Carlo Ancelotti has declared his satisfaction with Everton’s progress during his first year at the Club – and underlined the Blues’ hunger to sustain their push for European qualification against Manchester City on Monday (8pm GMT).
Ancelotti confirmed Richarlison and James Rodriguez will miss the Goodison Park contest, but revealed he has been "surprised" by the speed of Lucas Digne's recovery and says the Frenchman could be fit to make his First-Team return by the end of January.
Everton have won their past four Premier League matches, dispatching Chelsea, Leicester City, Arsenal and Sheffield United in quick succession.
The 1-0 Boxing Day victory over the Blades came exactly one year after Ancelotti took charge of Everton for the first time, when the Italian led the Blues to a win over Burnley by the same scoreline at Goodison.
While that 2019 success saw the Toffees move up to 13th in the Premier League standings, Everton will head into Monday’s clash with City second in the table.
“After one year we have progressed really well,” said Ancelotti.
“The team has a really good spirit.
“The players are motivated and we have made good signings.
“We would also like to improve next season.
“We are pleased to be in second place but our target hasn’t changed.
“There is a lot of competition in the Premier League, with a lot of fantastic teams.
“We are happy to be second but our target is to reach a European position.”
Asked whether Everton could mount a Premier League title challenge this term, he responded: “We have to be honest, we are not at the same level as these teams [competing for the title].
“We would like to be as soon as possible. We are working for this.”
Everton will be without dynamic attacking pair Richarlison – who is following concession protocols after being hurt against Manchester United on Wednesday – and James (calf) for Monday’s clash with fifth-placed City.
Ancelotti added influential left-back Digne has started individual training sessions as he continues his rehabilitation from an ankle ligament injury.
Midfield trio Allan (hamstring), Fabian Delph (hamstring) and Jean-Philippe Gbamin remain sidelined for the Blues.
“The players that were out for the game against Sheffield United will also be out against City,” Ancelotti added.
“Richarlison is following the concussion protocol. I think he is fine and after the game against City he will be ready.
“For Allan and Digne, we have to wait a little bit.
“Realistically, we do not [have a timeframe] for Allan's return. I think it will be after the break [in mid-January].
“Lucas Digne is making really good progress and I think he will be ready at the end of January.
“He is starting individual sessions and we are really surprised about [the speed of] his recovery."