Having tempted a three-time Champions League winner to coach a mid-table Premier League side, it would have been foolish for the Everton board to abstain from backing Carlo Ancelotti in the transfer market. In a busy summer window, Everton’s owners have got behind their boss. Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré, and James Rodríguez have arrived on Merseyside as a prestigious trio of signings.
If you looked only at Everton’s summer transfers rather than the club’s performance in the 2019/20 season, you’d be able to quickly identify the glaring weakness in their side: the midfield. Allan, Doucouré, and James all bring a different set of skills to Ancelotti’s side, but their primary purpose is to bolster Everton in a department in which they were sorely lacking last season.
The mission to break out of mid-table
Everton finished 12th last season, but these are not the signings of a side comfortable with mid-table mediocrity. James’ signing, in particular, has made the footballing world sit up and take notice; his signing announcement is reported to have reached 400 million people, a result of the impressive reputation that his ability has earned over the years. There is a sense that Everton are not too far off being a top side. As of September 10th with Betway, Everton are 5/1 to break into the Premier League top six this season. While considered more of an outsider than Leicester and Wolves, that could quickly change if James hits the ground running.
Midfield creativity was in short supply last season for Everton, with the goals of the striking duo Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison the biggest factor in the easy evasion of a relegation fight. Calvert-Lewin was a revelation, notching 13 goals in 30 Premier League starts, and the striker must be enthusiastic about the prospect of playing ahead of James. WhoScored stats from last season show that Gylfi Sigurdsson registered just three assists in 2595 minutes, while Tom Davies didn’t complete a single assist in 30 league appearances.
James should be a massive upgrade on that front. The scale of that improvement can be seen through EA Sports’ FIFA 20, with player ratings on the popular simulation game providing a simple but effective way to compare individuals’ overall ability. James earned an 84 rating on that game, whereas none of Everton’s midfielders surpassed the 80 mark (Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes both scored 80). Injuries and insufficient squad depth forced Ancelotti to frequently select midfield pairings that were equally unable to create opportunities or provide defensive solidity. Between them, the three new additions should go some way to solving those problems.
Doucouré arrives from recently-relegated Watford, a club where he often stood out as one of the brightest performers. The Frenchman scored 17 goals in 129 Premier League appearances for Watford, so he offers a valuable goal threat from midfield.
— Fantasy Premier League (@OfficialFPL) September 9, 2020
Doucouré even top-scored for Watford in the 2017/18 campaign, where his 7 goals propelled the side to safety. At Everton, he should slot into a side that will look to dominate the ball more aggressively than his former employers.
According to reports from the BBC, the Brazilian midfielder Allan arrived at Everton for a £21m fee to sign a three-year deal. The 29-year-old joins from Napoli, where he played 61 games during Ancelotti’s spell with the Italian giants. On the official Everton website, Allan compares the feeling of winning a 50/50 challenge to scoring a goal, so it’s clear how Ancelotti hopes the Brazilian international will improve his team.
Allan brings Champions League experience to Goodison Park, as a player who has been a regular fixture in the Napoli side for the last five seasons. He will be tasked with fulfilling a combative role for Everton, patrolling a bit deeper to provide greater freedom for creative talents to roam.
James’ reputation makes this a massive coup for Everton, with the Colombian trading Madrid for Merseyside. The playmaker arrives on a free transfer, with James unhappy at Real Madrid and Los Blancos keen to shift him on to pastures new. This is the man who enthralled the world as he won the Golden Boot at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, although James set a high bar in that tournament that he hasn’t always subsequently met.
The lure of Ancelotti played a huge role in tempting James to join Everton. James performed well under the Italian for both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, scoring 13 league goals for Madrid in the 2014/15 season. If things click for him on Merseyside, James should vastly improve Everton’s creativity. Ancelotti may be required to switch from 4-4-2 to either 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, so that James can perform in his preferred attacking-midfield role.
There’s plenty of experience in this trio (Allan and James are 29-years-old, Doucouré is 27), and they should all be regular starters in a side that previously lacked midfield strength and guile. If the forwards keep firing and the defensive talents like Lucas Digne perform strongly, Ancelotti will be able to give Everton serious aspirations of European qualification.