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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - It is the sort of impact Everton imagined when they pursued Carlo Ancelotti. They are second in the table. Admittedly, it is only the standings since the Italian’s Boxing Day bow and they would rather the one team with more points in that time was not Liverpool, but it shows the difference a world-class manager can make.
The sacked Marco Silva left Everton in the relegation zone. It is an indictment of him that they are now 11 places higher. “Now our table is good and we can dream to fight for the Europa League,” said Ancelotti.
His eight games at the helm have produced 17 points, already more than his predecessor mustered in 15, and their fifth victory of his tenure means Crystal Palace are still winless in 2020. A former AC Milan manager defeated an Inter Milan alumnus. Roy Hodgson is likely to sign a contract extension but these could be worrying times for Palace, who paid the price for their first-half negativity.
They were beaten, too, by Richarlison’s capacity and determination to make things happen. For the second successive week, the Brazilian was a catalyst.
Silva’s protégé is excelling for the Portuguese’s successor and a reason why mixed displays have brought fine results. “Richarlison is a fantastic player in counter-attack,” said Ancelotti. “For that reason we won. For the first 60 minutes, we had problems. The performance was not so good. The key point was the counter-attack.”
After Christian Benteke had levelled, Richarlison set off on a solo run, much as he had at Vicarage Road seven days earlier. That culminated in Theo Walcott’s winner.
This time the Brazilian scored himself. With Gary Cahill backing off, scared of his pace, he placed a shot beyond Vicente Guaita. “An incredible run,” said Hodgson.
The Palace goalkeeper, who mustered a terrific save when Gylfi Sigurdsson embarked on a slaloming run that was part stumbling, part sublime, was defeated again when Richarlison headed Lucas Digne’s corner against the bar and Dominic Calvert-Lewin converted the rebound. The striker’s subsequent glaring miss mattered not.
He and Richarlison have flourished as a partnership. Ancelotti’s preference for 4-4-2 has felt almost old-fashioned. If part of its success will rest on whether he can get his wingers coming infield to score, the last two games have been auspicious.
Walcott got his belated first goal of the season at Watford and scorer turned supplier with a cross that Bernard volleyed in. The Brazilian can provide more delightful than finishing touches but this was a high-class strike.
But Walcott was confined to a cameo by injury. His replacement, Djibril Sidibe, had his introduction delayed because he was not wearing a sock on his left leg. “A new experience for me,” said Ancelotti. “Also for him, I think.”
Palace’s lack of ambition meant Everton could survive with 10 men in his absence. They only have five first-half goals this season and only threatened to add to that slender tally when Patrick van Aanholt’s low deflected shot clipped the near post.
They were sparked to life by Wilfried Zaha, the winger Everton coveted but could not afford last summer. He teed up Benteke for the leveller as the striker finally opened his account for the campaign.
“This was the hardest moment of my career in England,” said the Belgian, who is a reason why Palace are the division’s lowest scorers and who owed his place to the ineligibility of Cenk Tosun, the striker Hodgson borrowed from Everton.
His angled shot nevertheless should have been saved. It squirmed under Jordan Pickford, who was horribly culpable. “Disgusting,” admitted the goalkeeper. “I was disappointed with myself. My studs got caught but I hold my hands up for that.” Ancelotti was more forgiving. “The keeper can make mistakes,” he said. “After he did a fantastic save.”
Redemption for Pickford came quickly and in the form of a brilliant point-blank block to deny Benteke a second, while he chested an effort against the bar. After one goal in 34 league games, Benteke almost had a hat-trick in a dozen minutes.
“He was a constant danger,” said Hodgson, but Palace’s descent is a concern. “We have enough in our locker to make sure we get the points we need, but the sooner that happens the happier we'll all be."
Updated: February 8, 2020 08:04 PM
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