With Norwich City playing Everton at Carrow Road tonight, canaries.co.uk caught up with a Merseyside journalist to find out more about the opposition.
Sam Carroll covers Everton’s fortunes for the Liverpool Echo, and discussed the impact of Carlo Ancelotti, academy product Anthony Gordon and more.
canaries.co.uk: Tell us a bit about the mood following that 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Sunday night.
SC: We went into it a bit apprehensive because we had injuries and had lost 4-0 to Chelsea in the last game we played. Liverpool are top of the league and had only dropped points in two matches.
Everton came out of the game saying they had had the better opportunities to win. It was a solid game plan from Carlo Ancelotti to nullify their threats which we’d seen at Anfield in the derby when we lost 5-2 in the winter. That was an embarrassment and we let them play their game.
We adapted well to the way they’re playing so, and this isn’t good news for Norwich, but that result gave us a bit of a spring in our step because we went toe-to-toe with the top of the league and matched them in a lot of respects.
Ultimately, with the Tom Davies chance, we were an inch away from beating Liverpool. I expect we’ll probably see a different showing against Norwich, we might play more on the front foot, but it seems like Ancelotti has tried to do as much work on the training ground tactically as possible since the lads have been back.
canaries.co.uk: So what would you say have been the key changes since Ancelotti came in for Marco Silva?
SC: I think there’s a lot more pragmatism. We’ve won games 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2. He stuck with the 4-4-2 that Duncan Ferguson brought in because we know that, on form, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are two of the most feared strikers in the Premier League if not in Europe.
We’ve stayed in shape for pretty much all of our matches bar that Chelsea one before lockdown came in. We’ve been hard to beat and scored goals but were looking to concede a bit less. To start with a clean sheet against Liverpool will no doubt have been pleasing, considering we were missing Yerry Mina, Fabian Delph and Theo Walcott, so a really positive first game back.
canaries.co.uk: There’s been a lot of talk about the fitness of players and the recovery time for Everton between the Liverpool and Norwich games is short. Do you think that could have an impact?
SC: I think so. When Carlo first took over, we played Burnley and then Newcastle a few days later and I think he made five or six changes. Even though Everton were flirting with the relegation zone, we haven’t been scared to make changes in the past.
In normal circumstances, it wouldn’t surprise me if he changed it again, but at the moment we are hampered by injuries, so there aren’t too many changes he can make. We had two goalkeepers on the bench against Liverpool.
Carlo said in his press conference that if football was just played on physical condition, this would be a tough game against Norwich because you’ve had two more days to recuperate than we have, but there’s quality and tactics and other stuff that goes into it.
He’ll have to use the full extent of that experience he’s got as a top level manager to get us through here because Norwich are going to be fitter than us and have a point to prove after that Southampton game.
canaries.co.uk: Everton’s academy graduate Anthony Gordon made his first Premier League start against Liverpool. For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us more about him?
SC: It’s been an almost meteoric rise. Twelve months ago he was still playing for the Under-18s, but he made the step up to Under-23s and caught the eye. He certainly impressed U23s manager David Unsworth.
He made his first-team debut two years or so ago in a Europa League dead rubber, but was reintroduced to the first team squad by Ferguson and now Ancelotti, who handed him his Premier League debut at West Ham and now his first start.
What a game that was for him, to play against Liverpool. He’s fast, he’s direct, he’s got quick feet and an eye for goal. He loves cutting in. I’ve seen him play wide left, wide right, number ten and up front so he’s a really versatile attacker in a number of roles.
It was quite a mature performance from him against Liverpool. As much as we wanted to see him on the front foot, he didn’t really get the opportunity to do that, but looked at his defensive responsibilities and handled the occasion really well.
If he starts against Norwich, I think he’ll probably be given the license to maybe roam and get forward a bit more than he did at Goodison Park.
canaries.co.uk: Would you say it will be a different challenge for Norwich compared to the one that they had against Everton towards the end of 2019?
SC: Yeah, the Norwich defeat was definitely the low point of the season. That was the game that really sealed the fate of Marco Silva. There was no coming back from one of the most dire performances most of us can remember in a long time at Goodison Park.
Norwich really did a job on Everton that day, but I think Daniel Farke and the team will know that this will be a different challenge, not just because of the new manager, but a lot of Everton players are fighting for their future and want to impress Ancelotti.
There will be a lot of players in that team walking out at Carrow Road trying to grab his attention and say ‘I should be part of your squad next season’. I don’t think players downed tools under Silva, but a lot of stuff was awry at that point.
There’s going to be a really clear plan, so it will be a tough challenge for Norwich, but I also think Everton are expecting a big challenge. I don’t think any team in a relegation fight could lose a game 3-0 and not want to come back and really give a big response to that.
canaries.co.uk: So what would you say is the aim now for Everton for the rest of the season?
SC: Carlo is still hoping for Europe. We’re close behind Sheffield United and there’s the uncertainty of what will happen to Manchester City in Europe next season with the UEFA rules, so there could be an extra position available.
Will we qualify for Europe? Probably not because we have got a tough run in, but I think it’s the old cliche of trying to finish as high up in the table as possible. Carlo will probably use these last games to give him a clear idea of the players he wants to keep and those who could leave next season.
We’re going from playing the top of the league to the bottom of the league so it will be a good test, to go from showing they can be rigid against the best team in the world to showing they can win games in which, on paper, they are the better team.
If we do that, there are still four or five games where we’re the favourites. If we can pick those points up in this crazy time that we’re in, who knows? We could sneak into seventh or eighth.
You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamCarroll0.