Everton's pitiful display in the Merseyside derby shows the scale of the challenge for Carlo Ancelotti
So dreadful is Everton’s modern record at Anfield, that it would be easy to dismiss their loss on Sunday as just another chapter in a tortured recent history. In a way it was, because Everton always manage to save their very worst for Liverpool, but rarely have they produced such a dispiriting tone in defeat.
It was a fixture into which they carried all the advantages. They were older, better, and infinitely more experienced than their opposition. These were hardened professionals standing in opposition to what was, in the main, a team of teenagers with a handful of token Premier League appearances between them. And yet a 1-0 scoreline barely described the distanced between them at full-time or just how easy Everton had allowed life for Liverpool to be in front of a cooing Anfield crowd.
Every now and again, the television cameras settled on Carlo Ancelotti. At no point did he really seem angered by what he was watching. He chewed his gum with increasing vigour and his eyes got wider and colder as the game wore on, but he seemed more just shocked – as if he’d never come into contact with such cowardice.
That’s a very harsh term, but it’s not an unfair one. Particularly because the longer the game remained scoreless, the more obvious it became that Everton would find a way to lose. It was telling, also, that Ancelotti’s veteran players were among the worst on the pitch and appeared to wilt the quickest. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne and Morgan Schneiderlin were all dismal, Theo Walcott was especially awful.
Instead of giving Everton their critical edge, those players – among others – appeared consumed by what a loss to this Liverpool would mean. Given the same opportunity in the same situation, tougher players of their standing would have relished the opportunity to slap that Liverpool team around. Really good footballers – the ones who have all the technical and emotional attributes – have that habit of giving lessons to young pretenders. They enjoy putting coming generations back in their place. They resent their achingly fashionable haircuts and colourful boots and take great pleasure in dosing out the humility.
But these Everton players don’t share that kind of personality. They’re victims. Losers. After Curtis Jones had scored the game’s only goal, there was no determination to respond, just petulance – from Fabian Delph and Yerry Mina – and self-pity. There wasn’t even the hint of an equaliser, let alone any sense that anybody's pride was being affronted. Instead, they stood back and let Liverpool pass the ball, allowing them a victory lap before full-time. It was unforgivable.
Who knows what Ancelotti made of it. Everton’s new manager is a serial winner, a three-time conqueror of the Champions League alone, and yet here he was, associating with players who cower just at the sight of the wrong-coloured shirt.
If there is any encouragement to draw, though, it’s in how unlikely he is to tolerate this situation. This, ultimately, was not just elimination from the FA Cup, but also a loss which came with subliminal messages. It defeated, for instance, any pretensions Everton may have of rescuing value from their recent recruiting cycles. It also asked questions of the depth of the club’s scouting and the attention which has been paid to personality and the kind of hidden attributes which win football matches when it absolutely matters.
Its greatest value, though, was in laying bare the squad’s deficiencies and showing – conclusively – that Ancelotti can’t be expected to win with this set of players.
The most efficient move at this point, then, must be to recognise that disconnect. Everton must understand that every turn they've taken over the last three years has been in error and that, as a result, they are now absolutely nowhere. They're not a couple of players away or in need of strengthening in just a few positions, but actually at zero - a point of total inferiority in relation to everything they measure themselves against.
They must start again, this time with some substance to their thinking.
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