With his serene and unflustered aura, Carlo Ancelotti seldom looks like a man in a hurry to get anywhere. Whether it’s purely a function of his personality or elements as well of a patient long game where Everton are concerned, the Italian doesn’t exhibit much urgency — although he did move swiftly enough to address some glaring deficiencies in his midfield during the summer transfer window.
That sanguine air is at odds, however, with a collective Evertonian impatience for the kind of significant forward progress that the team’s start to 2020-21 suggested might be possible, particularly in what has shaped up thus far to be a hugely unpredictable season offering a golden opportunity for one of the sides not usually in the mix for fourth place to claim a Champions League spot.
At the very least, after seeing their side win their first seven matches in all competitions and wanting to see a positive response to the disappointing home defeat to Leeds, Blues fans might have expected Everton to beat Burnley who came into this weekend sitting in 19th place with just one win all season.
Unfortunately, that urgency was absent from Ancelotti’s men this afternoon; in fact, there were times where few of them looked in the least bit arsed, which made for an increasingly frustrating second half until they almost grabbed all three points despite themselves at the death when Gylfi Sigurdsson was foiled by Nick Pope.
Whether it was because they expected to eventually do enough to win, they just weren’t quite at it on a chilly northwest afternoon or simply lacked the requisite desire, the result was another two points dropped amid more bizarre selection decisions by the manager.
During his pre-match press conference yesterday, Ancelotti was pressed on the situation with Niels Nkounkou, the only fit natural left-back with first-team experience on the club’s books, and he hinted that the young Frenchman would be involved this weekend. It was an unwanted surprise, then, when his name was once again entirely absent from the matchday squad. There was a strong case to be made, especially against a side as relatively limited going forward as Burnley, that Nkounkou, with his pace and unpredictability, should have been in the starting XI; for him to be left out completely was mystifying. Given the treatment of Anthony Gordon, Ancelotti appears to have a concerning blind spot where youth is concerned.
Ben Godfrey, on the other hand, seems to have enough Premier League experience to get the nod week in, week out despite his own comparatively tender years but he, at least, vindicated his manager’s decision to play him and not Mason Holgate, who went from captain against Leeds to the bench at Turf Moor to accommodate the greater height of Yerry Mina.
Fabian Delph’s inclusion as left wing-back appeared more dubious, more evidence of Ancelotti’s frustrating deference to age and experience over players trained to play in those positions and that round-pegs-in-square-holes approach (they go in there but it doesn’t mean they’re a good fit) robbed Everton of any width at all down the left flank.
No surprise then that when Delph was forced off with yet another soft tissue injury, this time a pulled hamstring that looks like it will sideline him for a while, and the Blues were forced to change to something more resembling a back four, they immediately looked better.
Unfortunately, they were already a goal down by that stage, Jordan Pickford’s clean sheet lasting less than three minutes following an error by Allan in his own half. The Brazilian tried to play a quick pass inside to Abdoulaye Doucouré that was intercepted by Lee Westwood and when he found Robbie Brady, the Irishman took advantage of that now familiar space in front of Everton’s defence to rattle home the opening goal from 20-odd yards.
Pickford’s poor throw nine minutes later was picked off by James Lowton but Godfrey did really well to snuff out the danger from Chris Wood in front of his goal before Alex Iwobi, looking much better again restored to right wing-back combined well with Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The striker’s lay-off was returned by the Nigerian with a dangerous low cross that Calvert-Lewin met with on the stretch but Pope’s positioning allowed him to block the effort from point-blank range.
As has become customary now, James Rodriguez would flit in and out of the contest but he found Richarlison with one of his cross-field balls in the 18th minute and the Brazilian tested Pope with a strong shot from the angle that the keeper repelled. Then, Doucouré collected the ball in the centre-circle and strode forward powerfully before picking Calvert-Lewin out with a pass but Pope was again out quickly to close him down.
Everton almost fell 2-0 behind shortly before they restored parity in first-half stoppage time. Wood brought the ball down despite the attentions of Michael Keane and laid it off to Dwight McNeil who spotted the forward’s run between two shirts and picked him out with a pass but Pickford raced off his line and denied him with his foot.
The visitors did score, though, after Allan had robbed Westwood of the ball in midfield and played in Richarlison who drove the ball across goal and Calvert-Lewin’s met it on the slide to steer it over the goal line.
With Everton looking more composed going forward following André Gomes’s introduction for Delph and Burnley’s early fire seemingly extinguished, the decks looked nicely set for Everton to seize control of the game in the second half and go on to win. And the early signs were that they would do just that as Richarlison saw an early shot blocked and James tried to curl a trademark left-footer into the top corner but his effort was palmed behind by Pope at full stretch.
But their superiority didn’t translate into clear-cut chances. For most of the second 45 minutes, Everton lacked the drive and determination needed to carve out victory and, as has so often been the case down recent years, the final ball was left badly wanting and they just seemed to run out of ideas.
There were occasional moments like when Keane and Rodriguez played enterprising forward passes that eventually yielded a corner and Gomes wriggled impressively out of a tight situation to set up an attack but Everton were maddeningly inconsistent and profligate with the ball and the next decent chances actually fell to Burnley with 12 and eight minutes remaining. Thankfully, though, Josh Brownhill’s shot deflected wide off Calvert-Lewin following a free-kick and Pickford was able to push away Wood’s header off a corner.
It was a situation crying out for an injection of creativity from the bench – what was the point in bringing on Cenk Tosun rather than Bernard? – or James to assert his quality but for long stretches, the Colombian seemed content to wander out wide rather than remain centrally to dictate the flow of the game when Everton were going forward. When he did pop up on the edge of the box, his brilliance almost carved out the winner.
Delaying his pass while substitute Sigurdsson advanced into the area ahead of him, Rodriguez eventually slipped a beautifully-weighted pass between a defender’s legs where the Icelander took one touch and fired goal-wards but his shot was too close to Pope who stopped it with an out-stretched leg.
It was a moment worthy of being the match winner even if Everton scarcely deserved it and it might have injected some much-needed confidence ahead of a run of fixtures that will see the Toffees face Chelsea, Leicester, Arsenal, Manchester United (in the cup) before Christmas. As it is, this disappointing draw doesn’t inspire confidence that Everton have enough to get much out of those games and if that ends up being the case, the team will go into the Festive season very much back in the realms of mid-table mediocrity.
That’s a far cry from Everton’s electric start to the campaign and despite those absences in key positions that have affected his team selections, it continues to reflect rather poorly on Ancelotti who seems incapable of rousing his team from its torpor at times. Maybe the elevated calibre of opposition in the coming fixtures will force the players to raise their game but performances like this don’t instill you with much hope.
Everton travel up the road to Burnley this lunchtime looking to rebound from the defeat to Leeds last time out and keep pace with the pack of clubs above them in the Premier League table.
After considerable angst at Carlo Ancelotti's selection last week, the Old Master resolutely refuses to see sense and continues to confound his critics, ignoring again claims that Neils Nkounkou should be given a run-out at left-wingback, with the experienced Fabian Delph selected in his place. This may allow Alex Iwobi to return to his favoured right-wingback role in the hopes of him reprising his excellent performance at Fulham 2 weeks ago.
And it means no room in the starting XI for Tom Davies, who joins the perennially disappointing Sigurdsson, Bernard, Gomes and Tosun on the bench, along with last week's captain, Mason Holgate, who now presumably needs a rest, with Mina preferred to partner this week's captain, Michael Keane. Still no sightings of other promising youngsters, Anthony Gordon, Jonjoe Kenny, Jarrod Branthwaite...
The home side kicked off in freezing winter conditions with Everton wearing their Brazilian style blue and amber strip. Iwobi was into action down the right but possession was lost. Brady took a pot shot from distance and Pickford, sleeping, allowed it to fly inside his right post. Ho-hum.
Everton tried to respond, playing out from the back, but so methodically, ponderously slowly, it would take a lot of recycling work before James saw a chink but his shot ricocheted off a defender. The play became scrappy, with Burnley pressing for the ball and forcing poor turnovers from the likes of Allan.
More dreadful playing t ut saw Pickford's throw out intercepted well by and returned with interest, only for Godfrey to intervene. A better move saw Iwobi cross forcing CL to overstretch, Pope preventing the goal. Iwobi overlapped nicely again but his cross this time was too close to Pope.
A moment of magic from James and his brilliant crossfield pass to Richarlison bamboozled the defender and was worth a goal but the angle was too narrow and the chance was wasted. At the other end, Brownhill tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that was narrowly wide.
Iwobi showed some fine persistence until sandwiched illegally. James playing the free-kick short. Keane tried to feed Calvert-Lewinwith a deep lob but the striker wasn't getting much joy. Delph then pulled up after a burst of acceleration and signalled for a substitution, Gomes coming on in midfield, with Godfrey switching to left-back.
Doucouré got a run thru the middle, playing in Calvert-Lewin, who won a corner but nothing came of it. Iwobi tried to create down the right again but put a fraction too much on the pass to Calvert-Lewin.
Richarlison saw a chance to advance and shoot but his execution was lacking as it screwed off his foot and well wide. Iwobi tried and failed to keep-ball and Burnley switched quickly to attack and a corner, off a vital interception by Keane. Pickford punched well but James spoilt a fine counter with a very poor advance pass.
Richarlison crossed well for Calvert-Lewin, Tarkowski glancing it off his head. Nothing again for Everton from the corner. A mix-up with Keane on a long Burnley clearance allowed Wood to shoot but Pickford had come out very well to anticipate and block superbly to prevent the second goal.
Gomes got forward down the left but had strayed offside. He was then under scrutiny from the ref for an accidental forearm smash on Brownhill, but no punishment forthcoming. Another Everton attack through Iwobi fizzled out as the first half entered added time. Richarlison got forward and played across the perfect ball for Calvert-Lewin to tap in for a very important equalizer. They went for another but it wasn't to be as the ref blew for half-time.
Everton continued to push for a second after the restart, with shots from Richarlison and Gomes desperately blocked by Burnley defenders. Better approach play saw a fantastic shot from James that brought a tremendous save off Pope. The attack resumed through Richarlison but his cross was wayward.
Burnley drew Pickford out of his area and then took him out but no foul, said the ref as Everton scrambled to prevent a shot on the open goal. The game was there for Everton to take control of but they resolutely refused to do it, much to Ancelotti' frustration, with sloppy balls given away, or recycled hopelessly back through Pickford.
A brave Keane pass got things moving down the left and led to a corner but it was easily repelled. James was trying and getting sloppy with his passing, but nothing was really happening on the field as the standard on-hour sub moment approached with no changes in the offing.
A Burnley corner was seen off by Calvert-Lewin as the pace of the game if anything got slower. James wanted more space but was always well hemmed in. Iwobi got lots of time and space to pick his cross but James again could not dig it out and Wood went over Gomes's back landing awkwardly.
EVerton just refused to grab the initiative, and when Burnley got a free-kick, Brownhill tried to power it home but it was deflected out for a corner that was well defended. Barnes almost sneaked in but Mina blocked it behind. From the corner, there was something approaching a rapid counter but it slowed with Iwobi and stopped with Gomes as he shot high and wide. Sigurdsson replaced Doucouré.
Into the last 10 minutes, Burnley won another corner, and Pickford watched it all the way and pulled off a fine reflex save on the line to deny Wood. Cenk Tosun was the final masterstroke from the Wiley Eyebrow Raiser, given all of 2 minutes to rescue this boring winter snoozefest.
Everton should have won it but expecting Sigurdsson to score from a brilliant James Rodriguez ball with only Pope to beat... it was not to be. Burnley had there own chance at the other end as the game descended into an episode of The Keystone Cops.
Scorers: Brady (3'); Calvert-Lewin (45+3')
Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Brady (86' Benson), Westwood, Brownhill, McNeil, Wood, Rodriguez (75' Barnes).
Subs: Peacock-Farrell, Pieters, Vydra, Long, Dunne.
Everton: Pickford, Godfrey, Mina, Keane, Iwobi, Doucouré (80' Sigurdsson), Allan (89' Tosun), Delph (29' Gomes), Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Lössl, Holgate, Davies, Bernard.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Mike Dean
Everton travel up the road to Burnley this weekend looking to rebound from the defeat to Leeds last time out and keep pace with the pack of clubs above them in the Premier League table.
Just one win in six has seen Carlo Ancelotti's side fall off the top of the pile to their current berth in eighth place and a visit to Turf Moor has seldom been productive for Blues sides in recent years.
When they have beat the Clarets on their ground as they did under Roberto Martinez in September 2014 and on Boxing Day 2018 under Marco Silva, they have done so handsomely, but Turf Moor has also been the scene of some pretty miserable displays, not least with Ronald Koeman at the helm in 2016, Sam Allardyce the following season and then finally in October last year as Silva's tenure began to spiral out of his control.
This time around, the Toffees will travel with more attacking potency but with fragile confidence owing to a leaky defence. Teams able to move the ball quickly through the lines have been their undoing in recent weeks so it's possible that a more old-fashioned, straight-forward style will be more to Everton's liking but they will certainly have to be up for the battle.
While Burnley surprised a three seasons ago and eventually beat Everton out for a European spot and finished above the Blues the following year when they came 10th, this season they have been mired at the bottom the table with just one win from nine games.
That came against Crystal Palace two weeks ago after a goalless draw at Brighton but was followed by a 5-0 trouncing at the hands of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. If Everton can replicate any of what Pep Guardiola's side managed then it should make for a decent afternoon but Blues fans would take three points however they come.
Ancelotti was asked for this thoughts on his team's recent form during his pre-match press conference from Finch Farm this morning.
“I think the performances were good; different from the game we played before,” Ancelotti said of the matches against Fulham and Leeds which featured a different defensive approach. “I think, of course, the result was not good against Leeds but I think it was an open game.
“But now it will be important tomorrow against Burnley… we want to stay [in touch] with the top of the table so it will be important to get a result tomorrow.”
The Clarets were the opponents on Boxing Day last year for Ancelotti's first match in charge of Everton, a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park, and he said that he knows what to expect from Sean Dyche's team this time around.
“I think it will be the same [kind of] game," Ancelotti said. "They haven't changed what is a strong identity with strong organisation. It will be a tough game because they are better in this moment compared to the start of the season but we know what type of game to expect.”
Ancelotti will have the same squad at his disposal as he did last week, with Seamus Coleman still sidelined by his troublesome hamstring problem and he will play no part in tomorrow's trip to Burnley in the Premier League. The Irishman, who is still training individually away from the first team for now, joins Lucas Digne and Jean-Philippe Gbamin on the injured list.
It means that the manager will have the same conundrum over whether to deploy a flat back four or wingbacks and, in either case, who fills the wider positions. Alex Iwobi was preferred to Jonjoe Kenny on the right at Fulham and performed admirably but struggled against Leeds on the opposite flank. Tom Davies was fine playing right wingback last week but his lack of pace meant that he was never going to be a success in the role from an attacking perspective.
All the while, Niels Nkounkou, a player with pace and demonstrated raw talent, had to watch from the stands after not being selected in the matchday squad at all. Ancelotti was asked about the 20-year-old's absence against Leeds but indicated that the upcoming glut of games means he will likely get his chance.
"Nkounkou was not in the squad because I have 11 players,” the Italian said. “I decided to put Iwobi on the left. The squad is really big.
"He's still young, he needs more experience, he needs to work more. But I am honestly satisfied for what he is doing. He will have time in the next game because we have a lot of games.
"The fact we played with two midfielders [as wing backs], I think we have good cover because usually the two midfielders have the help of one of the centre-backs to cover the position behind them."
Whether Nkounkou, who shone in the first two Carabao Cup ties against Salford City and Fleetwood Town and played really well against Premier League opposition in the form of West Ham in the fifth round, gets the nod this weekend remains to be seen but there is no question that his pace would be a tremendous asset.
There's also the question of whether Ancelotti feels Yerry Mina's height might make him a good candidate to come back in to go head-to-head with the likes of Chris Wood in the Burnley side. The Colombian was named among the substitutes against Leeds while Mason Holgate came back into the side.
As Ancelotti acknowledged to the media, Everton will know exactly what kind of game awaits them at Turf Moor and it is up to them to make their quality count against a side that is struggling for goals even, the City game aside and their 3-0 defeat to Chelsea aside, they have been defending quite well in recent weeks.
Kick off: 12:30pm, Saturday 5 December, 2020
Referee: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Mike Dean
Last Time: Burnley 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Iwobi, Keane, Mina, Holgate, Nkounkou, Allan, Doucouré, Rodriguez, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin