Everton's perfect start: Rodriguez, a balanced midfield and more goals

How Carlo Ancelotti has masterminded an Everton revolution: Cup-hero Dominic Calvert-Lewin can’t stop scoring, James Rodriguez is a genuine star and Richarlison is his secret weapon (so, could silverware be on the horizon?)

  • Everton have won their first five games and sit third in the Premier League table
  • New arrivals Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure have helped form a new midfield
  • James Rodriguez has slotted straight in and looks at home in English football
  • Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in red-hot form after taking Carlo Ancelotti’s advice
  • Both full-backs have impressed early on and the squad now has greater depth 

Anyone who witnessed Everton’s miserable defeat by Bournemouth on the final day of last season could be forgiven for fearing the worst for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

During that 3-1 loss on home soil in late July, many of the issues which plagued the Blues throughout the campaign – an error-prone goalkeeper, a midfield that didn’t function and an inability to create and finish chances – were on show to one degree or another.

Admittedly there was little riding on the game for Everton and Bournemouth were fighting for survival, but it was still a worrying snapshot of the problems facing Ancelotti ahead of his first summer transfer window in charge.

Everton’s players celebrate after Richarlison’s winning goal against Crystal Palace on Saturday

There were more celebrations to be had following victory against West Ham on Wednesday

Fast-forward a couple of months and the Toffees are third in the Premier League on goal difference having won each of their three games. They’ve also eased past Salford and Fleetwood to reach the last-16 of the Carabao Cup.   

Ancelotti’s side already look unrecognisable to the team who finished last season with a whimper and could only manage 12th place in the table. European football and a cup are the goals this time around, and they appear well-equipped to challenge on both fronts.

The former Chelsea and AC Milan boss is well aware of the work needed to improve his side and maintain their impressive early results, but optimism among supporters is at its highest level since Roberto Martinez’s swashbuckling first season in charge seven years ago.

Here, Sportsmail explains the five key reasons behind Everton’s perfect start after they earned a sixth straight victory against West Ham on Wednesday night.

Carlo Ancelotti has overseen six straight wins in all competitions at the start of the season

A PERFECTLY BALANCED MIDFIELD

It says a lot about the ineptitude of your midfield when Mason Holgate, a 23-year-old central defender who only truly established himself in the back four last season, arguably put in the most impressive performances in the middle of the park.

Holgate was called upon in an injury crisis and stepped up with aplomb, but his performances only shone a brighter light on Everton’s midfield issues.

After losing Idrissa Gueye to PSG, new arrival Fabian Delph failed to fill his boots as he struggled for both form and fitness. Jean-Philippe Gbamin, a £25million signing from Mainz, missed virtually the entire season through injury too.

The arrival of Brazilian Allan from Napoli has given Everton the midfield destroyer they needed

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin all failed to impress, while Andre Gomes was left exposed after recovering from a serious ankle injury and playing too many games at the end of last season.

Ancelotti, who was a midfielder during his playing days, immediately noted his side’s problems and went about fixing them this summer, bringing in Allan from Napoli and Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford.

The pair have formed part of a new-look midfield trio alongside Gomes, giving the Blues a well-balanced unit in the centre of the pitch who are capable of winning the ball back, getting up and down the pitch and picking passes to the front three.

Allan is a destroyer who breaks up attacks and keeps possession, Doucoure brings bundles of energy and goes box-to-box, while Gomes’ now has to do less of the dirty work and has more scope to use his passing range and vision.

Abdoulaye Doucoure has added much-needed energy to the Toffees’ midfield since joining

RODRIGUEZ SLOTS STRAIGHT IN 

When Everton moved to sign James Rodriguez earlier this month, some pundits questioned whether the 29-year-old had the desire – and ability – to do it in the Premier League after a frustrating final season at Real Madrid.

His answer has been emphatic. Three excellent performances against Tottenham, West Brom and Crystal Palace, including a goal, an assist and a couple of ‘pre-assists’ has left fans wondering why no other teams challenged for his signature. He got in on the action with another assist against West Ham, too, teeing up Richarlison for the Toffees’ second of the match. 

Rodriguez’s close relationship with Ancelotti – they worked together at both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – was the driving force behind his move to Goodison Park and the Italian was always confident he would adapt quickly.

James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring a brilliant goal during only his second appearance

He has done exactly that, quickly making the right side of Everton’s attacking three his own and allowing the ex-Bayern Munich boss to use a new 4-3-3 formation, with Gomes, Allan and Doucoure behind.

The Colombian adds a magic touch to the Toffees’ attack and complements the pace, power and energy of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin with exceptional vision and the technique to play passes opponents simply don’t see coming.

Rodriguez has superstar quality. Everton are lucky to have him.

ANCELOTTI’S MAIN MAN

No player has benefitted from the arrival of Ancelotti last December quite like Calvert-Lewin, the Premier League’s current joint-top goalscorer. 

Once regarded among many supporters as a striker who did everything but score, the 23-year-old has now developed a handy knack of being in the right place at the right time and his finishing has improved too.

Each of his five Premier League goals this term have come with his first touch, something Ancelotti stressed the importance of following the striker’s hat-trick against West Brom, even citing the ability of legendary striker Filippo Inzaghi to find the back of the net without setting himself up first.

A hat-trick in the 4-1 Carabao Cup win over West Ham on Wednesday night further proved his scintillating form. The striker has picked the perfect time to score eight goals in 18 days with Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the upcoming international break soon to be announced. 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin wheels away after opening the scoring at Selhurst Park last weekend

Calvert-Lewin’s red-hot start to the season is in stark contrast to the way in which he finished the previous campaign, having failed to score in the final 11 games.

But Ancelotti kept faith in him despite his dry patch and has been rewarded for sticking with him as the main forward in his new-look side.

Strong in the air, quick and increasingly clinical in front of goal, Calvert-Lewin looks like being a key component in Everton’s attack for years to come after committing his future to the club with a new five-year contract.

A word for Richarlison, too, whose relentless running, ability to beat defenders and sheer desire has made him arguably Ancelotti’s most important player. 

FULL BACKS ON FORM

While Yerry Mina has experienced an up-and-down start to the season alongside the more consistent Michael Keane in the centre of defence, Everton’s full-backs have begun the season in superb fashion.

Lucas Digne came in for criticism from some supporters last term despite eight assists and a goal in all competitions, but he has looked back to his best in the early stages of this term.

Although strong in the defensive aspects of the game, the Frenchman’s best qualities are getting forward, delivering crosses and linking up with the man in front of him, Richarlison.

Lucas Digne, pictured against Palace, has started the new season in excellent form at left back

Digne provided a brilliant assist for Calvert-Lewin’s winner at Spurs and his range of passing, particularly when playing as a makeshift centre back against Salford and Fleetwood, really caught the eye.

On the other flank, Seamus Coleman has reminded everyone of how good he can be, even prompting Ancelotti to claim that he could play until he was 40.

After losing his place for large chunks of last season to loanee Djibril Sidibe, the club captain is back as first choice and was excellent at Palace on Saturday.

He made a driving run into the box to set up the opening goal, then, with the help of Mina, kept the tricky Wilfried Zaha quiet for the rest of the game.

With Everton’s midfield three playing fairly narrow, the energy of Coleman and Digne will be pivotal going forward.

Club captain Seamus Coleman keeps his eyes on the ball as Wilfried Zaha runs towards him

ADDED COMPETITION

As well as noticeably improving the starting XI, the arrivals of Rodriguez, Doucoure and Allan have had the knock-on effect of improving Ancelotti’s bench.

Against Palace on Saturday, the Italian could call on £45m Gylfi Sigurdsson, former Brazil international Bernard, £28m Alex Iwobi and £27m Moise Kean among others.

Although the fees paid for these players is another conversation entirely, Ancelotti now has plenty of decent options at his disposal if things aren’t going right.

Bernard scores a stunning half-volley during Everton’s Carabao Cup win over Fleetwood

Theo Walcott didn’t even make the squad last weekend, while impressive youngster Anthony Gordon has been unlucky not to be involved in the Premier League after shining in both Carabao Cup games so far. 

Niels Nkounkou, a free agent signed after he left Marseille this summer, has been outstanding in both cup games too, and already looks like an able deputy for Digne.

The fringe players – particularly Sigurdsson, Bernard and Iwobi – all impressed against Fleetwood last week and showed signs that they know they need to raise their game to have any chance of getting back into the starting XI.

And although stories linking him with a return to Italy persist, Kean’s knack of popping up with a goal despite not playing particularly well is a welcome development.

They aren’t quite good enough to start week in, week out for a side eyeing up a European spot, but they can all play an important role for Ancelotti.

Moise Kean, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Niels Nkounkou could all be important from the bench




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