Nobody could quite believe it when news broke that Carlo Ancelotti had agreed to become Everton manager back in December 2019, not least Everton fans themselves.
It was the greatest early Christmas present that Toffees fans could have possibly wished for, and it was topped off when he led the side to a Boxing Day victory in his first game.
The Italian has been responsible for an upturn in fortunes at Goodison Park since his appointment, but there is no doubt still lots of work to be done if Everton want to get the best out of him during his stay. Ancelotti is a serial winner, having won league titles across Europe and three Champions Leagues too, along with countless other trophies along the way.
If anyone were to fluff their lines with such a talented manager at the helm, however, it would be Everton.
With the Premier League being the most open it's ever been - ignoring Liverpool and Manchester City - it's allowed for a changing of the guard that has broken up the traditional top six clubs. Wolves and Leicester have cemented themselves as genuine top six contenders and are pushing for European competition, while Sheffield United have had a whirlwind return to the top flight and are also on the verge of a spot in Europe.
Everton, for all the money they've spent, are merely fighting for a top-half finish. It probably wouldn't have been the case should Ancelotti have been in charge from the start of the season, but it's still majorly disappointing – especially considering the club has spent close to £500m on players since 2016.
While the money has clearly been misspent, the desire from owner Farhad Moshiri to reach into his pockets is what gives Ancelotti a chance to turn it around at Everton. And while Moshiri has been open in his desire to achieve Champions League football, perhaps the Toffees are trying to run before they can walk.
In order to get the best out of 'Don Carlo', Everton need to enable him to win trophies. This is first done by setting smaller, more realistic goals. Instead of trying to smash into the top four mindlessly, Ancelotti's aims need to be on bringing some silverware to the club first. Everton need to be pushing Ancelotti into winning tournaments such as the FA Cup and the League Cup, while focusing on competing in and finishing well in the Europa League.
Premier League tables and qualification for this and that can be discussed endlessly, but in the eyes of the football fan, there is nothing more exciting than a cup run. If anyone can bring Everton their first trophy since 1995, it's Ancelotti.
In order to turn the Toffees into a consistent side, capable of winning trophies and performing in Europe, it's no secret that recruitment needs to improve. Mindless spending of money benefits no club, and in truth is a recipe for disaster.
In order for Ancelotti to maximise his potential in Merseyside, the club need to develop a coherent transfer strategy that caters directly to what the Italian needs; and that means sales as well as signings. Director of football Marcel Brands is now on the board of directors at the club, which means he's unlikely to leave. Instead, the role could perhaps be given to someone new, who could work between the board and Ancelotti to facilitate proper recruitment.
Right now, the Toffees have no identity. On the pitch, there is no direction or coherency, and that is reflected through the transfer policy. While some signings – Lucas Digne, Richarlison and Andre Gomes – have proved successful, the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Moise Kean have underwhelmed.
It's time for the board to own up to their mistakes and start afresh, by offloading players who offer nothing to Ancelotti and focusing on those who do.
The final piece of the jigsaw, then, is crafting that identity. Wherever he's gone, Ancelotti has often deployed a similar style of play that is focused around a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2. His sides tend to enjoy possession, but keep a rigid shape and look to exploit teams on the attack.
Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin seem central to his plans, but his team currently seem to be playing without a midfield and are more concerned with being defensively organised. Everton need to bring in some midfielders who will allow Ancelotti to control a game across the entire pitch, but more importantly, they need to give him time. Time to address weak areas, time to coach younger players into the system, and time to build his own squad.
Premier League stats under Carlo Ancelotti:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) July 1, 2020
? 12 appearances
⚽️ 5 goals
?️ 1 assist
? 0.50 G/A per game
? 14 appearances
⚽️ 8 goals
?️ 1 assist
? 0.64 G/A per game
Enjoying themselves. ? pic.twitter.com/Gx0v4945B9
Everton will get nowhere by giving up on the Italian and sacking him after another big summer spending spree. Instead, they need to show patience and faith in their newest manager and he will ultimately deliver. In order to match his ambitions, the club's focus needs to be on Ancelotti. If they build around him then they have a much more consistent foundation and an identity on the pitch, something they have lacked for the longest time.
It won't happen overnight, but if Carlo Ancelotti isn't the one to bring success to Everton, then the answer to their problems becomes even less clear.