Duncan Ferguson

Carlo Ancelotti praises Everton
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Ancelotti says Everton upswing started before his arrival

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Carlo Ancelotti’s perfect start as Everton boss continued with a 2-1 defeat of Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

He got a bit of everything in win no. 2. Everton held firm against a first half Newcastle charge and then didn’t wilt after the Magpies equalized in the second half.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“We are judged for the result,” Ancelotti. “I thought we did good for the first 20 minutes. We need to have more control in the second part of the first half but we came back in the second half. I think at the end we deserved to win.”

Ancelotti deflected any praise from himself, saying the atmosphere around Finch Farm and Goodison Park was excellent when he arrived in town.

“I saw a team with a fantastic spirit. I saw that before I arrived, the job Duncan Ferguson did was fantastic. After that we just tried to play football because we are paid to play football. We don’t have to look at the table too much, we have to look to the next game.”

Credit to Ancelotti for not sucking up the oxygen in the room and preening after a 2-for-2 start in charge of the Toffees.

Everton hosts Man City on New Year’s Day before an FA Cup trip to Anfield for a Merseyside Derby.

Ferguson, Ljungberg in charge when Everton host Arsenal

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In the end, Saturday’s clash between Everton and Arsenal (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will be a battle of interim managers for whom time is quickly running out.

[ MORE: Report: Arteta to be named Arsenal manager Friday]

Mikel Arteta is expected to be named new Arsenal bosson Friday, and multiple reports from the UK indicate that Everton could do the same with Carlo Ancelotti. Still, that means one final outing for Freddie Ljungberg and Duncan Ferguson, respectively.

Everton confirmed in a brief statement on Thursday that Ferguson will remain in charge through Saturday’s Premier League fixture, and offered no update — or mention — of their pursuit of Ancelotti.

Everton currently sit 16th in the PL table, three points clear of the relegation zone. Arsenal are 10th, seven back of fourth-place Chelsea.

PL Sunday preview: Man United, Tottenham in action; Arsenal host Man City

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have it all as an in-form Manchester United host a new-era Everton; Wolves look to continue a historic unbeaten run against Jose Mourinho and company; and Arsenal take on Manchester City, who are in dire need of three points.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Wolves vs. Tottenham  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Just how much do Portuguese managers Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo care about Sunday’s clash between their teams?

So much that both managers elected to omit key players during European midweek duty in order to have full-power lineups for a match that has serious implications on their chances of qualifying for European competition next year.

Wolves will have a fresh Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore, while Harry Kane will reappear for Spurs after being absent midweek against Bayern Munich. But the 26-year-old striker will not have any additional breaks ahead of a busy festive period, according to Mourinho.

For now, it’s tough to say who has the upper hand from resting key players. That said, Wolves had more players sidelined, and while two-thirds of the attack (Jimenez and Traore) watched Wolves pulverize Besiktas from the stands, Diogo Jota bagged a hat-trick.

With a club-record 12-match unbeaten run in Premier League play, there are no doubts that things are going well for Espirito Santo and company. They are the team to beat.

“[He] is getting some praise for the work he is doing,” Mourinho said ahead of the match. “In my opinion, not enough. He deserves more than what he is getting. Fantastic work.”

“He is a much better manager than a player. I’m not saying he was a bad player, but he’s a much better manager. Wolves are one of the best teams from a tactical point of view.”

If Spurs want to stand a chance, they’ll have to correct their defensive deficiencies. There’s a 99-percent chance Mourinho knows that already, though.

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Boly (leg), Gibbs-White (back)| Tottenham — OUT: Lamela (hamstring), Ndombele (groin), Vorm (calf), Lloris (elbow), Davies (ankle)

Manchester United vs. Everton — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

All of the parallels between Manchester United and Everton are conjoining at the Theater of Dreams on Sunday.

Around this time a year ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed caretaker of Manchester United. A former standout Red Devil, the task to take the helm of the club was not only a tall one given the popularity of Manchester United, but one that was emotionally taxing given his past with the team.

A year later, Duncan Ferguson – a striker who also made a name for himself in the ’90s – has the keys to the club that considers him a legend.

When the first whistle goes off, the subplots will evaporate, however.

Manchester United will go for their third consecutive league win since January, while Everton – still probably feeling the side effects of Marcelo Silva’s sacking – look for a second consecutive win in their new era. It’s not probable that it will be the case, but “Big Dunc” will go for it.

“It is going to be difficult for us but it’s one we will be up for,” he said. “United are on the up at the moment and they are a very good team. It will be a big ask but I am sure we can give a good account of ourselves.”

“I’d be on the roof if we get a win there,” he added. “But we can do it and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

INJURIES: Manchester United — OUT: Bailly (knee), Fosu-Mensah (knee), Pogba (ankle) | Everton — OUT: Walcott (calf), Schneiderlin (calf), Gbamin (thigh), Gomes (ankle)

Arsenal vs. Manchester City — 9:00 a.m ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Just how tough is the main job at Arsenal? If we strictly zero in on Freddie Ljungberg‘s latest request, it becomes apparent that managing the Gunners at this point in time comes with unique challenges and limitations that not every manager-in-the-making can bare.

The 42-year-old Arsenal legend, who is currently serving as Arsenal’s interim manager, is calling for the club’s board to swiftly come to a resolution in their search for a full-time manager, according to The Guardian.

In three league matches at the helm of Arsenal, Ljungberg has earned four points – losing only to Brighton 2-1 at the Emirates. That said, the former winger has yet to face a side that sits higher than his team on the table.

That will change with Manchester City visiting on Sunday.

Looking to bounce back from their Manchester Derby defeat, Pep Guardiola reveled that he’s studied his opponent’s new look, although when going against the North London team, it’s all about not letting them feel comfortable.

“I have not watched the previous games with Unai,” he says “I watched the games they played with Ljungberg to try to figure out what they’ll try to do.”

“But normally Arsenal have a typical style of play. If you let them play, they have the quality to play. Arsenal away is always a big test for any team.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Ceballos (thigh), Xhaka (concussion), Holding (knee), Tierney (shoulder) | Manchester City — OUT: Agüero (thigh), Stones (thigh), Laporte (knee), Sané (knee)

Everton: What was different, and what’s the way forward?

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Everton got off the mat in style on Saturday, three days after a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to its Merseyside rivals.

While that loss wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked on the score board, it was wretched at the back and enough to warrant a change at manager.

[ RECAP: Everton shock poor Chelsea ]

Duncan Ferguson took the reins at Goodison Park, and things were much improved in a 3-1 defeat of Chelsea.

What was different? Plenty, though most came in the form of personnel performances rather than changes (Also, Chelsea was terrible, but that negates little for an Everton side which had been insipid against inferior competition to Saturday’s visitors).

1) The Formation: Duncan Ferguson opted for a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that often came closer to your traditional 4-4-2. The Toffees hemorrhaged possession but pounded away at the Chelsea attackers and counted on their swift, talented attackers to do their damage with limited chances. Call it the Newcastle United model. With Chelsea a bit off, it played out perfectly for Ferguson.

“Who knows? A new face, a new voice, a new message, who knows? These things just happen in football and the players give a reaction when they lose a manager.

“I think that’s right. What we really need at this club is the work ethic, the team really needs to work their absolute socks off. The fans really got behind us and believe me that gets you an extra goal.”

2) The Force: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, given the stage and his track record, had the game of his life. That’s not exaggeration. The 22-year-old had six shots, two goals, and won 10 aerial battles. That’s exactly what’s required given the formation and tactics outlined in Point No. 1. After scoring three goals in four matches a month ago, “DCL” had been very poor and flubbed his chances against Liverpool. This was a beauty, and Calvert-Lewin was clearly playing for his coach.

“It was a massive game for us and I have a very close relationship with Duncan. He has stuck by me for the three years I have known him. The most important thing was to go out and give 100%.”

I mean, that’s always the most important thing, but we can’t blame a 22-year-old for trading on the cliche market.

3) Other changes: Ferguson took a risk in deploying Morgan Schneiderlin over Tom Davies. The former had been one of the Toffees worst statistical players this year, while Davies is a hometown kid who had admittedly been very poor for the better part of a month. Schneiderlin wasn’t great in passing, but was steadier than the kid and won six tackles. When Davies came into the match, he wasn’t great but was more advanced and his lone positive contribution was a big one:

Yerry Mina missed the match through injury, which may’ve played a role in Ferguson’s decision to go to four at the back, but the difference in defense was down to both Mason Holgate and Michael Keane playing dramatically better. Keane especially, having not been credited with a single tackle in the loss to Everton.

We should save some space for Jordan Pickford, whose passing stats suffered from a directive to “get the ball out of there ASAP” but registered three saves in an improved performance. Pickford hasn’t been steady for his club — incredible against West Ham, terrible versus Liverpool and Brighton, and if he can eliminate the bad days and be just a bit above average he can be a big difference. Steadier work from the backs will help that.

And really that’s what will fix the Toffees. The attack hasn’t been amazing but it hasn’t been relegation worthy. And frankly the backs have not been awful, allowing the third-fewest attempts per match in the league, but have been prone to absolutely horrendous mistakes that left Pickford on an island. The less the keeper is in damage control, the higher Everton can rise.

4) So Big Dunc? Given the immediate road ahead, Ferguson’s approach and passion could give the club the leeway to wait a few weeks to make sure it hires a steady, experienced hand considering their long-term goals. Ferguson might be a name for the future, but as we outlined earlier this week… European spots remain there for the taking! Their next few matches provide chances to directly affect teams above them, with Manchester United at Old Trafford and Arsenal visiting Goodison. There’s also an opportunity to beat Leicester City and get to a League Cup semifinal.

Those are two routes to Europe right in front of the Toffees. Ferguson’s Brucian (or Benitezian) tactics and system can give them a chance to get two or three points from the league matches, and certainly can be enough to out-duel the Foxes at home. And you might say, so maybe he’s the man! Don’t look past what the club means to him. But in the long run, the talent and ambition of Everton needs a sustained system that isn’t just about “grinding it out.” Maybe Ferguson can supply that but is that a risk to take now, with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spurs all wobbling in ways you wouldn’t expect in a given season? A commitment to working hard is just the first step to success.

ProSoccerTalk daily soccer re-set

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What we’re thinking, what we’re watching, what’s coming on the blog today and the RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day). Setting up your day in soccer:

Soccer Birthdays:

Former Scotland international Duncan Ferguson, who once was the biggest buy for both Rangers FC and Everton, tuns 41 on Thursday. The one-time captain at Goodison Park scored 69 goals in 269 top flight appearances for the Toffees before retiring in 2006.

RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day:

Jean Harbor

Big important story of the day:

After a day spent focused on the English game, it’s time to bring the attention back home. At least, that’s what’s likely to happen, with a slow day in the soccer world allowing the news and rumors from Major League Soccer (and, potentially, the National Women’s Soccer League) to bubble up.

As it concerns Major League Soccer, keep an ear open for news on next month’s SuperDraft. We’re about three weeks away from the event, and the Generation adidas class (which will go a long way toward deciding the depth of the draft) is still taking shape. With each player MLS signs to this year’s GA group, the landscape of the draft subtly changes.

Ahead on the blog today:

We did this a little yesterday, but on Thursday, we’re really going to get caught up on the little pieces of news handing around after the holiday break.

We’re also going to jump back into the qualifiers in the northwest debate, with a late Wednesday update adding a new wrinkle to the possibility of games in Portland and Seattle.

Also, expect Mr. Noah Davis later in the day. We figure you’re tired to hearing me babbling on.

Twitter daps:

[tweet https://twitter.com/AbbyWambach/status/284055478751866880 align=’center’]

[tweet https://twitter.com/KevinEHartman/status/282992743733673984 align=’center’]

[tweet https://twitter.com/alexmorgan13/status/284146570163785728 align=’center’]

Background noise while blogging:

Been on bit of a Led Zeppelin kick of late. Right now, III is on the virtual turntable, one of the first times I’ve listened to a full album in a while.

Anybody still fighting for the sanctity of The Album is trapped in the past. Perhaps it’s a good idea, but so was the betamax.

We’ll leave you with this:

Is there some kind of Chivas USA goalkeeper curse? Dan Kennedy was pushed into submission after a season being bombarded in Carson while he predecessor as Goats’ No. 1, Brad Guzan, is on the verge of some post traumatic stress at Aston Villa.

Consider this: Villa’s defense wasn’t this porous before the American took charge. Now, Guzan’s been accosted with 12 goals since the weekend.

We’ve heard rumors about Chivas USA possibly moving Kennedy, but if there really is a curse, Kennedy’s just going to take his besieged ways to his new home. It break out the Ouija board and start asking questions before trading for the Chivas No. 1.