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James, Allan & Ancelotti: Can new-look Everton break up the Premier League's big six?

08:00 BST 10/09/2020
Carlo Ancelotti James Rodriguez Allan Everton GFX
The Blues have spent significantly during the summer and have a world-class manager, generating a huge amount of hope among the Goodison Park faithful

Can this be the season Everton finally get their act together?

It has been a good week to be a Blue. An exciting week, one of new arrivals and new hope, of optimism and spending and ambition.

Now for the football.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side get their Premier League campaign underway at Tottenham on Sunday. It is a difficult start to a what will be a challenging season, but also a useful test against a side they will be aiming to catch and pass in the coming months.

Everton were 12th last season, their lowest league finish since 2003-04, when they were 17th under David Moyes. They ended the campaign poorly, winning just one of their final six games and impressing nobody with their performance levels. 

“We are not happy, but we have to look forward,” said Ancelotti after a 3-1 home defeat to relegated Bournemouth on the final day of the season. He bemoaned a lack of motivation and consistency, and stressed the need for new signings if Everton were to compete at the right end of the table. 

So far, so good, in that regard.

In the space of four days, Ancelotti has managed to completely remodel his midfield options, adding drive, steel, experience and, in the shape of James Rodriguez, genuine star quality.

At around £22 million ($28.5m), the Colombia international represents a calculated gamble by Ancelotti and director of football Marcel Brands, a player of unquestionable ability and world-class potential, who needs a manager to guide him and a stage on which to shine. 

Ancelotti knows him better than most. He was Real Madrid manager when Rodriguez, fresh on the back of a starring performance at the 2014 World Cup, moved to Spain, and they worked together briefly at Bayern Munich too.

“He was a massive reason to come here,” said Rodriguez after signing an initial two-year contract, with the option for a further season.

The 29-year-old should arrive fresh after a season which saw him play just 14 times in all competitions for Madrid. He last started for Los Blancos against Real Sociedad in June, but prior to that had not featured in the Spanish top-flight since the previous October.

Ancelotti, though, sees only the positives. “Everyone knows he is a fantastic player with a lot of quality and a lot of ability to make assists for the strikers,” he says. He envisages a revitalised Rodriguez providing the supply line for his front two, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the impressive Richarlison.

Everton’s lack of creativity from midfield was there for all to see last season, but the arrival of Rodriguez should, if all goes to plan, solve that problem. Further back, the additions of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure can add a drive, an energy and a solidity that has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.

Both were Ancelotti picks. Allan was a go-to player of his at Napoli – “my personal opinion is that he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world,” he said upon completing the deal – while Doucoure has built a stellar reputation during four seasons in the Premier League with Watford, where he made close to 150 appearances.

Everton’s recruitment in recent years has been poor, to say the least. Their squad still bears the scars of the ill-judged sprees and managerial changes of years gone by.

They will need to offload players. The likes of Mo Besic (signed under Roberto Martinez), Yannick Bolasie and Sandro Ramirez (Ronald Koeman), Cenk Tosun (Sam Allardyce) and Fabian Delph (Marco Silva) are all available, while offers will be heard for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies and Theo Walcott, too.

Jean-Philippe Gbamin, a £25m ($32m) signing under Silva last summer, remains sidelined through injury, having managed just one start for the club in 13 months. Everton's luck has been as bad as their judgement, at times.

A new centre-back is certainly required – Ancelotti will pursue a loan deal for Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori, in that regard – while it will be interesting to see if more can be coaxed from the likes of Moise Kean, Alex Iwobi and Andre Gomes, none of whom have come close to justifying the hefty fees Everton paid for them last year.

The same applies to goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, a Koeman signing whose form last season was alarming. Ancelotti has spoken personally to the England No.1, who will get the chance to prove his critics wrong and show he has the ability to match his ego.

Everton still look light in other areas – notably in attack – but they have high hopes for youngsters such as home-grown midfielder Anthony Gordon and defender Jarrad Branthwaite, who was signed from Carlisle in January and impressed when thrown in at the back end of last season. Free-scoring striker Ellis Simms, 19, is another to keep an eye on.

It is understandable that any optimism surrounding the club should be treated cautiously. Fans have been here before, with Martinez, with Koeman and with Silva – we’ll ignore the Allardyce experiment, shall we? – and they would be wise to learn the lessons of years gone by.

“Winning the transfer window,” counts for nothing when you’re in the middle of the table. That is not to say that cannot expect improvement, though. After all, what is football without hope?

With Ancelotti in the dugout, a redesigned midfield and their superstar Colombian signed on, Everton should be looking up, not down, heading into the new campaign.