Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti knows he has to improve the quality in his squad if they want to consistently challenge for Champions League football.
Three wins in a week have propelled the Italian’s side into top-four contention and they head into the weekend just a point behind Monday’s opponents Chelsea but with a match in hand.
The trip to Stamford Bridge is a pivotal one for Everton if they are to maintain their progress and fulfil Ancelotti’s dream of being able to play in Europe’s elite club competition again.
That ambition seemed an unrealistic prospect when he took over in mid-December 2019 with an underperforming side who were just four points above the relegation zone.
The shrewd acquisition of players he knows well – James Rodriguez from his time at Real Madrid and Allan with whom he worked at Napoli – plus defender Ben Godfrey from Norwich and Watford midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure have made a significant difference to their fortunes this season.
Ancelotti’s work with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career, and Richarlison has elevated Everton above their perennial quest for the top six.
But there will need to be more high-class signings – since majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri took over five years ago the club have spent around £500million on transfers – if they are to qualify for, and play in, the Champions League.
“It’s my team. I am really happy to be the manager of this team and these players because I feel they follow me, they have a lot of respect for my idea,” he said.
“Of course we would like to play better. I’m not the only one who would like to play better, most of the players want to play better.
“In this sense we have to improve the technical quality of the squad, but what we cannot do is improve the spirit of this team. It is really high.
“We are not at the top at the moment so we have difficulty to fight for the first four positions in the Champions League. We want to fight.
“Of course to be competitive in the Champions League we have to improve.”
Everton’s success has been based on their away form, as they have taken 29 points from a possible 39 on the road, and that will stand them in good stead as they head to London.
Asked what the key to that was, Ancelotti said: “The defence. I think they key is we are more focused defensively away.
“We were a little more scared, more worried to play away games, so now we are more focused defensively.
“Our results away (are down to) a really good defence. On top of that strength, you have quality on the counter-attack and set-pieces.
“Most of these victories came from set-pieces. It’s not difficult to read Everton’s performances.”