Everton are right where they want to be heading into the final matches of the 2020/21 Premier League season.
That’s what Carlo Ancelotti has said for a long time, even despite recent setbacks and disappointments that could have seen his side sitting comfortably higher in the table.
At the time of writing the Blues find themselves eighth in the Premier League table, five points ahead of Leeds United below them.
But, their eyes are firmly set above them.
Everton are just three points behind West Ham United in fifth, and six behind Chelsea in fourth. All of this is with a game in hand to consider as well.
They’re right in the fight for European football, which is what Ancelotti has consistently talked about throughout the campaign as being his main aim for his side.
And, clearly, it’s something the boss and Marcel Brands discussed before the campaign got underway.
The director of football recently revealed what he and the Italian believed would be the target for the Blues to secure their aim at the end of the term.
He recently told Everton’s USA Live event: “Before the start of the season Carlo and I had a long conversation about the plans and the ideas about the season, and we thought 20 wins would get a final European spot.
“That means we still need a few, so that’s the aim of our last games. To get to 20 wins, that’s what we need to do.”
As things stand the pair could well have been wrong at the beginning of the term, as it seems unlikely at this stage that Everton will need as many as 20 wins to secure European football.
It’s still a little too early to go through each permutation properly, with a domestic and two European competitions still to decide, but let’s work on the assumption that sixth place will be enough for the Europa League.
It would take a level of consistency that’s been essentially unheard of so far this season from a number of sides to be able to deny the Blues that spot if they were to, for example, only secure 19 victories rather than 20.
Of course, speaking at the beginning of the season, Ancelotti and Brands couldn’t have possibly predicted how strange results were set to shape the campaign ahead.
Missed opportunities and inconsistencies haven’t only been an issue for Everton, they have been a major factor for just about every side in the Premier League.
But this hidden goal between the pair has clearly shaped how they have viewed the campaign up until this point, as it’s something Brands still wants to hit.
20 wins would essentially guarantee the Blues European football at the end of the campaign, you would feel. With six matches left of the term, they would have to be victorious in five to hit that milestone.
But to set that target before the term even gets underway shows, for one, a strong trust in the squad that was built – and also shows the ambition that’s already on display.
Evertonians know that the current project will be a slow build. Ancelotti is one of Europe’s best managers, but he can’t work miracles to get this squad into the Champions League instantly.
The fact that it’s still a possibility for the Blues to achieve that aim at this stage of the season is already a significant improvement on what has come in previous years.
It’s been a while since Everton have been in this fight for Europe, maybe even dating back to Ronald Koeman’s first campaign on Merseyside – although Marco Silva’s side flirted with the possibility in 2018/19.
Incidentally, this current Blues crop are only two points off the total the latter secured to finish eighth.
But to privately have the ambition that Ancelotti and Brands had before their first full season of working together shows exactly why they are a strong partnership.
Last summer’s signings have all proven to be vital cogs moving forward, and the same is expected to be the case in the coming transfer window – regardless of whether European football has been secured or not.
When those improvements have been made, what will the target of victories be for the club next season?
Ambition will surely only increase after what has already proven to be a significant improvement on what Evertonians have been subjected to from their side recently.
Confidence is high, belief in the project is similarly riding the crest of a wave.
The private conversations next pre-season will surely reflect that again.