The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Ancelotti keeps lifting the Blues
MAYBE it is time to acknowledge Carlo Ancelotti has more in his locker beyond picking world-class players.
When the legendary Italian landed at Goodison Park, cynics questioned how he would cope with a relatively modest squad having been used to working with the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo and Didier Drogba throughout his career.
Yet here we are with Everton in a European spot just two months after Marco Silva was sacked with the club stuck in the bottom three.
Duncan Ferguson deserves some credit for initially stopping the rot as interim boss but since then Ancelotti’s famous arched eyebrow has overseen a stunning revival with the team now up to seventh, usually good enough to qualify for the Europa League.
Yesterday’s win against Crystal Palace had a bit of Brazilian magic, with the first two goals scored by Bernard and Richarlison, and an English centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin netting the third.
‘We weren’t so good for 60 minutes, but I prefer to win than have a good performance and lose,’ acknowledged Ancelotti.
‘The most important part of this team is the spirit. The work we’ve done in this period has been really good; players, staff, club. And now, we can fight for the European place in the remaining games. We have the quality.’
Both sides went into the lunchtime kick-off in vastly contrasting form. Everton had only lost one of their previous 10, Palace had only won one in the same period.
It was not a major surprise, therefore, when the home side struck first after 18 minutes. Theo Walcott produced some great old-fashioned wing play to dart down the right flank past two Palace defenders and whip in the perfect delivery for Bernard to meet with a side-foot volley. Typical of Walcott’s career, he had to limp off soon afterwards.
Palace’s equaliser after 51 minutes owed a lot to Jordan Pickford.
Christian Benteke beat Michael Keane in the air in the centre circle and then raced on to the return pass from Wilfried Zaha. The Belgian’s low shot lacked power but Pickford allowed it to slip through his hands.
‘It can happen,’ said Ancelotti when asked about the gaffe. His mood might have been different had Pickford not pulled off a brilliant stop from Benteke’s header to deny a second equaliser.
‘A wonder save,’ was visiting manager Roy Hodgson’s description. By then, Palace had spurned their chances — Patrick van Aanholt hitting the post and the clearance rebounding off Benteke’s chest on to the bar — and Everton took advantage to regain the lead.
Calvert-Lewin’s flicked header set Richarlison goalwards and with a backpedalling Gary Cahill reluctant to make a challenge, the Brazilian correctly chose to cut inside and shoot rather than pass, and buried a low finish into the bottom right-hand corner.
Once Benteke had missed his close-range header, Everton took full control. Gylfi Sigurdsson was denied Goodison’s goal of the season by a save from Vicente Guiata after his mazy dribble.
But they did get a third late on when Richarlison hit the bar with a header and Calvert-Lewin snaffled the rebound from close range.
Palace need to find potency to avoid being dragged into a relegation fight.
‘Of course we are worried by a lack of goals,’ said Hodgson. ‘You have seen the team and the amount of opportunities. If we continue to do that, I am sure goals will come.’