Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman is excited by the season Everton are having, and is expecting a great tie when his former side face Manchester United for a place in the Carabao Cup Semi-Finals on Wednesday.
Twice runners-up, Everton are bidding to win the competition for the first time in their history and will face five-time winners Manchester United for a place in the last four. The Toffees however, who currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, have had an impressive start to the 2020/21 campaign under Carlo Ancelotti, and Osman believes they have what it takes to go all the way this season.
"Optimism was really high after Carlo Ancelotti made his summer signings,” Osman said, in an exclusive interview with the EFL.
"The quality of players he was able to bring to the club who believe in the project he’s building at Everton is fantastic. And then to have players like Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Michael Keane who have really stepped up and raised their game is magnificent, it’s great to see.
"I think their belief in themselves is showing this season. Every game they go into I feel they are trying to win the game, they have a clear idea on how to win the game and I think their first XI at its strongest is a match for anyone in the Premier League."
A seven-game winning streak for Everton earlier in the season represented the Club’s best start to a season since 1894 and Osman has been impressed with both Ancelotti and the players, as Everton currently sit fourth in the Premier League table.
However, having never won the League Cup, the former midfielder stressed the importance of silverware as they look to go all the way this season. And he believes there’s no better man for the job than Carlo Ancelotti.
“The last time Everton won some silverware was 1995,” he continued. “It's something that’s desperately needed at the club and I feel that Carlo Ancelotti is taking that very seriously. He understands that to win a trophy would be huge for the club and the fans, and I think we’ve seen that in his team selection in the Carabao Cup so far this season."
The Toffees are just two games away from reaching the Final, which will be played on 25 April at Wembley Stadium, and the importance of winning the first trophy of the season shouldn’t be underestimated, according to Osman.
“It’s really important, especially when you look at some of the managers who have won it before and what they’ve then gone on to achieve. I know it was Jose Mourinho’s first trophy in England and I think that win propelled his side to believe that they could go on and win the Premier League, the same for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
“If you can get that winning mentality within your squad, win silverware and show the players that it’s well with their capability to win a trophy, then you’re achieving what you set out to do and I think that’s the case with Ancelotti. It’s nothing new for him to be competing at the latter stages of a cup competition and I think that first piece of silverware of the season is massively important.
“He knows how to get across the line, he knows how to win particular games and what he needs is a squad to achieve that. He’s a very experienced manager, he has the knowledge on how to win trophies at a club and I feel that the players and the club are tapping into that quite well at the moment. I think he's building a squad that are starting to look capable of winning trophies."
One player who has been key to Everton's success so far this season and will no doubt be key to future success is in-form striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Leading the line, the striker is enjoying one of his best seasons in professional football, with 14 goals in 16 appearances in all competitions, and Osman was full of praise for the “impressive” 23-year-old.
“He’s been ever so impressive hasn’t he?
"I think this season he’s scored a quarter, if not a third, of all the goals in his career so he’s really stepped up. He’s got a good bit of experience behind him, he’s played at different levels in the Football League and he knows what you have to do to achieve goals at different levels in the game and I think that’s served him well to get to where he’s at now.
“Since working with Ancelotti and Duncan Ferguson, it’s as if they’ve helped him realise where he’s going to be most effective; within the width of the goal, one-touch finishing, getting into a position where his leap and his stature is a real threat and when you’re getting the service that he’s been getting, it’s highlighted in his goal return."
Osman made more than 400 appearances for the Toffees, having come through the club’s youth ranks and would love nothing more than to see his side lift the Carabao Cup.
“I had some very special times there, from my debut right up until the very last game that I played for the club,” he said. "I joined when I left school as a bright-eyed youth who was just trying to make his way in the game and looking back now I’ve got some terrific memories of playing there.
“I actually remember my first game in the League Cup for Everton, I think it was 2003. I came on in extra-time as a substitute and the game went to a penalty shootout. I stepped up to take a penalty and missed, we lost 5-4 on penalties and were knocked out and I was the only person to miss a penalty that night. That night was tough to take, I think it scarred me for life but since then it all got a bit better.
“It’s well known that Everton haven't won the League Cup and I think that’s something that the club wants to rectify. They’ve certainly got what it takes to overcome Manchester United. They’ve got a manager who knows what it takes to beat big teams and in an individual cup tie like this, anything can happen."