Carlo Ancelotti says Everton are ready for an acid test of their revival under his leadership as the Champions League hopefuls head to Arsenal on Sunday at the start of a tough run of games.
Ancelotti’s side has taken 17 points from his eight Premier League matches in charge — a return bettered only by runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool (24) over the same period — and have moved from 15th to ninth since the Italian arrived in December.
There are more tests lying in wait for the Toffees after the trip to north London, with home games against Manchester United and Liverpool and a trip to fourth-placed Chelsea offering a closer examination of their European credentials.
“Of course we have to be focused on Arsenal, but if we want to think about Europe there are very important games after Arsenal,” Ancelotti said.
“We have to play against United, Chelsea, and Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what’s going for Europe.”
Everton arrives at the Emirates Stadium this weekend looking to close the five-point gap on Chelsea as they attempt to gatecrash the battle for Champions League.
Manchester City’s two-year European ban has opened the door for the team that finishes fifth to qualify for next season’s tournament, pending the result of City’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
However, Everton’s only meetings with England’s elite have ended in defeat since Ancelotti took over, with Manchester City beating them in the league and a youthful Liverpool side handing them a disappointing FA Cup exit.
Victory against Arsenal, who have European ambitions of their own after last weekend’s thumping of Newcastle, would be a significant statement of intent as Ancelotti aims to prove that Everton’s run is not a flash in the pan.
“This is a really important game against a strong team away but we need to have the confidence to do our best and try to win,” said the 60-year-old.
“I know that Arsenal improved a lot in the last period, they are more confident, they are playing better so it will be difficult, but the spirit of the team is good and we have confidence.”
– Competitive streak –
Ancelotti’s relaxed public persona masks a fiercely competitive streak that has taken him across Europe in search of more managerial glory at an age when many of his peers are ready to step away from such a stressful job.
He has won domestic titles with Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich, as well as lifting the Champions League with Milan and Real Madrid.
His reputation lost a little lustre after a troubled spell with Napoli that ended with his dismissal from the Italian club in December after 16 months in charge.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages last season was compounded by a poor run in Serie A this term, with talk of squad unrest.
So when Ancelotti arrived at Goodison Park to replace the sacked Marco Silva a few weeks later there were doubters who claimed his decision to join Everton smacked of one last payday before retirement.
Everton’s situation was hardly fitting for a man supposedly in search of a quiet life however as Silva’s struggles had left the club in a relegation battle.
Wisely retaining beloved interim boss Duncan Ferguson on his backroom staff, Ancelotti has brought a renewed sense of belief and a more positive style of play.
In his opening two games, Everton produced 43 shots — the highest number they had managed over successive games in four years.
He has brought the best out of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has six goals under Ancelotti, while Gylfi Sigurdsson has been revitalised as a deep-lying midfield playmaker.
Everton fans, who quickly labelled him “Carlo Fantastico”, have latched onto the hope provided by Ancelotti’s assured presence in the dug-out after so many years of unfulfilled expectations.
Whether he remains fantastic in their eyes will be influenced by results over the next few weeks.