The Carlo Ancelotti era at Everton kicked off with a 1-0 win over Burnley at Goodison Park on Boxing Day.
The Toffees had to be patient in waiting for their goal, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s superb diving header coming in the 80th minute as Ancelotti’s side struggled to break down a rigid Clarets.
But eventually, the pressure told on Sean Dyche’s men, who were unable to seriously threaten the Everton defence or spoil the Ancelotti party.
So, what did we learn on a rainy afternoon at Goodison Park?
1. Defence first
Looking at his first Everton starting XI, it’s clear to see Ancelotti’s priority is keeping his side solid at the back.
The Italian stuck with the 4-4-2 system he favoured at Napoli – and that Everton were playing under interim manager Duncan Ferguson – but bolstered his right flank with Djibril Sidibe lining up as a winger in front of Seamus Coleman.
The France international put in an impressive shift, charging up and down the wing to both support the attack and support Coleman defensively – the icing on the cake was his assist for Calvert-Lewin’s goal.
4 – Among defenders in the @premierleague, only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (six) and Andy Robertson (five) have more assists in the competition this season than Everton's Djibril Sidibé (four). Provider. #EVEBUR pic.twitter.com/TSZErDyBnt
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2019
It’s important to remember that Everton started the day in 16th place. As much as Ancelotti’s appointment is a signal of their future intent, they absolutely are in a relegation scrap right now.
The likes of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are absolutely capable of scoring enough goals to move them up the table, but only if things are kept air-tight at the other end. Teams that defend well tend to stay up and Ancelotti clearly recognises this.
2. Burnley can’t spoil the party
After kicking off December with 4-1 and 5-0 defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham, Dyche has obviously worked hard on returning a defensive solidity to Burnley.
The Clarets went into Thursday’s clash off the back of 1-0 wins against Newcastle and Bournemouth where they did not only kept consecutive clean sheets, but hadn’t even faced a single shot on target throughout.
For a long time at Goodison Park, it looked like Burnley might just keep another clean sheet and spoil Ancelotti’s big day, but when you surrender 68 per cent possession and spend the afternoon simply keeping your own 18-yard box in check, you’re bound to come unstuck eventually.
While Everton weren’t brilliant, Calvert-Lewin’s goal to give them the lead was deserved on the balance of play. Burnley host Manchester United next time, whose counter-attacking prowess will give this rugged Burnley side a new set of questions to answer.
3. Bernard could be Ancelotti’s go-to man
Bernard’s time at Everton has been a mixed bag since joining the club on a free transfer in 2018. The Brazil international has shown flashes of brilliance, some wonderful tricks and turns and genuinely looks on the edge of being a superb playmaker. Unfortunately, he’s failed to show this on a consistent basis and has arguably had more anonymous performances than notable ones.
On Thursday, though, he showed Ancelotti he might just be his go-to man in terms of providing guile and craft in the final third. In a game starved of much real quality, Bernard was a touch of class, taking the ball beautifully under pressure, turning out of trouble and linking up brilliantly with his teammates.
Lining up on the left, Ancelotti had clearly given him freedom to roam and Bernard’s habit of drifting into the number 10 position was one of the few things to cause Burnley real discomfort. Do you follow him? Do you let him go? Every time Bernard found space, Everton looked like doing damage – by the time he was withdrawn in the 77th minute, he’d made three key passes and completed three dribbles, more than any other Everton player.
4. Calvert-Lewin kicks off new era
It’s quite ironic that the Ancelotti era has been kick-started with a goal that Ferguson – the guiding hand following Marco Silva’s sacking – would have absolutely been proud of.
Calvert-Lewin has often struggled in front of goal, with his output in the box never quite matching his work-rate and endeavour. However, despite his lack of clinical streak, he’s turned into a hugely important player for Everton in recent months.
On Thursday, he had the added bonus of adding a goal to his performance, and how!
As the game ticked into the final 10 minutes, you’d have forgiven Evertonians for thinking this was going to be ‘one of those days’, but that all changed when Calvert-Lewin arrowed a wonderful diving header off the post and into the back of the net via Sidibe’s cross.
It was the kind of goal Big Dunc made a career out of to kick off Ancelotti’s reign at Everton in style and it was hungrily received by a raucous Goodison Park crowd.
To say the Premier League table is starting to look like the M6 at rush hour would be a huge understatement.
A win for Burnley here would have seen them jump to as high as joint-seventh, while even a point would have seen them leapfrog Arsenal.
Instead, the defeat allows Everton to slot into 13th place, just one behind the Clarets, who now hold a slim two-point advantage over their opponents.
Furthermore, Burnley are actually just six points clear of the relegation zone and just a couple of poor results in a row could see them or any other side start sliding into trouble.
Who will make Europe? Who will go down? That’s anyone’s guess right now – this result only adds to the confusion. Ancelotti will be hopeful he can provide some logic to the chaos as he attempts to guide Everton to a successful second half of the season.