After a whirlwind few days at the end of May, Carlo Ancelotti left Everton to rejoin Real Madrid.
The Italian tactician had spoke often in recent months of his desire to build a project at Everton, as well as helping guide the club to their new stadium at the Bramley-Moore Dock. Ancelotti also spoke very critically of the Super League project, spearheaded by Los Blancos president, Florentino Perez.
But the call of Real Madrid is strong and after a brief negotiation period, Ancelotti returned to the club he delivered a 10th Champions League title in 2014.
The list of potential replacements at Goodison Park is being drawn up, with some obvious favourites emerging from the pack. But how would Everton line up under these candidates? Let’s take a look.
Nuno Espirito Santo
At the time of writing, Nuno Espirito Santo is the 11/8 favourite to replace Ancelotti according to Sky Bet. The Portuguese tactician has a decent track record having guided Valencia to fourth in the 2014/15 La Liga season, while he finished second with Porto in 2016/17 with just two defeats all season. That’s all aside from the obvious achievement of guiding Wolves into the Premier League and turning them into top-flight mainstays.
Now, during his final season at Wolves, Nuno had attempted to revert to a back four, rather than the three-centre-back formation that had previously served him so well in the Midlands. But given he’d be starting a new project at Everton, combined with the Toffees having four centre-backs of a similar level on their books already, you’d back him to return to what he knows best.
Jordan Pickford starts in goal after a solid end to the 2020/21 campaign. In front of him, a centre-back trio of Ben Godfrey, Yerry Mina and Michael Keane offers ultimate aerial and physical prowess, while Godfrey is the standout candidate among the three in terms of ball-playing. Lucas Digne is one of the best attacking left-backs in the Premier League and would thrive off the freedom offered to him by the protection of three centre-backs. On the right, Seamus Coleman isn’t getting any younger and according to reports in the Netherlands, PSV’s Denzel Dumfries is being targeted as his long-term successor.
One area Everton really struggled in last season was central midfield. Allan provided a good defensive platform while Abdoulaye Doucoure progressed and carried the ball well. But both suffered from various fitness issues, while the options around them left a lot to be desired. Time and time again, the Toffees failed to create through the middle, couldn’t break lines and were outmanoeuvred in this area. But with three centre-backs behind them, Allan and Doucoure should have a little more freedom and security to perform box-to-box roles, still protecting their backline but with an onus to get forward and support the forwards.
If they can be convinced to stay, James Rodriguez and Richarlison will be charged with the task of creating for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, while also chipping in with goals themselves. Calvert-Lewin scored 16 Premier League goals last season, accounting for 34% of Everton’s total. With seven and six strikes respectively, Richarlison and Rodriguez were Calvert-Lewin’s closest rivals in what turned out to be a frustrating season in front of goal at Everton.
But if Rodriguez leaves Merseyside, which does look increasingly on the cards with the Colombian currently in Miami, Espirito Santo will reportedly bring Pedro Neto with him from Molineux to fill the attacking void.
During his three games in charge as caretaker manager in 2019/20, Duncan Ferguson guided Everton to five points against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, beating the former 3-1 at Goodison Park. With that in mind, it’s only fair that he’s considered for the role this time around, though the Scotsman has seen his odds drop 14/1. What’s more, Ferguson has reportedly turned down a place on Ancelotti’s coaching staff at Madrid to stay in the frame for the Everton job.
Throughout those three games, Ferguson stuck to the 4-4-2 formation he most often spearheaded during his playing days, with the focus more on getting physical with the opponent and counter-attacking at speed as opposed to playing out from the back.
Picking two centre-backs from Everton’s current pool will be tough, but Ferguson got a lot of joy from Keane and Mina last time and could stick to what he knows. He also has a great relationship with captain Seamus Coleman and would lean on his experience at right-back. Obviously, Digne continues at left-back.
Again, Allan and Doucoure offer a good defensive platform through the middle, with both willing and able to break up opposition moves. And if Ferguson can convince Rodriguez to stay, he and Alex Iwobi would likely start on the flanks, but with the remit of tucking inside to create dominance through the middle and space for the full-backs to push forward.
Getting Digne in the final third will be vital, with the Frenchman able to deliver dangerous crosses to a front-two of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. Both are extremely hard-working and physical, while Calvert-Lewin is arguably the best aerial striker in Europe right now — something Ferguson himself is rather familiar with.
Ferguson has a close relationship with some of Everton’s academy graduates so while they may not be guaranteed starters, the likes of Tom Davies and Mason Holgate would play prominent roles within his squad, while the young, talented Ben Godfrey (signed last season from Norwich) will also be regularly rotated in at both centre-back and right-back.
Currently out of a job and the 10/1 fifth-favourite, Eddie Howe has been linked with the Everton job for a number of years now. Given he is a boyhood blue, his appointment would make a lot of sense from a personal perspective.
“I was an Everton fan growing up, so I would always look for them when I picked up the ball,” Howe said in 2016. “I was a passionate Everton fan as a kid.”
Like Espirito Santo, Howe is also out of work right now after leaving Bournemouth at the end of the 2019/20 season as the Cherries were finally relegated back to the second-tier.
If Howe were to take the Everton hotseat, you’d likely see a line-up pretty similar to that of Ferguson’s (transfers notwithstanding) with the 43-year-old favouring a 4-4-2 formation. The main differences between Howe and Ferguson are that the former prefers a more progressive style of play, meaning Godfrey and Holgate may be preferred at centre-back as ball-playing options.
David Moyes’ odds of returning to Goodison Park have taken a hit (he’s now priced at 16/1) with the reports that the Scotsman is going to sign a new deal with West Ham. But what if Moyes did return to the club he managed for 11 years? How would that look?
For starters, you’d see Everton line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Moyes used extensively as he guided West Ham to sixth last season. On the face of it, this may not be a bad fit for the Toffees.
Coleman is the last remaining player from Moyes’ time at Everton and the Scotsman would keep the Ireland international in the starting XI as his captain. On the left, Moyes could utilise Digne as an attacking and creative outlet much in the way he used Leighton Baines all those years ago.
A no-nonsense centre-back pairing of Keane and Mina would be the preferred option, but that doesn’t mean Godfrey wouldn’t feature in the starting XI. With the full-backs providing attacking thrust, Moyes might well look to place two defensive options at the base of midfield. Godfrey would become the converted midfielder a la Declan Rice, with Allan next to him providing bite and security in possession.
Calvert-Lewin would be the target man, with James Rodriguez operating behind where he can find goalscoring opportunities. Richarlison and Iwobi could provide industry and creativity on the flanks.
Of course, this is all hypothetical with Moyes tipped to sign a new contract at West Ham in the coming weeks.