What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March? Carlo Ancelotti entered lockdown brooding over a painful reality check with his new club. It could be one that benefits him and Everton in the long-term, however. Five wins in his first eight Premier League matches, building on the fine work of Duncan Ferguson as caretaker manager, had encouraged talk from the manager of European qualification and only minor repair work being necessary in the summer transfer market. Anyone who has watched an expensively-assembled squad toil over recent seasons knew both to be hugely optimistic assessments.
Everton remain a long way off realising the ambitions of the majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri and their three-times Champions League winning manager. That would have been brought home to Ancelotti when his team blew a two-goal lead in stoppage time against Newcastle, in defeat at Arsenal and especially in the 4-0 reverse at Chelsea in the final game before lockdown. The positives as football entered its enforced break were the new five-year contracts signed by Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate.
What about now? The return to contact training has at least allowed Ancelotti more time to impose his ideas at Finch Farm, albeit in a restricted fashion. It is time the manager would not usually have had after arriving in mid-season, and the onus is on players he inherited to prove they belong in his long-term plans. One area he is keen to strengthen is central midfield. The squad was beset by injuries in that department prior to lockdown, which offers one explanation for that sorry display at Chelsea, but that situation has barely improved since 13 March.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin, last summer’s £22.5m intended replacement for Idrissa Gueye, had hoped to offer a solution in the restart after recovering from the quadriceps injury that has blighted his campaign. But he is now out until next year after suffering an achilles injury in training. Morgan Schneiderlin is several weeks away from returning from a knee operation he underwent in February while another training-ground thigh injury, this time to Yerry Mina, means Everton have only two central defenders available for the restart. Theo Walcott has also been ruled out for four weeks after abdominal surgery.
What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? A first Merseyside derby win for almost 10 years would be a good start. There remains an outside chance of Europe, with six points separating Wolves in sixth from Everton in 12th, although it would require major and consistent improvement for Ancelotti’s team to climb that high. It is arguably more important to determine who should be part of next season’s plans, who needs to go and for his tactical vision to take shape. There are high hopes at Goodison for the 19-year-old Anthony Gordon. The restart offers opportunity for the forward to build on his two Premier League substitute appearances. Likewise, given the injury situation in central defence, Lewis Gibson could get a chance to press his claim although Everton would need special dispensation to re-register the 19-year-old after a loan season at Fleetwood. It is also time for Moise Kean to justify Everton’s £24.5m investment.
Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? Everton acted immediately to help the local community when the pandemic struck, launching a £50,000 ‘Blue Family’ campaign that involved charity staff delivering emergency food parcels, medical prescriptions and fuel vouchers to those in need. Players and management took part in the thousands of phone calls the club made to elderly and isolated people. All of which explained the club’s anger, and disciplinary action, when Moise Kean was filmed breaching lockdown rules at a house party.
Any unsung/community heroes? Everton in the Community staff have worked tirelessly during lockdown, with players and Ancelotti also helping out. A donation from Seamus Coleman, who was prominent in the Players Together initiative with Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, helped the Irish comedian Stevo Timothy raise over €60,000 for the Irish Wheelchair Association. Timothy took on the challenge of cycling 5km despite being partially paralysed following a spinal injury in 2005.
Key player in the run-in? Calvert-Lewin. The striker’s huge development this season had fuelled talk of an England call-up before the pandemic struck and, with 13 league goals and a new five-year contract, he will be looking to reassert those credentials during the run-in.
End-of-season-prediction Just scraping into the top 10.
Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Sun 21 June Liverpool (h) – 7pm, Sky Sports Weds 24 June Norwich (a) – 6pm, BBC Weds 1 July Leicester (h) – 6pm, Sky Sports TBC Tottenham (a), Southampton (h), Wolves (a), Aston Villa (h), Sheffield United (a), Bournemouth (h)