Carlo Ancelotti is desperate to turn Everton into winners but nerves got the better of his players when it mattered most in Carabao Cup defeat by Manchester United… this was a performance of a team still to place faith in their own ability
Stage fright: it creeps up without warning, at the most inopportune moments. It appears from nowhere, ruining the prospects of a command performance.
Carlo Ancelotti was desperate to crown the anniversary of his first year in charge at Everton with a display to usher in a new era; the urbane Italian has been overseeing significant change and the biggest alteration he wants to make at Goodison Park is to turn this huge club into winners again.
After three consecutive Premier League victories, in which they shot down Chelsea and Leicester before taking advantage of Arsenal’s hapless plight, a Carabao Cup quarter-final with Manchester United offered the perfect platform to show the strides Everton are making.
Carlo Ancelotti cut an exasperated figure on the touchline on Wednesday evening
Everton’s players looked to be nervous on a big night in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals
Edinson Cavani spoiled Everton’s evening as he punished them in the final stages of the game
What Ancelotti got instead, though, was something exasperatingly different. Rather than standing on the sidelines orchestrating seamless patterns of play, Ancelotti was left making a series of gestures that underlined how nerves had got the better of his team.
This was a big occasion for Everton, a point emphasised by a line in Ancelotti’s programme notes in which he told supporters that his main aim is to ‘bring happiness’ to the club and wanted to ‘celebrate it by winning the Carabao Cup.’
Big occasions, however, bring big nerves and those big nerves betrayed Everton’s players. The tone was set in a chaotic first 10 minutes, as United sped through those in Blue at regular intervals and left them gasping for breath.
Ancelotti wants to see his side become winners but they stumbled against Man United
Gylfi Sigurdsson lay face down on the Goodison Park pitch on a frustrating evening
Yerry Mina was the first to attempt to restore some order, hollering ‘calm down’ and gesturing to his team-mates to compose themselves in the 11th minute but he didn’t listen to his own advice – his next involvements saw him pass straight to Axel Tuanzebe then kick the ball out of play.
The Colombian, however, was not alone. Robin Olsen, in goal instead of Jordan Pickford, fumbled an easy collection that almost presented a chance to Edinson Cavani, while Abdoulaye Doucoure pushed a simple ball out for a thrown-in.
It reached the stage where Ancelotti was so exasperated that he clasped his hands together at one point, almost in prayer, before shaking his fists. This was not the performance of a team following orders or having faith in their own ability.
The defining came in the 35th minute when, under no pressure, Doucoure chose to pass backwards to Michael Keane rather than go forwards. Ancelotti flung his arms in the air while the 2,000 fans in the Gwladys Street growled their impatience. It could not continue.
United scored on the counter to make it 2-0 as they progressed to the semi-final stage
Unfortunately, it did. The second period progressed in a similar vein. United, for whom Fernandes was absolutely wonderful to watch, dominated possession and Everton were resigned to stretching every sinew in a desperate attempt to keep the visitors at bay.
Ancelotti wanted calmness but he was frustrated as his defence resorted to hurriedly hoisting balls out of their area without checking direction, only finding Red shirts and inviting pressure back on themselves. Somehow, nonetheless, it appeared as if they would force a penalty shootout.
Not so. With three minutes remaining, the dam Everton had been protecting burst when Cavani, another star for United, delivered the goal his team deserved before Anthony Martial put them out of their misery. Ancelotti could only spin away and shake his head. It was that kind of night.