When Everton were top of the Premier League at the start of October, coach Carlo Ancelotti said the bubble would eventually burst.
But with his team suffering a fourth defeat in five matches, the Italian may wonder why this drop in performance appears to have such a lasting effect.
The 1-0 loss to Leeds, exciting Marcelo Bielsa Saturday highlighted Everton’s many defensive weaknesses, providing a glimpse into an opponent with a clear identity.
Both problems are problems diagnosed by Ancelotti at Everton, but they have yet to be fixed.
The Italian could point to the injury of the main players – full-backs Lucas Dini and Seamus Coleman – and the recent suspension of striker Richarlison, as Everton lost three games in a row.
Unlike Bielsa, who has worked at Leeds for nearly two and a half years, the Everton coach has not been at Goodison Park for 12 months, having been hired on December 21 last year.
However, while there have been clear successes – including striker Dominic Calvert Lewin, playmaker James Rodriguez and midfielder Alan – his squad has been plagued by contradictions that threaten to spoil the fans’ return to Goodison early next month.
Having seen on TV as the Toffees kicked off the season with five league games unbeaten, fans must be hoping that Everton’s best performance isn’t behind them.
Despite his team’s shortcomings, Ancelotti insists they are on the right track. They dropped to sixth on the table, but most fans will likely accept that after 10 matches.
“I think we are heading in the right direction,” he said. It is true that we could not repeat the start of the season.
“We have lost some players but that does not mean that we are not in the right direction. What we are doing at this moment is not enough and each of us must put more in terms of personality, personality, spirit and sacrifice to return to give more consistency to the results.”
Everton did not perform badly against Leeds, but the way the visitors play as a tight-knit unit shows that there is still a lot of work to be done on the training field, which Ancelotti often uses as a “referee” for whomever he picks for his team.
Did Calvert Lewin’s success in front of goal and the way Rodriguez broke through the defense with his smart passes mask some of the problems the team still has?
Without Richarlison, Everton lacks speed in midfield to support their striker, and several teams have found an easy path to goal behind Rodriguez to the right of Everton’s midfield.
Jordan Pickford saw a mixed season at goal – though he played well against Leeds, saving twice in the first half to deny Patrick Bamford and Raven her.
But his uncertainty appears to bother the defense in front of him at times. Yeri Mina was indifferent, Ben Godfrey is still settling into a new team after his £ 25m transfer from Norwich last month and Mason Holgate, although impressive, is still learning his trade at the age of 24.
Injuries to Coleman and Denny have resulted in Ancelotti trying with three defenses, but further adjustments are likely to come in the coming weeks with midfielders Alex Iwobi and Tom Davies at full back.
Despite a positive start for Alan and Abdullah Ducuri, Everton may be a midfielder who lacks the forward trio of Richarlison, Calvert Lewin and Rodriguez. After a strong start to the season, Andre Gomez appears to be losing popularity.
Ancelotti admits it was a “difficult period” for his team. They face a trip to Burnley next Saturday, where they hope they can regain their balance against a side that has only achieved one win this season.
Everton will then welcome 2,000 fans back to Goodison Park when they host former Ancelotti club Chelsea, who are soaring high under Frank Lampard.
Coincidentally, the last game the Toffees supporters watched in person was a 4–0 victory at Stamford Bridge in March.
Ancelotti hopes to show viewers that Everton has improved at least on that view.
- Watch 13 FA Cup second-round matches on BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app, this weekend. Find out more here.
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