For the first time in nearly three months, the EFL Cup resumes action this week. Eight teams remain in the competition ahead of the quarter-final stage. For Everton in particular, their matchup against Manchester United has the potential to serve as a real watershed moment.
Despite their long and successful history, a League Cup victory is something that has managed to elude Everton. The Toffees finished as runners up in 1977 and 1984, losing to Aston Villa and Liverpool respectively.
Everton also reached the quarter-finals of the competition a season ago. Despite a phenomenal stoppage time equalizer from Leighton Baines, the Blues came up just short. The night ended with Everton ultimately losing to Leicester, 4-2 on penalties.
#OnThisDay last year…
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) December 18, 2020
However, there is one vital part of the current Everton team that was not present for that clash with Leicester.
It’s been a year! A “fantástico and magnífico” year together with the amazing Everton Family.
The pandemic has made it difficult, but we’re excited about the future. Thank you all for your support. Merry Christmas and Stay Safe. pic.twitter.com/rAFGAE2eKV
— Carlo Ancelotti (@MrAncelotti) December 21, 2020
A year ago yesterday, Carlo Ancelotti celebrated his one year anniversary at Everton. The venerable Italian was appointed manager on December 21st, 2019. Since then, he has guided Everton to victory in exactly half of his 38 games in charge.
It is all too well known that Everton have not won a major trophy since their triumph in the 1995 FA Cup final. It has been made very clear that Carlo Ancelotti joined the club with intentions of righting that wrong. Whether or not he delivers this season, Ancelotti has already demonstrated glimpses of a future that holds far more success than Evertonians have grown accustomed to over the past several seasons.
The Everton Project
There is no denying that the pressure on Ancelotti to return Everton to its former glory is immense. At the same time, it is important to remember that such a transformation requires time.
For reference, let us take a look across Stanley Park at Everton’s bitter rivals. After being appointed by Liverpool in October of 2015, it took FIFA’s 2020 men’s coach of the year, Jurgen Klopp, until August of 2019 to win major silverware. In Klopp’s first season at the helm, he steered Liverpool to victory in 23 of 52 matches played, good for a winning percentage of 44.2% (BBC Sport).
The point is this: making a conclusive judgement on Ancelotti’s Everton tenure at this point in the process would be premature. With arguably less talent present in the squad he inherited, Ancelotti has guided Everton to a better winning percentage in his first calendar year than Klopp did in his first season at Liverpool.
Yes, Wednesday’s quarter-final is Everton’s most important game of the season thus far. It is also not the be-all and end-all of where this Everton team is headed.
A year ago, Everton were sitting in 15th place in the Premier League table, having earned 19 points from 18 games. Today, they are fourth, with 26 points after just 14 games played.
One year ago today, Carlo Ancelotti became Everton manager with the club in 15th.
Today, they’re in fourth. 👏 pic.twitter.com/cG1CMgyPVo
— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 21, 2020
Wednesday’s quarter-final is important not just because a spot in the semi-finals is on the line. The match will also serve as a timely litmus test of how far this Everton side has come.
In a season of hot and cold stretches, Everton are currently enjoying an excellent run of form. Since switching to a back four, Ancelotti’s Everton have conceded just one goal in three wins against Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal. The back line of Ben Godfrey, Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate has been extremely solid. Wednesday may see club captain Seamus Coleman make a full return from injury. Given the success of the four defenders listed above, Ancelotti will have a difficult decision on his hands.
Regardless of injuries to the likes of James Rodríguez, Lucas Digne and Allan, Ancelotti is placing a great deal of importance on this quarter-final. He made sure to emphasize this point during Tuesday’s press conference.
Will Ancelotti rotate tomorrow?
"We give a lot of importance to this competition. Everton have never won it. We are two games from the final. It would be fantastic for us to be in the final so we are going to play the strongest team."
— Patrick Boyland (@Paddy_Boyland) December 22, 2020
Ancelotti also made sure to mention the importance of Bruno Fernandes to United’s attack. The Portuguese midfielder has nine goals in his last ten matches. Two of this tally came in a 3-1 United victory at Goodison Park in November. Ancelotti is adamant that his team learned a lesson that day about limiting the space they afford to Fernandes.
Of course, the Everton defense at the moment is a far cry from what it was in November. That defeat to United was number five in a run of six straight games in which Everton conceded two or more goals.
Recent victories over solid opponents have provided the Toffees with a new-found confidence. With United sitting third in the table and Everton fourth, the match should be an exciting affair between two of the Premier League’s on form sides.
If last year’s quarter-final is any indication, the atmosphere created by the Goodison faithful will be something to look forward to, even if their numbers will be somewhat limited this time around.
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– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)