LONDON: Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at struggling Everton in December was a surprise. The 60-year-old Italian had built his high-class reputation from maintaining national and international success with leading clubs in all the ‘Big Five’ leagues: Italy’s Milan, France’s Paris Saint-Germain, Spain’s Real Madrid, England’s Chelsea and of course FC Bayern.

Now the manner in which he has lifted Everton within five points of the Champions League slots has demonstrated the true length and breadth of his ability to organise and inspire footballers of varied abilities.

A 3-1 defeat of Crystal Palace lifted Ancelotti’s Toffeemen above Manchester United. This is a remarkable revival. Two months ago Everton were in the bottom three after sacking Marco Silva. A total of 17 points from Ancelotti’s eight matches in charge is bettered only by neighbours and runaway Premier leaders Liverpool over the same period.

Saturday’s performance was erratic and far from perfect. Brazilians Bernard and Richarlison scored superb goals but, inbetween, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford allowed a shot from Christian Benteke through his hands for a Palace equaliser. Victory was ensured only late in the game with a goal from Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

This was the latter’s 11th league goal and his sharp improvement under Ancelotti has lifted him to the fringe of England’s Euro 2020 squad.

Everton’s improvement and new-found consistency are down to better organisation, some minor tactical adjustments and an improvement in both pressing and efficiency in possession. They have settled on a 4-4-2 system with Richarlison playing up alongside Calvert-Lewin. Sometimes he moves wide to the left but he is no longer expected to chase back. That makes Everton more dangerous on the break.

Ancelotti said: “We don’t have to give him a lot of defensive work. He has to be fresh when we have the ball. He is a fantastic player, really important for us.”

A clearer assessment of Everton’s progress will be possible after the staggered winter break: their next four games are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Ancelotti said: “Our performance was not so good for 60 minutes but in general the work everyone has done in the last weeks has been really good: players, club and staff. Now our table looks good and we can dream to fight for the Europa League in the next games. I think we have the quality to fight and we are improving.”

Managing Everton is providing surprises for even Ancelotti.

When Djibril Sidibe was told to replace injured Theo Walcott there was a delay because the Frenchman had forgotten to put his left sock on. Ancelotti, who has managed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini and Gigi Buffon, said: “Forgot the socks. New experience for me.”