With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Everton and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.

Ever since Farhad Moshiri became the owner of Everton in 2016, he has shown great ambition and backed it up with funding in the transfer market. However, that hasn’t necessarily translated to success on the pitch for the Merseysiders.

Having finished the previous two campaigns in the eighth spot, there was a lot of expectation coming into the 2019/20 term under Marco Silva. However, the Toffees’ crashed and burned in the early parts of the season, resulting in the eventual sacking of the Portuguese.

Don Carlo has his task cut out at Everton (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Don Carlo has his task cut out at Everton (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Moshiri, once again showing his ambition and the direction he wants to take the club, pulled off a huge coup by appointing Carlo Ancelotti as the new manager. The Italian comes with a massive reputation and fair to say that there were positives early in his spell at Goodison Park. But they ended 12th in the season – a whopping 50 points below neighbours Liverpool.

So, it goes without saying that the challenge that lies in front of Ancelotti is unlike anything he has faced in his career. And ahead of his first full season in charge at Everton, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at what awaits them in 2020/21.

Prelude – The Backdrop

Everton’s 2019/20 Premier League campaign started off on a disappointing note with a goalless draw against Crystal Palace. Two wins in the next three matches catapulted them to the sixth place, but a run of four consecutive defeats saw them drop into the relegation zone in October, mounting pressure on Marco Silva.

Wins against West Ham United, Southampton and a draw against Tottenham helped them move out of danger, but another run of three losses, including a 5-2 hammering at the hands of local rivals Liverpool put them back in the bottom three. It proved to be the last straw for Silva, as the club swung the axe, handing the reins to Duncan Ferguson temporarily.

Marco Silva looked out of his depth towards the end of his Everton reign (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Marco Silva looked out of his depth towards the end of his Everton reign (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

The caretaker boss oversaw a new-manager spring as Everton beat Chelsea before holding Manchester United and Arsenal to draws, before Ancelotti took over. Things started well under the Italian as well, with three wins in his first four matches in charge. Draws against West Ham and Newcastle in January did sap some momentum, however.

When football was brought to a halt in March, Everton were 12th, following a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Chelsea. Post-lockdown, Ancelotti’s side held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw to delay their coronation as champions, after which they beat Norwich and Leicester to move to the 11th place.

However, an outcome of just one victory in their final six games of the campaign (D2 L3) meant they couldn’t make a concerted effort to push for a top-half finish and ended the season in the 12th position – four places below from the previous campaign.

The Toffees shipped in 56 goals in the season – only Southampton and Newcastle conceded more among the top 15 teams, while their tally of 44 goals scored was the third worst in the top 12. It was a tumultuous campaign for Everton and while things picked up under Ancelotti, inconsistencies in performances hurt them badly towards the end.

Squad Update

Midfield was a problem area for Ancelotti and Everton last season. And they have gone about business quickly to address the issue. First off, the Toffees reached an agreement to sign a Premier League proven midfielder in the form of Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford, which was followed by the signing of Allan – a player who played some of his best football under the Italian tactician – from Napoli.

Prior to the two statement signings, Everton had brought in promising full-back Niels Nkounkou from French outfit Marseille. And the club have now confirmed the signing of James Rodriguez from Real Madrid, who, if Ancelotti manages to get the best out of, could address the creativity problems for the Merseysiders. Jonjoe Kenny is back from his loan spell with Schalke.

As far as exits from Goodison are concerned, Morgan Schneiderlin left the club before the 2019/20 came to an end, while veteran goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg has seen his contract run out. Oumar Niasse has been released by the club, while Kieran Dowell, once tipped as one of the brightest prospects coming through the youth ranks, has joined Norwich City.

Morgan Feeney, Fraser Hornby and Nathangelo Markelo have all left as well, while club legend Leighton Baines has announced his retirement. Even though he was hardly used last season, the Englishman’s presence in the dressing room will be missed.

A new centre-back is very much the need of the hour for Everton, while adding another potent striker to support Dominic Calvert-Lewin would be a smart move. The Toffees also lack threat from the wide areas, with none of Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Bernard looking penetrative enough in the season gone by.

Key Fixtures

Everton face a difficult start to the campaign as they travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to take on Jose Mourinho’ Spurs side. The Toffees haven’t won away against the North Londoners since 2008 in the league. However, things will ease off from that point though with newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion up next followed by Crystal Palace.

The Merseyside Derby against champions Liverpool at home will be a huge test for Ancelotti & co (Matchweek 5). Apart from that, they have a set of winnable set of fixtures in October. Matches against the remaining two promoted teams come up in November, after a tough game at home against Manchester United.

But, it is December when Ancelotti’s troops will put through the wringer. After a game against Burnley (A), Everton will face Chelsea (H), Leicester City (A), Arsenal (H), Sheffield United (A) and Manchester City (H) on the trot. A good run here would set the tone for them, while a poor run could throw things into a disarray.

February will pose a challenge once again with away matches against Leeds, Manchester United and Liverpool. The final run-in is far from straightforward either with games against Arsenal and Tottenham in April, followed by fixtures against Aston Villa, West Ham, Sheffield United, Wolves and Manchester City to end the season.

Key Players

Richarlison

Time for Richarlison to step it up a notch (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Time for Richarlison to step it up a notch (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The joint top scorer for Everton in the Premier League last season, along with Dominic Calvert-Lewin with 13 goals, Richarlison has proved to be a fine investment for the Toffees. The Brazilian international brings an X-factor to the team in the final third, which his ingenious movement and killer finishing instincts.

The decision to pair him up alongside Calvert-Lewin in a two-pronged strikeforce worked very well for the Toffees. And even though there is a likelihood that he will be moved to the left-flank this term, with a change of shape on the cards to accommodate James Rodriguez, Richarlison will continue to be Everton’s biggest threat in the final third.

After two seasons with 13 league goals, it is time for the 23-year-old to step it up a notch and bring in more consistency into his game.

Jordan Pickford

The 2019/20 campaign was one to forget for Jordan Pickford. So much so that, there have been question marks raised over his suitability as the No. 1 for both club and country. Having kept 14 clean sheets in 2018/19, Pickford managed just nine in the season gone by. He made four errors that led to goal – only Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka (5) making more.

Brilliant when on song, Pickford can look equally sheepish when things aren’t going his way – as was witnessed in the club’s final game of the season against Bournemouth, when he made a fine stop in a one-on-one against Callum Wilson, before letting one creep through his legs.

If Everton are to push for qualification for European football, they will need Pickford to rediscover his form from the 2017/18 campaign. If he’s firing, the Englishman has the quality to win games.

Allan

A soft midfield was a major problem for Everton in the season gone by. With Fabian Delph spending the majority of the season out injured, along with Jean-Phillippe Gbamin, the Toffees lacked any sort of solidity in the centre of the park, which could help shield a shaky backline. However, with Allan’s addition, Everton seem to have taken a step towards addressing the issue.

The 29-year-old has plenty of top level experience, having spent a large part of his professional career in Serie A. And as mentioned previously, Ancelotti managed to get the best out of the Brazilian back at Napoli and should he do the same again, Everton should have the look of a more solid unit.

Season Expectations

Everton’s transfer business so far has been fairly impressive, even though they did miss out on a couple of top transfer targets in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Gabriel Magalhaes. The signings of Doucoure and Allan will address a major issue, and the arrival of James Rodriguez will add greater quality to the squad, no doubt.

But, there’s still a lot of work to be done for Ancelotti & co. to be a team challenging for European football. The defence was porous and lacks in depth, while they are also in need of a striker who can be a consistent source of goals apart from Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. And if the same Pickford from the last season shows up, things will get hard for the Toffees.

The Hard Tackle predicts a tenth-placed finish for the Merseysiders, with them showing some improvement from the season gone by, but once again falling short of European football. The author concurs with the prediction because there remain plenty of deficiencies in the squad which even Ancelotti’s brilliance cannot mask.

THT Prediction: 10th

Author Prediction: 10th

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