Regardless of their ambition and activity in the transfer window, Everton’s appointment of Carlo Ancelotti was surprising.
The Italian is among the most well-recognized names in management, and for him to accept a job for a traditionally smaller English club is somewhat perplexing given the current state of the club.
Yet is a further indication of majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri’s lofty expectations for the Merseyside club and it could be the managerial appointment that brings coherence, stability, and consistency to the Toffees.
A decorated career at clubs such as PSG, Chelsea, Juventus, AC Milan, and Real Madrid has surely cemented Ancelotti’s status as among the elite managers of his generation. However, he is markedly different to several of his counterparts.
His suave, amiable, and easy-going demeanor bears a stark contrast to the likes of Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, and those same attributes translate into a tactical approach predicated on convenience and suitability to his squad rather than the embodiment of a distinct ideology.
Whether it was using a 3-4-1-2 to maximize the creative output of Zinedine Zidane at Juventus or a 4-3-2-1 to fit the likes of Kaka and Pirlo in the same team, Ancelotti prioritizes the qualities of the players at his disposal ahead of philosophical commitments regarding tactics.
Given his adaptability, it’s difficult to know the manner in which Ancelotti will set up his team. However, in his press conference before the Manchester City game, he described his affinity for the 4-4-2, remarking that “you can cover more space across the pitch and press forward” and adding that “Offensively it can change, with two strikers or two wingers, so you may not recognise a system offensively. Defensively it is clear.”
On the basis of his first few games for the Toffees and his most recent job at Napoli, it is reasonable to assume that Ancelotti will employ a 4-4-2 with similar characteristics to the one he described.
At Napoli, the 4-4-2 morphed into a 3-4-1-2 in possession. Left-back Faouzi Ghoulam and right wide midfielder Jose Callejon provided the width, while right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo tucked inside to form a back three with the centre backs.
The midfield pivot tended to stay deep and consisted of the defensively-minded and tenacious Allan and the more creative Fabian Ruiz. By placing the pivot deep and using three at the back, Napoli were able to play through opposition presses without the risk of losing possession.
The front three was positionally fluid and an area of the pitch that Ancelotti tinkered with significantly based on the opposition.
The 4-4-2 allowed Napoli to dominate wide areas offensively, overloading the flanks to stretch opposition defences, enable opportunities for switch passes, and initiate fast passing combinations that create opportunities for crosses or cutbacks.
Defensively, Ancelotti adopted a high line and man-oriented press designed to stifle opposition efforts to attack centrally and ensure compactness.
There are some clear ways in which Everton could potentially benefit from the use of this system. Given that they played a high volume of crosses under Marco Silva and many of their better players, such as Lucas Digne, Alex Iwobi, and Richarlison, play out wide; the transition to Ancelotti’s system should be relatively smooth.
While injury-ravaged at the moment, one could imagine that the Everton midfield could be well-suited to Ancelotti, as Morgan Schneiderlin, Fabian Delph, and Jean-Phillipe Gbamin could all play the holding role and Gylfi Sigurdson or Tom Davies could fulfil the creative berth.
Ancelotti also has a plethora of young talent at his disposal. Given his impressive track record with youth development, it will be intriguing to observe how the likes of Mason Holgate, Tom Davies, Jon-Joe Kenny (currently on loan at Schlake), Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Moise Kean will develop under his leadership.
Improving the performance of these players could give Everton a young, exciting nucleus that could provide a solid foundation for the team’s development.
The Italian could also be a major asset for Everton in the transfer window, as his elite managerial status will no doubt attract players of a higher calibre than what the Toffees may be accustomed to. Combining the mind of sporting director Marcel Brands, the riches of Moshiri, and the glamour of Ancelotti could be just the solution to Everton’s recruitment woes in recent years.
Yet the problem Everton face with Ancelotti is that his managerial style is tailor-made for elite football clubs, and there is little evidence that he can be successful at a different type of team.
He is always the calmest in the room, tranquil in the face of seemingly whatever chaos unfolds. And that soothing serenity has worked well for Ancelotti when dealing with difficult owners, elite players with big egos, and teams that are at the cusp of achieving success but need work on the finer details.
But his job at Everton will be characterized by an entirely different set of challenges. Whether Ancelotti, at 60 years of age and after some two decades in management, will be able to perform a task he has never done before is yet to be seen, but it is peculiar that Everton would hire a manager whose best attributes are not necessarily what the club requires.
Perhaps that is why Duncan Ferguson, the passionate interim manager the club appointment in the immediate aftermath of Marco Silva’s sacking, has been made Ancelotti’s assistant coach. As Jonathan Wilson has noted, “If Ferguson offers the drive and the discipline, while Ancelotti charms everybody and deals with strategy, it could be the perfect pairing.”
But there are no guarantees. Everton have invested in a coach with interesting tactical ideas that could work for the club’s squad and Ancelotti’s status will elevate the club’s stature in European football. Whether that will be sufficient to transform Everton into a stable club hovering at the upper echelons of Premier League football remains to be seen.