Carlo Ancelotti insists he is fortunate to have formidable Seamus Coleman as the standard-bearer in an Everton squad advancing faster than the manager believed was possible.
Italian Ancelotti is ready to welcome back Coleman from a short layoff for Saturday’s Premier League meeting with Burnley.
And Ancelotti compared influential Everton captain Coleman with a trio of colossuses from his former clubs, likening Coleman’s natural leadership qualities to those of Paolo Maldini, Sergio Ramos and John Terry - Champions League-winning skippers of AC Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea, respectively.
Everton claimed six points from three matches in Coleman’s absence and remain on course for their European qualification target.
Coleman’s most recent appearance came in the Merseyside derby success at Anfield three weeks ago.
But Ancelotti was especially struck by the Irishman’s stirring effort when he came off the bench to play out of position on the right of midfield in last month’s FA Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
“It is important for a manager to have in his squad a player who is setting the standards really high,” Ancelotti told evertontv.
“Seamus is an example for the others. In this sense, he is the same as John Terry, Paolo Maldini, Sergio Ramos; all great models for their teammates.
“Sometimes, you see players sitting on the bench not ready and not focused because they are not playing.
“But in that situation Seamus is a fantastic example.
“He is not happy if he doesn’t start but he is ready to play, even for one minute.
“Against Tottenham, he played really well with fantastic spirit and he would play with the same spirit for one minute.”
Coleman – who “will be back against Burnley”, according to Ancelotti – is 11 games away from becoming the sixth Everton player to reach 300 Premier League appearances.
He has played 339 times in total since joining in January 2009 but only eight of those matches were in European competition.
The 32-year-old – who was injured for Everton’s 2017/18 Europa League campaign – will add to his continental experience if Ancelotti’s side retain their grip on sixth position.
A three-match winning sequence before Monday’s defeat at Chelsea even sparked talk of Champions League qualification.
Ancelotti is maintaining his stance of targeting a top-six finish, however – and insists the credit for Everton raising expectations belongs to his players.
Comparing Everton’s current standing – four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, with a game in hand – with their spot in 12th, 11 points adrift of the top four, exactly one year ago, Ancelotti conceded the turnaround was beyond anything he could have expected.
“One year ago, if someone said to us, ‘Next year, you will be four points behind fourth, with a game in hand’, I could say, 'You are crazy’,” said Ancelotti, who will monitor the fitness of James Rodriguez before making a decision on the forward’s availability this weekend.
“The next step is to fight for the position in Europe.
“The ambition is quite clear. It was the ambition at the beginning of the season, we are not so close to the end but to be here [in contention] is really important.
“These players deserve credit because they are doing well.
“The defeat against Chelsea doesn’t affect this – we are motivated to be in the fight.
“When you lose, you have to be disappointed, but not too much. It was not our best night but the quality of Chelsea was really good.
“The important games are coming – against Burnley and Crystal Palace – to fight for Europe.”