020 at 12:08:54
Peter, simple is an old fashioned 4-4-2. Two banks of four. Each has their little zone and the team retains shape.

Watch Everton's shape. We are loosely in a 4-3-3:

Richarlison Calvert-Lewin James
Gomes Allan Doucouré
Digne Mina Keane Coleman

10 minutes into a game suddenly Richarlison and James are wide of the midfield 3, and not because they have been dragged there, so 4-5-1.

Then, James pops up on the left and Richarlison is in a front two with Doucoure shuffling into right midfield. 4-4-2.

Iwobi gets on the pitch and plays left forward in place of Richarlison and Sigurdsson on for Gomes. and you see a 4-3-3. Then a minute later, James is wide left, Iwobi has gone wide right and Sigurdsson is pushing forwards. 4-2-3-1.

The shape of the side is constantly changing. Players are moving all over. You might want to think it's down to the individual players, but there is patterns to it. This is all planned. When players are moving, there is still balance to the team and players covering.

Under Martinez, Allardyce and Silva, the shape was pretty consistent. Usually to our detriment and we were very predictable and easy to stop. The same under Koeman. However, I'll give Ronald his due that he was very tactically astute. He could flip through formations, shapes and tactics mid-match. however, the team became disjointed and lost its balance and the players looked very confused.

There is no doubt, that Carlo is getting what are complicated movements, that Koeman couldn't consistently pull off, to look very simple. As you imply, Carlo isn't doing anything ground-breaking. He's adapting things to the strength of the players he has. So, yes, that's why it's Doucoure covering James, and not Gomes. He's taking what the players want to do and joining it all up together.

The fact that the team is retaining it's balance, and that it retains a shape, even if the shape changes, shows you this is coached and planned. Changing shapes and formations mid-match and retaining that balance is not just done on the fly. This is all planned. It's not simple stuff. It's hard to pull off, just ask Koeman.

You can come up with the most elaborate and complicated tactics, but if you break it down into very east instructions for each player, it can appear simple. For people with a great football brain, like Ancelotti and Koeman, this is simple. But Ancelotti, unlike Koeman, can explain this in a way that his players can execute easily. Koeman seemed to be one of those, like say Glenn Hoddle, that could see things, but just couldn't explain it to someone else who could not see it. That, for me, is one of Ancelotti's greatest strengths.

Stan Schofield
23 Posted 08/10/2020 at 13:11:52
Steve@22: Interesting analysis of how we're setup, as always. However, surely it is simple, despite the changes during a game. Yes, it's all planned by Ancelotti, but it's not complicated. Certainly not since you've explained it!

I think perhaps it's the simplicity of Ancelotti's approach, and his emphasis on it being simple, that enables the players to execute it. But the opposition don't find it simple, because they don't know when the various switches in pattern (that you highlight) will be done.

Also, if someone like Koeman or Hoddle can supposedly see things but be unable to explain, I'm not sure how we can know that what they see makes sense. Clarity of both thought and explanation are signs of someone who knows what they're doing, while absence of those things is usually a sign of a bullshitter.

Steve Ferns
24 Posted 08/10/2020 at 13:34:25
Stan, it's hard to see what's going on at times in live games. For the first time for a while, I have watched the extended highlights of Everton, despite having seen the game live. Not just to savour the moment of watching Everton playing good football and winning, but to try and work out what we are doing.

I believed that we would need a defensive midfielder. Someone in a fixed position to plug the gaps in the middle of the park that the opposition frequently poured through last season. So, when Allan pops up higher up the pitch, I've been back and watched it and tried to work out who's where and what's going on, in the event we get countered, and found that we are actually pretty organised and that there is always one of the trio of central midfielders sat in covering. So we do have a fixed defensive midfielder, it's just that this role is passed on between the trio.

I've read a lot of match reports where they have wrongly said the formation. One said 4-4-2, others listed 4-2-3-1, as frequently done on Sky. Some have even said it's hard to work out what our actual formation is, such as it changes so often.

As for Hoddle and Koeman. They know what they can see, as they are able to demonstrate it themselves on the training pitch. They can still hit passes that others are incapable of successfully executing.

Liverpool is going to be a tactical delight, although one I will certainly have to digest on the replay, emotions are always too high to properly digest something like that live. It would be great to play them at their own game, with "bait and switch" as they're the team that have done this to devastating effect over the last 2 or 3 years.

Sam Hoare
25 Posted 08/10/2020 at 14:14:06
Steve @22, I read somewhere that Ancelotti likes to do a lot of planning on defensive shape but believes that when attacking it is best to let players follow their own creative instincts as much as possible.

I'm not sure if that's a practice that he is still following but if so it may be a reason why we are creating a lot more. And why our shape seems to change a lot. He is trusting the players a lot more and has brought in one player especially whose natural creative instincts are among the sharpest in the world.

Stan Schofield
26 Posted 08/10/2020 at 14:22:11
Steve, apart from some good bits during Martinez' first season, and similarly (but fewer) with Silva (especially with the Gomes, Gana and Sigurdsson midfield), the last time I recall us playing football as entertaining as currently was in the late 60s with the Ball, Harvey and Kendall midfield.

By entertaining, I don't just mean the pleasure of winning, but the quick interpassing moves through the midfield and the apparent economy of effort involved. It's like as if the entire team are enjoying playing, want the ball, and know what to do with it before receiving it, particularly Rodriguez who's elegant style reminds me of Harvey.

When I watched us in the late 60s, I never analysed the play as such, but could appreciate its beauty. I also remember my dad waxing lyrical about it, and he didn't analyse it either. I don't know if you've seen any of it on film, but if you have, I'd be interested to see it analysed.

The thing is, Ball, Harvey and Kendall appeared to have an almost telepathic mutual understanding. No doubt helped by repetitive training at Bellefield, but surely with a large element of natural tendency to it, because each of the trio blossomed through the presence of the other. Otherwise, any midfield of very talented individuals could have been as good through repetitive training. There was something other-wordly about them, as there was for the then Brazil midfield of Gerson, Rivelino and Clodoaldo. Something that possibly went beyond the realm of analysis, that couldn't be broken down for explanation.

I suspect this what we're seeing now, however long it might last. The quintessential extra thing that makes a team gel as a well-oiled machine. Something that Ancelotti sees as simple, which is perhaps why he's been so successful.

Barry Rathbone
27 Posted 08/10/2020 at 14:23:19
Steve Ferns

Carlo might say it's simple, but his tactics are very complicated. We shift formation several times per game.

That's how football is played – always has been always will be.

When I played midfield in the 70s if the centre half went charging forward I dropped back to cover as did others in other positions. Adapting to what goes on around you defines whether you are a player or a donkey.

Football's global success is based on it being a fluid simple game. It remains the case that the best players come from the poorest areas where joy of technique is not subsumed by idiots with clipboards. An obsession with "chalkboards" and complex tactics is one reason why the USA cannot produce "natural" footballers despite decades of having a go at it.

Steve Ferns
28 Posted 08/10/2020 at 14:30:38
Sam, I think James has free reign to do whatever he wants. The thing that interests me, that has clearly been worked on by Carlo on the training ground, is the shape behind him and how the midfield adjusts to it, both to offer him support but also to offer defensive cover. It might be one talented player freestyling, but the rest still know what to do to adapt.

I don't think Carlo is doing much more than letting the players play where they want to play. Doucoure wants to cover every blade of grass and be involved in attack and defence. Carlo has made a system that encompasses this. Allan wants to go get the ball back and not be tied to a fixed position in front of the defence and the system encompasses that. Gomes wants to patrol a narrow section of the pitch, not quite getting into attack, and not dropping all the way into defence, and he's got a role doing that. Simply getting space, picking up the ball, drawing players to him and finding others in space.

It seemed under Silva that we were trying to hammer players into positions that were not comfortable for them to suit Silva's particular system. Ancelotti has more flexibility and his system suits the players. But also the players suit the system, as they have clearly been well recruited, with joined-up thinking of how they can all fit together.

Barry, that's not how Everton played under Joe Royle, Howard Kendall (III), Walter Smith, David Moyes, Roberto Martinez, Sam Allardyce and Duncan Ferguson. We played very rigid formations.

Eric Cantona made himself a career by standing between the defence and midfield, with our systems too rigid to cope. Maybe it was different in the '70s, I wasn't around to comment on that. Certainly from the 1990s onwards our systems were extremely rigid and inflexible.

Tony Abrahams
29 Posted 08/10/2020 at 14:35:47
Good thread, stop complicating everything Steve F, and just start enjoying it!

Darren talks about confidence, it's the magic ingredient when aligned with talent, with the only things left to worry about now being the will, and a big dose of luck to see us through!

Paul Tran has asked for a simple man-manager, for years, and this is everything what we are seeing from Ancelloti right now.

I think Duncan Ferguson has definitely rubbed off on Carlo Ancelotti, because you can feel the manager having a real affection for Everton. Maybe that's one of the reasons he came, because he'd already seen the power of the Evertonians the day we knocked his Chelsea side out of the cup, so let's just hope he continues to bring us more joy!

John Pierce
30 Posted 08/10/2020 at 16:15:14
Steve, I think it worth looking at what's going on more closely. After a couple of games, I was a touch confused because there was a lot ‘going on' tactically. It seemed easier to see without the ball (I might add a massive improvement here by just working harder and an improved attitude) but much harder with it.

I think your post at 28, gets close to the nub of it. The simple part is Carlo, true to his word, has build the team around James. The more prosaic and complex element is watch the supporting cast rearrange themselves as he glides across the pitch. I think the two home games encapsulate that more.

The more straightforward view might be he has put players in their best positions, giving balance to the team regardless of formation, given them their collective head to accentuate their strengths. I mean James is a transcendent talent, knowing what he can do and stopping him are two entirely different things.

The most obvious change is not James himself or what Carlo has done but the additional levels that players are reaching as a result. Coleman surprisingly!, Richarlison especially, and Keane all look like they can step up to another level.

The evolution has snowballed into revolution. Still masses to work on but the key element is the opposing team are now worried about us, before they weren't and one goal, especially the first goal was often more than enough to beat us. They know we will score against them. That means they have to be more offensive and that leaves gaps.

Looking ahead I can countenance losing to that shower but unlike under Silva, I expect it not to have a terminal effect on our season.

Si Cooper
31 Posted 08/10/2020 at 17:21:49
John, I think your third paragraph sums it all up. Surely the most remarkable thing, and the idea the interviewer was pursuing, was the speed in which James (also applicable to Allan and Abdoulaye) has integrated. There surely wasn't enough time for the team to have been coached into effectiveness if the manager wasn't, to a large extent, relying on the players to naturally know what to do.

I think there are players who simply do the ‘right thing' most of the time. Where Carlo may well be light years ahead of the likes of Martinez and Silva, is his (experience-aided) natural ability to identify and (crucially) recruit this intuitive type of player who simply needs motivation rather than intensive coaching.

Darren Hind
32 Posted 08/10/2020 at 18:48:19

Tony is right. You are complicating a simple set-up.

You can't seriously believe that a manager would send out players who are still relatively new to their surroundings and their teammates with some sort of convoluted plan to start with one set-up and sneakily alter the formation after 10 minutes?

I suspect the years of rigid unimaginative tactics forced upon our players by managers who don't believe in them has clouded your judgement. What you are witnessing now is fluidity.

Anelotti has gone for classic simplicity. He has set his spine down the middle using Doucouré and Allan as the wall we didn't have last season. The fact that they can both play a bit opens up options for him.

Calvert-Lewin is his focal point... Either side of Calvert-Lewin are the people Carlo will see as his "players" – James and to a lesser extent Richarlison.

Lamentably, "You play/We play" vanished years ago. Today's players all have their "duties", I accept that... but I too have been watching re-runs of the games and, although I see the same thing as you, I have formed an entirely different opinion.

I don't see James and Richarlison going into areas they have been instructed to play in. I see two players venturing into areas they have been invited to explore. They are not there because the formation and tactics demand that they need to be. They are looking for the ball. Their movement is that of freedom and is primarily offensive.

Barry Rathbone
33 Posted 08/10/2020 at 19:10:49
Steve Ferns

Your list is a list of comparative failures where mediocre players ruled the day, you just made Carlo's point.

Read and comprehend what he ACTUALLY says.

“A player with quality doesn't have a problem to adapt” shrugged Ancelotti. “The quality is there. Football is not so complicated."

Jay Harris
34 Posted 08/10/2020 at 19:19:37

It is simply not true that the formation was rigid in the nineties.

I remember a discussion I had with Barry Horne one night (who was next door neighbour of a friend of mine) when I said how I noticed he always dropped in to fill the hole left by the full-backs, and he said it was a natural tendency for him as he became aware of the danger.

He was not under any instruction to be part of a rigid tactical formation.

For me, football has always been about getting the best players – something we seemed unable to do until Ancelotti came along.

Stan Schofield
35 Posted 08/10/2020 at 19:35:49
Darren@32: Good post.

I see the way we're playing at the moment as a refreshing antidote to the incessant gegen-pressing that football has been subjected to for too long.

That stuff is surely unsustainable in the long run, requiring players to have the fitness levels of sprinters and marathon runners. Fitness that is ultimately a substitute for self-expression, creativity, and (dare I say it) beauty.

Yes, we press hard, but our current style is style itself, very pleasing to the eye and the very reason for watching football in the first place. It's memorable stuff, and long may it continue.

John McFarlane Snr
36 Posted 08/10/2020 at 20:30:17
Hi Steve F, [various posts] I have long maintained the Carlo Ancelotti's approach to football, in which he considers football is simple. I believe that 'good players' act on instinct and deal with problems as they arise. I've never understood the production of a catalogue of instructions when a substitute is introduced to the fray.

There is a good chance that my outlook will be ridiculed by many on this site, but I don't pay any attention to tactics or formations. I know what I like, and if I had to dissect every aspect of a game, I think that my enjoyment would be diminished.

When a game starts I see eleven players attempting to defeat eleven opponents, and I'm oblivious to formations and tactics, and I also believe that I'm able to appreciate good football, whichever side produces it.

Sam Bowen
37 Posted 09/10/2020 at 08:06:24
Jesus Christ Steve. It's no wonder you had such a love in for Marco Silva, a manager who tried to over complicate the game.

I think Carlo is absolutely spot on with his comments. He's bought in better players and of course there are systems and tactics but he's bought intelligent players who do the right things with ease.

It's not rocket science and your observation of Doucouré filling in for James. To me that was always going to be the obvious role for him.

I think Sam Hoare called the current first team early on and I was in full agreement. Allan sitting, which you said he couldn't do; Gomes to the left and Doucouré filling in box to box, covering James right who of course would drift.

As many have rightly said, we were all taught that, if one goes, the other covers. It's still the case now. Very simple, we now have better players that can run performing these duties.

And long may it continue.

Robert Tressell
38 Posted 09/10/2020 at 09:07:06
I think the tactics of Ancelotti are sophisticated rather than complicated. Steve F, you have explained this sophistication well as you always do.

Also, simplicity comes in the communication with players. Ancelotti is much better at this than predecessors. Silva's tactics and formations may not have been wildly different – but he was unable to convey his expectations as effectively as Ancelotti.

Finally, in Allan and Rodriguez, he has introduced players who lead by example. Ancelotti trusts his players to do the right thing. Silva tried, in my view, to remove this responsibility from the players and have them work to instruction. This is demoralising for mature intelligent players. It's also flawed if, like Silva, you can't communicate the instruction with clarity and simplicity.

Mike Blackburn
39 Posted 09/10/2020 at 09:46:17
"Simple is as simple does!"

I think Carlo is entrusting the squad to keep it simple and not to over-play football. I mean two banks of four when getting attacked, couldn't be more Italian. Use your nouse to deal with and solve the situation in front of you. Something that Michael Keane is doing really well at the moment.

If anything Carlo has introduced an air of calm around the club. Marco Silva was awful at this, and had a rabbit in headlights when it was going pear-shaped.

Fat Sam was just a... you fill in the blanks. Koeman had all the star-studded background of his past playing career to fall back on. All hype and no style.

With James, Allan and Doucouré coming in and stabilising the midfield, I suppose are Carlo's Lieutenants to show the way to play with a sprinkling of guile and steel throughout the middle of the pitch.

All I want for this season is stability with the squad and let the team grow and learn together instead of the revolving door of poor manager after poor manager. It's still early days, but I believe the cream always rises to the top, and Carlo is the cool cat to enjoy it.

Dave Abrahams
40 Posted 09/10/2020 at 09:56:03
Some excellent posts on here regarding players and tactics, basically saying the game is very simple and easy to players who understand and know how to play football properly.

I don't want to be negative at such a positive time but we still need to add strength to the squad to make the top six this season, and I know Carlo and Marcus can't do everything at once, but two good players before Monday would put us in the running this season.

Robert Tressell
41 Posted 09/10/2020 at 10:39:42
Dave - two good players would be good but Rome wasn't built in a day. Even if no new players come in then this is still an excellent improvement in the playing staff - at the same time as a strategic overhaul of the academy.
Phill Thompson
42 Posted 09/10/2020 at 13:10:18
Some very interesting comments there Steve, the wonderful thing about football is that two people can watch a game and see different things and both be right.

I often have a different view from “expert” journalists when it comes to formations for instance and this is a difficult one to define, we may start in one formation but there is always a flexibility in the play depending on if we are attacking, defending, where players are etc., I see 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1 etc at times in the same game. Carlo's experience and communication skills appear to me to get the message over as to what he wants and the players respond.

The interesting thing for me is that Carlo has invited David Unsworth to watch first-team training, with the implied message that this is how he wants the U23s to play too. And you can see this in their formations and play this season, indeed you could almost have the same discussions and disagreements about the U23s.

On Sunday, the U23s played Man City, but without any real wide players or of course players of the calibre of Richarlison, James, Allan etc. But you could see the similarities,

Simms was playing the Calvert-Lewin role, sometimes on his own, then with two attackers joining him from midfield, then we'd revert to a 5 man midfield with only Simms up. I found it fascinating seeing them playing these roles, Baningime in the Allan role, Onyango doing a Doucouré or was he playing like James sometimes by going wide right?

Whatever people's views are there's no doubt that Carlo's methods whether simple or complex are changing things throughout the club and making us all think differently too about what we are watching.

Dave Abrahams
43 Posted 09/10/2020 at 13:16:58
Robert (41), yes, you are absolutely right; it's just me being a bit greedy and wanting some jam alongside the excellent work that's been done in this window.

I want it but I'm prepared to wait!!

Tony Everan
44 Posted 13/10/2020 at 16:57:00
The comments John @30 makes about the difference James makes have the most resonance. All three summer signings are fabulous but it is James that has changed the way we play.

His sublime control, movement and vision changes the game. He rarely loses the ball and is always trying to be positive.

The ball comes to him and the frenetic and frenzied pressing by animalistic midfielders such as Tottenham's is negated. James can overcome it and create a bit of time and possession that teams need to compose themselves and be a more structured unit and gain some control over games.

It is a real treat to watch him operate in a blue shirt and while he is fit we will prosper. Thankfully, even without him, we have other great players and can still find a way to win.

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