Carlo Ancelotti is confident he can steer Everton to the Champions League after a promising first year in charge at Goodison Park – and is not ruling out a title challenge during his tenure.
The Italian coach was appointed on December 21 in 2019, at which stage the club were stuck in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Everton ended up finishing 12th at the end of a campaign that included a lengthy pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there have been further signs of progress in the 2020-21 campaign so far.
Four successive wins had them flying high in the early stages and while there was a dip in form following such a fast start, recent victories over Chelsea and Leicester City have the Toffees right in the top-four mix.
For Ancelotti – who signed a four-and-a-half year deal – qualifying for European football's premier club competition has always been the target, albeit they could achieve that goal ahead of schedule.
"We can be more competitive, I hope, this season but also next season. We need to have at least two years' time to improve and increase our level," Ancelotti told the Liverpool Echo ahead of Saturday's home match with Arsenal.
"The target for next season will be to reach the top four in the Premier League.
"And when you are in the top four and you are able to fight for the top four, it means, at least, you can fight for the title."
The additions of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan and James Rodriguez in the previous transfer window helped to strengthen the squad, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin's continued development - he has 11 goals in the league so far - is a further positive for Everton fans.
Ancelotti is determined to make sure Everton are playing in Europe next season, meaning he would be happy to compete in the Europa League or potentially the Europa Conference League, a new competition which UEFA plans to launch in 2021.
"This is the target," said the former Chelsea boss who won a domestic double during his two-year stint at Stamford Bridge.
"To be in Europe next season. If it is Champions League, that would be a dream for us but I think we can compete for a position in Europe, in general."
On this current season, he added: "It is true that we started really well, unbelievable, and then we lost some games but, in general, we are more stable as a team.
"We had some injuries, we lost a little bit of confidence, but we are quite stable in this moment. We can play good matches with more stability, compared to when I arrived."
Ancelotti's appointment was confirmed prior to a 0-0 draw with Arsenal last year - and the two teams meet again prior to Christmas in 2020.
Arsenal have won just 14 points from 13 Premier League games this season, their lowest tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1974-75, but have won more games (34) and scored more goals (110) against Everton than any other opponents in the competition.