Carlo Ancelotti exclusive: How Everton manager helped rediscover club's identity
In an exclusive Sky Sports interview, Carlo Ancelotti reflects on six months in charge at Everton; Watch Tottenham vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League on Monday from 7.30pm; Kick-off 8pm
Last Updated: 06/07/20 9:09pm
Carlo Ancelotti is enjoying life on Merseyside.
It has been over six months now since the 61-year-old began to acquaint himself with his new surroundings, and not even a global pandemic could stop the trim Italian from experiencing the rolling waves and dramatic skies close to his coastal residence.
Ancelotti has immediately embraced Liverpool as his home, remaining at his Crosby abode during the lockdown, enjoying his long waterside strolls, bike trekking and, of course, his favourite Italian restaurant.
"I found a really fantastic place with a fantastic beach, and a fantastic trail for the bike," Ancelotti tells Sky Sports with a smile.
"I spent a lot of time there from Formby to Crosby. It's a new experience and I really love this place. My wife chose a really nice place to live. I have to give credit to her for good taste."
Creating the right environment has been key to Ancelotti's success, wherever he's been, and having enjoyed the hustle and bustle of London, he now prepares to return to the capital with his eyes trained on a Europa League spot.
Having overcome Leicester, Everton could move above Tottenham when they meet on Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports, and having remained unbeaten since the restart, Ancelotti's side are full of confidence.
"The spirit of the team is good and we're working well in preparing for Monday," he continued.
"The players have recovered from the win against Leicester. It was a tough game and required a lot of work but they've been able to recover properly. The Europa League is the dream. We weren't able to think about it six months ago.
"We were thinking about avoiding relegation, but the Europa League would now be a fantastic step for us, so we have to think short-term. We have six games until the end of the season, and we're going to have to fight every minute to reach a good position in the table."
Back in December, following Duncan Ferguson's fine spell as caretaker, Ancelotti became Everton's fourth permanent boss since Roberto Martinez was sacked in May 2016. The club needed stability after another period of turbulence under Marco Silva, and his arrival was rightly viewed as a major coup.
"He is one of the finest managers in world football and a proven winner," said the club's director of football Marcel Brands.
"He is the perfect appointment for us. He embraces our vision for the club, and we are sure that his enthusiasm to take the helm at Goodison together with his tactical abilities and well-renowned man-management will make him successful in this role."
The fostering of team spirit
It has not taken Ancelotti long to show just why he was the board's unanimous choice. Everton would be fifth in the table if the Premier League had started on Boxing Day, when he guided his team to a 1-0 win over Burnley in his first match in charge.
Notable milestones have been reached during his first six months. In early February, Everton won a Premier League game after conceding the first goal for the first time since December 2017 - a run of 35 matches.
Under Silva, Everton went behind 28 times and never fought back to win - but that changed against Watford. That 3-2 win at Vicarage Road was the first time the Merseysiders had won from two goals behind away from home in the Premier League since September 2015 having lost the previous 25 in a row.
"The quality of the squad is good now and it was good before I was here," Ancelotti continued. "They had problems at the beginning of the season when I wasn't here, so I don't know what happened during that period.
"But since I arrived, the team is doing well. We've had some good moments, some difficulties, but in these six months, the team has improved."
Anthony Gordon had been on the fringes of the first team under Silva, but with the side struggling for form, the Portuguese was reluctant to throw the academy graduate into the line of fire.
In Everton's first game in three months, however, Ancelotti selected Gordon as one of five outfield players aged 23 or under in the club's youngest starting XI in a Premier League Merseyside derby. That courage was rewarded with a richly deserved point against a below-par Liverpool.
Ancelotti has swiftly identified the club's heritage and history of blooding local talent, and the team's collective improvement should not be overly used in mitigation for the 19-year-old's rise to prominence since the restart.
"The only message for Anthony has been to give him confidence that he can play in the first team. He's not just a young player that trained with the first team. He's an important player that came from the academy that has a big part to play in the squad."
Gordon's place in the side has been on merit, and in only his third senior appearance, the youngster announced himself by assisting Richarlison for the opener in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Leicester.
Work rate, flexibility and dead balls key to strong restart
It required some tactical interventions from Ancelotti for Everton to quash their opponent's second-half fightback.
"I learned that sometimes we can play with five at the back," the Italian added. "Sometimes, it can be a good solution because the players are comfortable there with three central defenders. This can sometimes be the solution to avoid problems.
"Usually, we're going to play with four at the back, but sometimes there's the opportunity to play with five."
Home wins over Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United at the back end of last season generated plenty of hope for the future under Silva, but progress was undermined by a crippling lack of organisation; 24 goals conceded from set-pieces - the highest figure in the top flight.
While improving on this record remains a work in progress, Everton have become the deadliest at attacking set-pieces this term, with no team having scored more than their 10 goals from corners, while no side has scored more headed goals (four) since Ancelotti's arrival.
"We know the importance of set pieces in games. A lot of games are decided by set pieces, but the key point is that we have fantastic players with the head and we have fantastic takers. We've been working hard in training, but this is the reason."
Ancelotti confirmed he is happy with the backroom staff he now has in place, working alongside his son Davide whilst also retaining Ferguson as assistant manager. The combination is working.
Ancelotti has taken 25 points from his first 14 encounters, and if you include Ferguson's impact, Everton have only lost to Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea in their last 17 league games.
There has been a clear and compact defensive structure to his side since the restart with one goal conceded in three matches compared to just three clean sheets in the 20 games before break.
"Whenever you arrive somewhere and the moment isn't so good, you have to focus defensively," said Ancelotti. "We've worked hard on this, and I now feel on the offensive aspect, we can work more when we have more confidence.
"The first step was to defend well. We defended quite well, not always, but after the lockdown, the defensive aspect has been good."
Everton continue focus on fast starts
While the general trend has seen more goals scored in the second period since the restart, 25 of Everton's 40 Premier League goals this season have come in the first half.
Leicester were 2-0 down at Goodison on Wednesday inside 16 minutes and after Tottenham paid for their sluggish opening at Sheffield United, Ancelotti will be hoping for another fast start on Monday.
The second-half resistance against Leicester brought a landmark win for Ancelotti but a third successive win for the first time this season would represent an even higher benchmark set.
The former Chelsea boss will be aware of Everton's abysmal record away to the traditional 'big six' - with only 12 points taken from 39 games since a 1-0 win over Manchester United in December 2013.
"Tottenham are involved in the fight for the Europa League, so to win there will be important - that's the focus," Ancelotti continued. "They're a direct opponent so it's a fantastic opportunity to break this poor record for us.
"It'll be difficult, but we have to try. As an opponent, you know that Jose Mourinho is a dangerous manager as he knows very well how to prepare for games. I'll be happy to meet him again."
Indeed, Everton's away form in general must improve if they are to keep their Europa League hopes for this season alive, with trips to Wolves and Sheffield United to come. They have collected just four wins on their travels and only Aston Villa (33) have conceded more than their 31 goals on the road.
It is why so much importance has been placed on turning Goodison Park into a fortress. Sheffield United, Man City and, in toxic surroundings, Norwich all collected three points earlier in the season, but Everton have now gone nine unbeaten at home, their longest run in four years.
"The history of Goodison Park tells me that it has been a fortress for Everton," said Ancelotti. "The only team that I didn't beat in my experience of the Premier League was Everton. Goodison has to be our house and our home.
"Of course, we'd like to have the supporters in the stands, which we haven't had in the last two games, but we did well. It has to be an important part of our future, the stadium."
Building a trophy-winning side remains the ambition
Ancelotti spoke this week of turning Everton into Premier League title contenders, and while majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri has so far seen little return having sanctioned around £450m of spending, it remains his dream for Everton to join their north-western counterparts in what he labelled "the Hollywood of football".
"I know very well how the supporters feel about winning trophies," said Ancelotti. "This is our dream, our goal, our expectation, and we're working hard on this. When you win trophies, it's for yourself and the club, but above all it's for the happiness that you're able to give your supporters."
Everton sat in the relegation zone in the winter, but now a European place is not beyond the realms of possibility. Ancelotti is getting his message across.
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