Mentality Shift: Derby Milestone Can Define Everton's Season in the Right Way

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

Lyndon Lloyd 23/02/2021 25comments  |  Jump to last

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; 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 3 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 7th place and them potentially sitting in 2nd 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 3 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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Reader Comments (25)

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Martin Mason
1 Posted 23/02/2021 at 07:59:38
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.
Tim Welsh
2 Posted 23/02/2021 at 08:59:16
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...
Paul McCoy
3 Posted 23/02/2021 at 09:11:21
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.
Brian Harrison
4 Posted 23/02/2021 at 10:36:34

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.

Dave Abrahams
5 Posted 23/02/2021 at 10:57:46
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, it's just as big as the Derby game.
Brian Harrison
6 Posted 23/02/2021 at 11:08:13
Dave 5

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.

James Newcombe
7 Posted 23/02/2021 at 11:12:02
Did you see Garth Crooks named Pickford in his team of the week? Through gritted teeth of course:

"It is with some hesitation that I find myself selecting Jordan Pickford for my team of the week.

It was Pickford who put Virgil van Dijk out of the previous Merseyside derby with an awful challenge that went unpunished.

However, football moves on very quickly and Pickford seemed intent on inflicting even more pain on Liverpool, this time, on his return to Anfield. The England goalkeeper made a number of first-class saves, not least from Jordan Henderson's volley.

I can't imagine the reception Pickford would have received had Liverpool fans been in the ground. Like on so many occasions, the absence of supporters has made such a huge difference."

Mal van Schaick
8 Posted 23/02/2021 at 11:30:42
We are on seventh place with a game in hand. With some strange results throwing up strange league positions for a few teams.

I doubt that any pundit could predict the final outcome of teams making the top four at this stage of the season.

Our mentality shift may only solidify itself as we go through our remaining fixtures, but we have made progress this season and the summer transfer window will define future progress with commitment from the manager, staff and owner.

Tony Everan
9 Posted 23/02/2021 at 12:52:05
Lyndon a timely article. Now the euphoria has settled, I think most us will be thinking along he same lines.

The gruesome spectre of the Fulham game only a couple of weeks ago is the elephant in he room. We were comprehensively outplayed. It was a mismatch , one that set alarm bells ringing.

So, because of that there is no justification for getting too carried away. It has become staple that we take one giant step forward then two steps back just when we are on the cusp of real progress.

With the win over Liverpool we have put ourselves back into contention. This time we have to get professional and get consistent. Ram home some wins that bona fide top 4 clubs churn out week after week. We need to get in a winning rhythm and state of mind.

This team, especially when fully fit, is well capable of it. Tom Davies has stepped up, Gomes has improved, Doucoure is a footballing machine, Allan is back. There's very encouraging signs Richarlison is finding top form. DCL looked fit and sharp when he came on. Pickford looked at his best against Liverpool and the confidence boost will do him the world of good. The defence is looking organised and solid, lead by Michael Keane.

Then we come to Ben Godfrey, this player has been a catalyst. He is rapidly becoming a cult figure and he's only been here six months.

I think Mr Ancelotti is gradually making the team much stronger and resilient whilst retaining top 4 creativity from James Rodriguez. It all adds up to us being a force to be reckoned with.

Dave Abrahams
10 Posted 23/02/2021 at 13:04:31
Brian (6),No Brian I didn't think it was negative in any way, just a sober look at how our future might progress. I agree that the appointment of Colin Harvey was a big factor in our great four years under Howard Kendall.

It was another Derby game at Goodison not long after Harvey's appointment that pointed the way forward to our imminent success, not a win but a 1-1 draw, I think Alan Harper might have scored the goal, Grahame Sharp missed a penalty and Liverpool escaped with a draw.. A lot of us realised that day “ We've got a team that can battle and beat these bastards, playing football at the same time”. Echos of Saturday maybe.

Tom Bowers
11 Posted 23/02/2021 at 13:07:59
One swallow doesn't make a Summer it is said but we Evertonians hope that at least this is finally a swing in the right direction.

Rs are no pushovers in any game and even with some injuries they can be very dangerous as long as they have the terrible three up front.

Scoring so early may have been the big boost Everton needed to show the defensive intensity so often lacking this season and they rose to that challenge magnificently.

What remains next is to carry it over to the next game against Soton and then Chelski. Fourth place is beckoning and the next few weeks are crucial.

Jack Convery
12 Posted 23/02/2021 at 15:12:09
It's 3 points in the cold light of day but its the confidence, that must surely surge through the squad, that must be harnessed and put to use asap. We must beat the Saints, though it won't be easy, as in Ings and Ward Prowse they have very good players. Full on focus and intent from the off and start to get the home form, up and running. In Carlo we trust and finally in the players too. COYBs.
Lyndon Lloyd
13 Posted 23/02/2021 at 15:24:42
Brian (4): "We are all still euphoric over our much waited for victory at Anfield, but I think it's a little early to say whether or not this result will be a mentality shift for this group of players. "

I agree, Brian and that was the intent of the article, really – not to say there has been a mentality shift but that there can and needs to be after Saturday.

Brian Harrison
14 Posted 23/02/2021 at 15:34:04
Lyndon 13

Sorry Lyndon you absolutely did qualify the headline by asking will it be a mentality shift. I should have read the whole piece and not assumed you meant there had been a mentality change because of the result on Saturday.

Christopher Timmins
15 Posted 23/02/2021 at 15:53:17
It will just so disappointing if the mentality shift so desired by all does not come to pass after the events of the weekend. Indeed, if not now... when might it ever come about?
John McFarlane Snr
16 Posted 23/02/2021 at 16:41:30
Hi Dave [10],

This victory may well be a pivotal moment in the future of the club but, as in life, these moments can only be confirmed in retrospect. Only those with a pessimistic view on life would disregard the possibility of better times ahead; the rest of us can 'but dare to hope' for a better tomorrow.

The game you refer to was on 3 March 1984, but the cobwebs rapidly thickening in my mind have forced me to consult my books, although I do have a vague recollection of Alan Harper scoring at the Gwladys Street end; feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Something that occurred to me a couple of days ago, (I have no idea why), was the 'slow handclap' of crowds in the 40s, 50s, and possibly the early 60s, when they were displeased by the performance of their teams; there must have been an amount of booing but I honestly can't recall it.

John Raftery
17 Posted 23/02/2021 at 19:18:01
A bit like a peace process the road to high achievement is rarely without setbacks along the way. In 1983/84 there were several matches at the time hailed as possible turning points. For example losing 1-0 to Coventry in the League Cup with less than ten minutes remaining we turned the game on its head with goals from Heath and a limping Sharp. Yet we still struggled to put a run together in the league until the New Year.

After a heavy defeat on Boxing Day a 2-0 win at Birmingham gave us a big lift before the famous 3rd Round tie at Stoke. Then It took three games for us to get past Gillingham in the FA Cup. On that night at Oxford on 18th January it was hard to see where a goal was going to come from until Inchy capitalised on the Kevin Brock back pass.

It was really not until March that we started to gain consistency with the draw against the neighbours in the League, the League Cup Final performances plus narrow wins against Ipswich, Notts County in the FA Cup and three days after the League Cup Final replay, a 1-0 win over a very good Southampton side. That was the game when I was first convinced we now had a good team, capable of becoming a great team.

Thirty seven years later the path to greatness, if that is what it is, is proving just as bumpy. For years our players have appeared traumatised playing away from home. This season the away form has been sorted out only for home form to dip. Why is that? Is there a problem with the mentality or are there also issues with personnel, formation and tactics? Most of our wins have come with less possession than the opponents. Are we embarrassed by possession? Do we lack the players with the wherewithal to beat teams we would mostly regard as inferior?

Barry Jones
18 Posted 23/02/2021 at 19:24:19
I think that the mentality of Ancelotti was also critical for this win. The attacking threat of Robertson was nullified by both the selection of Seamus and the movement of James inside to a #10 position. James is way better suited to this central role and his through ball to Richarlison was exquisite in its execution.

His substitutions were also really good, especially bringing on DCL to keep Liverpool stretched and help us to beat the high press. If we can continue with this type of team selection and formation and build on it, especially with players coming back from injury, we could be looking at a very successful season overall.

Jay Harris
19 Posted 23/02/2021 at 19:47:53
A 1000 mile journey starts with the first step.

I believe we have dipped our toes in that water a few times this season already and taken 3 steps forward and 2 steps back.

It is still early days but the confidence and aggression and spirit continue to build.

Together with returns from injury we should have a good run in and if we can get past City in the cup we should fear noone.

Jerome Shields
20 Posted 23/02/2021 at 23:15:47
Mentality has been a big issue for years, with Everton throwing away point-advancing games. The performance at Anfield was professional both in mentality and play.

We have all dreaded of those poor performances, with no spirit or fight, often against teams that have struggled for months before playing Everton.

Hopefully Lyndon, Everton have turned the mentality corner, but years of poor mentality performances after International Breaks still make me nervous for the next fixture.

I have analyzed and blamed for this poor mentality for years, but have to admit that I am none the wiser. Ancelotti lately has openinly wondered about it, and must hope that Everton have turned the corner, like us all.

Paul Kernot
21 Posted 24/02/2021 at 00:43:44
I just watched Saints get cuffed 3-0 by Leeds Utd. Nothing to fear there and we can play a very similar game to Leeds when we want to. Let's go, Blues. 3 comfortable points and keep the belief growing ever stronger.
Darren Hind
22 Posted 24/02/2021 at 03:17:29
Finally, Finally. The monkey is off our back.

Have we been celebrating a historic victory, or have we been feeling intense relief that the embarrassment of being the subject of most talked about "inferiority complex" in football was finally being put to bed? A combination of both from my perspective.

I said we would beat Liverpool. I fancied us big time. I took the very generous odds on offer... but did I feel like that because I have seen a marked improvement in our play or did I feel "This our day" because I felt this Liverpool was there for the taking? I'd like to say it was the former, but it was most definitely the latter.

I'm still not sure that we have had that same inferiority complex at other grounds. I think we simply lost for all those years because we sent inferior teams. We were second favorites in every single one of those games. Unfortunately, we were less likely to spring surprises at these grounds because, although we didn't pose a threat to the status quo, we were still Everton and these teams always respected us too much to go with less than a 100% focus.

Football has always been cyclical: the high press, counter-attack has been countered this year with many teams simply defending deep. With the possible exception of Man City, KITAP1 is very fashionable. Nobody does it better than Carlo Ancelotti. I honestly think that we have become so difficult to beat, we need fear nobody... However, like many other teams, we are finding things a little more difficult when it is done to us. It's hard to counter-attack against teams who won't come out and play either.

This is a strange season. Very few results raise an eyebrow. The surprise result has become the norm. It's for that reason we still have chance of qualifying for Champions League football.

Besides the obvious reasons for celebration, The victory at Anfield will, for me, have little bearing on the rest of the season. We know we can defend but, if we are to progress, the flashes of creativity we saw from James and Richarlison need to be seen far more regularly. The defence will remain consistent.

To change the home form, we need to be far more creative. We need to risk a defeat in search of victory.

Dave Abrahams
23 Posted 24/02/2021 at 09:27:31
John (17), in that game you mention, Coventry in the league cup, Peter Reid, who Howard Kendall hadn't been using, came on a sub and changed the game, Colin Harvey was moved up as coach, the next day, they were two big decisions that helped forge Everton into the very good team that they became. If Andy Gray had been eligible for the League cup, we might have won that as well.
Joe McMahon
24 Posted 24/02/2021 at 09:48:51
Darren, I also had the same feeling, mainly due to the lack of a blood thirsty Anfield crowd controlling referees. That may also be a contributing factor for all their home loses during the lockdown.
John Raftery
25 Posted 24/02/2021 at 14:45:06
Dave (23) You are right, Peter Reid's introduction as a substitute completely changed the game against Coventry. I remember him taking possession and just running straight at the Coventry defence. Suddenly we had a player on the pitch determined to make things happen. The sight of him running through a few tackles not only lifted the 13,000 crowd but also his team mates.

At the time Howard was under a lot of pressure with quite a few fans expecting him to be sacked before long. The win bought him some time and as you say that was quickly used very profitably with the signing of Gray and the promotion of Colin Harvey.

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