Ancelotti Teaching Everton a New Language

Everton's comeback at Old Trafford was illustrative of a change in mindset that is underway under Carlo Ancelotti

Dave Downie 09/02/2021 15comments  |  Jump to last

Take yourself back to Saturday night, somewhere around 7 o’clock. You’ve just been given the Everton team news with kick-off at Old Trafford approaching.

How are you feeling? Nervous? Dreading it? Confident?

It felt different to years gone by, didn’t it? It felt a bit different to the crippling anxiety and dread pulsating through your veins that you’ve probably felt half-a-dozen times a season for most of the last 3 decades.

Even a hint of a slightly different feeling you felt is very important. And you were right to feel it.

I don’t think Everton deserved anything from that game against Manchester United. But I felt vindicated in the feeling I had pre-match that this wasn’t going to be the white flag job of years gone by. Mental fragility, inferiority complex – call it what you will, but visiting the elite in the Premier League doesn’t have anywhere near the bewildering stench it used to under Carlo Ancelotti.

The proof of that is in how the 14 players that took to the field felt a defeat wasn’t a good reflection of what they can do, rather than what they did do throughout the course of the game. Everton haven’t had that belief in themselves for a long time.

They put a stagnant narrative to one side, even the one that enveloped the game in which they didn’t perform well in. They demanded more of themselves. They battled, they tried and they didn’t dwell on what they once thought couldn’t happen.

I tweeted at 2-0 down that the team stood at a crossroads. The dilemma was playing out a feeble damage-limitation game, or actually having a go at getting back into this. How many times over the years would they have chosen the former? Every time.

To me, it felt there was a group of players that collectively felt they hadn’t done themselves justice or performed in a way that was an accurate reflection of a really good season to that point. You need only listen to Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s post match interview with Sky:

“For me we’re capable of so much more. I feel every team we come up against we can compete, we can beat them.

“When we don’t lay a glove on early on and let teams get away from us, it’s frustrating. I think the spirt and confidence we showed to get back into the game is what we’re all about and that’s what we need to show more of.”

I’m not one for the platitudes or clichés footballers usually find very steady to come out with after the event, but you believe him here, don’t you?

Everton are still enshrouded by those things that have blighted attempts at progression for many years, there’s no doubting that – see performances against West Ham, Newcastle and Leeds for proof.

However, what can’t be argued is Carlo Ancelotti is vigorously chipping away at the conventions and modern traditions we’ve depressingly grown to understand as the status quo. This is different.

Dave Downie is a sport journalist and producer at BBC 5 Live and the founder of The Blue Room podcast and website. You can get daily content, including pre- and post-match analysis and general chat about all things Everton, at The Blue Room and The Blue Room Extra.

Follow @daviddownie17
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Reader Comments (15)

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Terence Leong
1 Posted 09/02/2021 at 16:30:44
Dave, I agree that there is a cultivation of a stronger mentality that previous managers perhaps didn't quite pay attention to.

The other thing which I noted, which is also tied to this mentality change, is the amount of rotation that Ancelotti has done in the team. In times past, our previous managers only rotated (i) out of necessity, because of injuries, and (ii) in cup games where we invariably lose the rhythm, and then the game.

Ancelotti rotates his squad, regardless of injury - some could argue that he's got a bigger squad, but he's also shown that he's prepared to give the youngsters a run-out.

And yes, we still lose the rhythm, but we are more likely to scrap by and get a result (even a win). And that comes down significantly, to mentality i.e. even if we are struggling to get some rhythm, the team is becoming harder to beat.

Dave Williams
2 Posted 09/02/2021 at 17:04:40
We were the better team for 25 minutes until they scored and then for the first 15 minutes of the second half and the last 15 minutes of the game including added time.As usual the journos try to say Utd deserved to win but I can't see why?
We deserved a draw and whilst it would have been harsh on them we had the better chances to win via DCL and Richi.
Micky Norman
3 Posted 09/02/2021 at 17:33:41
Agree with the attitude comments but to say we didn't deserve anything out of the game? We scored 3 goals at OT in 45 minutes. Were they all flukes? Apart from his Worldy, Fernandez, probably the best player in the league at the moment was kept quiet. Our midfield was outstanding in that second half. When MU attacked it was hardly a Smith/Moyes Alamo defence was it? We definitely deserved the point.
Thomas Richards
4 Posted 09/02/2021 at 17:35:48
Not sure what the language is but to my ears its birdsong, mellifuous.
Like an Aretha Franklin song.


Andy Crooks
5 Posted 09/02/2021 at 18:04:28
To be honest, Dave, I was crippled with anxiety before the Rotherham game. I do get what you mean, but unfortunately only copious amounts of alcohol before and during the game would remove that feeling against any opposition.
Watching Everton with a knot in my stomach is my default position and I suspect I would miss it.
In fact at the Easter Sunday hammering of Man Utd I only relaxed when the fourth went in. Honest to God, I seriously believe I am more drained than any of the players after the final whistle.
Jay Wood

6 Posted 09/02/2021 at 18:26:45
At the end of November, ten games into the season, this was the league table:

PL Table to End of November

Having got off to a flying start, Everton was on a poor run and had slipped to 10th with 16 points on the board.

This left us 5 points behind the joint leaders, Spurs and Liverpool, on 21 points. 3 points behind 3rd and 4th placed Chelsea and United. 2 points adrift of City and Leicester. 1 point behind WHU, Southampton and Wolves. All having played 10 games.

Many on TW were looking over their shoulders and down, rather than up.

In game 11 we drew 1-1 at Burnley. Four consecutive wins followed with home wins over Chelsea (on a 17 game unbeaten run) and Arsenal, away wins to Leicester and Sheffield United.

By game 15, this was the league table:

PL Table to end of December

In the most congested fixtures of the season, we had leap-frogged to 4th. As things stand today, we are 7th but with 1 or 2 games in hand over every other team but Villa.

From the end of November to date with lesser games played, this is the points turnaround against all the teams mentioned after game 10 (+ points gained, - points lost). The number of stars against each club indicates how many games in hand we have over each one:

Spurs +6 *
Liverpool +2 **
Chelsea +1 ** (beat them in this time)
United -5 ** (drew on their patch)
City -11 * (on a club record breaking run of 13 consecutive wins)
Leicester -4 ** (4 points off them in this time)
WHU -1 ** (cough!)
Southampton +9 *
Wolves +11 ** (beat them on their patch)
Villa +1 (equal games played)

Our PL results since the end of November read:

P 11 W 6 D 3 L 2 Pts 21

You could add two FA Cup wins to that.

Carlo has achieved this with some key players missing, yet not once whimpered about his misfortune.

Very quietly, he talks up the players. Very quietly, he is instilling belief in the players talking up their qualities. His honesty is refreshing, telling the players that quality alone is not enough without spirit.

He knows when to bark. The first game after the Newcastle debacle, within 30 seconds of KO Leeds won a throw-in close to our left corner flag. Digne turned his back on the ball and Leeds almost took advantage from it. Carlo ripped into Digne, waking up the whole team.

Before half-time when DCL ran through on goal, taking the shot on when Richarlison had bust a gut to take a better position alongside him, Dom took the shot on rather than pass. Again, Carlo left him in no doubt about the play, with Dominic glancing nervously towards the touchline.

Saturday v United, all evidence is that he was calm at half-time as we trailed 2-0, asking the players to stick to the game plan, believe in their qualities and play forwards, nor backwards. Within 5 minutes we were level.

This is an extremely seasoned manager. He has possibly managed his (depleted) resources by rotation through December and January better than anyone else in the league. Gradually, he is instilling good habits, belief and spirit to a squad that previous managers in recent years have failed to do.

Whatever language he is using, it appears to be working.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 09/02/2021 at 20:17:50
For the first time in a long time, I go into games looking forward to watching us, not fearing about the result.

It's interesting and I'm sure we all have our own take, but the Burnley game was something of a turning point for me. We didn't get the best result and many focussed on that, but I just saw something turning. I wasn't necessarily disappointed with the performance. We went on a good run after that. Something changed. Maybe that was another occasion when Carlo barked as Jay (BRZ) puts it. He certainly did at DCL in the recent Leeds match when he had the opportunity to seal it. If not vocally, through the look in his eyes.

There is most definitely a good feel about the players; they seem happy as a collective. That is generated from the manager down.

A good point is raised in this article though; 14 players. Really we are relying on a very thin squad. We improved the quality of that squad in the summer, but with a lot of the deadwood out on loan, we are still a very thin squad. But my word they are giving us more than the thin squads of recent seasons.

Work in progress. Inevitable depressing blips like the 2 Newcastle matches and West Ham at home. But bigger picture, this just feels better on and off the pitch.

Shame the fans aren't there to see it, but then no-ones are so let's not revert to our cousins' tactics!!

Stan Schofield
8 Posted 09/02/2021 at 20:34:03
We deserved the result of that game. The only time you don't deserve a result is when you cheat, or the opposition cheats. There's no point in trying to deconstruct a game and declare that we had luck or a lack of it, because games are unpredictable and can turn on a sixpence in unpredictable ways. If we had beaten Utd, and done so without cheating, that too would have been deserved.
Danny O’Neill
9 Posted 09/02/2021 at 21:29:47
Keep yourself in the game and you give yourself a chance. That's what we done Stan.

Keep yourself in the season and in reach of the pack and you give yourself a chance. That's what we've been doing and we have a chance.

David Midgley
10 Posted 09/02/2021 at 22:00:35
Thomas #4.

More like Etta James, " At last "

Tony Hill
11 Posted 09/02/2021 at 22:20:17
There are reasons for hope but the test will be for us to win "against the grain". That is to say, winning under serious pressure in any game, and winning against the sides we habitually fail to beat away from home: the top sides (it's Spurs once and Man United once in recent memory).

Those are the next and most telling steps. I will fully salute Ancelotti if/when we take them because that is what all Everton sides have failed to do for a long time, of course.

Thomas Richards
12 Posted 09/02/2021 at 22:41:50
David 10,

You wont believe this mate.
I was listening to that song earlier.

Dave Abrahams
13 Posted 10/02/2021 at 10:10:04
Good article, except he gave the impression that all fourteen players would think they gave enough to win the game and would be disappointed with not doing so, when we get fourteen players who think like that then we are in business, Carlo may get them.

Thomas and David: Della Reece with It's Magic after the Derby game!!!

Thomas Lennon
14 Posted 10/02/2021 at 15:09:36
We are beginning to see belief - all of our other managers in recent times have got so far but failed to take the next step up either through lack of funding or other circumstances I don't think they believed it possible and that gets through to the players.

Ferguson (not that one) could get his team up 5 places just by being there, having won everything. The team knew he could do it and believed they could.

This team are beginning to see it too - players are improving all over the pitch. Tonight is a big test - home teams are under pressure this season. Lets see if we get closer to the cup.

Thomas Richards
15 Posted 10/02/2021 at 15:35:15
Just googled that one Dave.

What a voice that girl has got.

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