Inside Everton’s perfect start to the season as Toffees eye Liverpool scalp

If a week is a long time in politics, then a year is a lifetime in football.

Take Everton. Exactly 12 months ago, they found themselves plummeting into the Premier League relegation zone, after losing four games on the bounce.

One year on, and four straight top flight wins – their best league start since 1969-70 when they won the title – means they go into the Merseyside derby as league leaders for the first time since 1989.

They have now won their first seven games in all competitions, which is their best start since 1894-95, when they won their first eight matches. Let that sink in. Their best in 116 years.

So what is the difference? Looking back to October 2019, TEN of the team that lost at Burnley to put the Blues in the bottom three, appeared in Everton’s win against Brighton 10 days ago. Let that sink in. TEN.

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It got worse for Everton in 2019, a defeat in the derby at the hands of Liverpool plunging them into the relegation zone once more in December, and prompting the dismissal of manager Marco Silva.

And that is surely the biggest difference as they enter the derby again, buoyed by their position as Premier League top dogs, and going into the match with real hope of winning their first Merseyside showdown with Liverpool in a decade.

Clearly Carlo Ancelotti is the key to a remarkable resurrection. He has taken essentially the same squad, sprinkled a little stardust across it in the shape of James Rodriguez, and transformed the mentality of the team.

Around the Finch Farm training ground now, there is a positivity where there was a certain despair a year ago. And a collective will, which the manager has created. It is summed up by Tom Davies, the young midfielder who has seen so much change since his debut in 2016.

But Ancelotti brings not only his experience, but stability too. For Davies what is most important, is the belief the Italian has instilled in the squad.

“The gaffer has made changes, and it has worked. He and the staff here are fantastic, from the start they gave us the confidence to go out and play, and to develop.

“He has given us some structure too, and now with that stability we have got the lads all pointing in the same direction and having the same idea of working hard, working as a unit, and it has all come together.

“It’s exciting to be part of that, and good to be around the players we have here now, to see the work they do and the attitude they have.”

Ancelotti himself, recognises that bringing in the likes of James, Allan and Abdoulaye Dacoure has transformed the engine room of the team, and made Everton far more dynamic.

James in particular has brought flair and creativity to a team that lacked it a year ago. He is a global superstar, with a social media following that has reached almost 100m. And the lift that brings can’t be under-estimated, he admits.

“There is a sense of a good feeling around the squad, yes” Ancelotti explained. “We started the season with more motivation and more ambition.

“The signings make a difference, of course. This can be one reason. But I don’t think that is the only reason – we started so well because of (a number) of reasons.

“But I do see different motivation, a different attitude, different atmosphere in the training ground and on the pitch. A different atmosphere on the pitch when we train.”

The derby will be the first true test of Everton’s ambitions, and whether a top four place is realistic. With some nice symmetry, they haven’t beaten Liverpool since October 17 2010, when Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta both scored in a 2-0 Goodison win.

Where will Everton finish this season? Have your say here.

And as that 10 year landmark approaches this weekend, Ancelotti knows it will be a different Everton out there in the derby, to the one he inherited last season.

“Last season was really difficult for us, really really difficult at the beginning when I arrived; the end: so difficult too,” he suggested.

“And maybe the motivation is because we don’t want to have the same difficulties and the same bad moment this season. We want a different feeling – and at the moment the sensations are good, the confidence is good, the momentum is good.”

It is the difference a year makes, and this year could just be the one where Everton end those 10 years of torment at the hands of their neighbours.

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