After a forgettable 2015/16 campaign under Roberto Martinez, the Toffees are under new management and have the potential to surprise many this season. Read on, to find out why.
THE PREVIOUS CAMPAIGN
Considering the high-quality talented players in their ranks, it’s fair to say Everton underachieved last season. This was partly because of inconsistency during the business months of the season, as well as suggestions Roberto Martinez’ tactical decisions stifled some of their more attack-minded players.
Two key examples were Kevin Mirallas, who was little more than a bit-part player for large periods of last season, and Gerard Deulofeu – who despite his talent, was not in the matchday squad for any of the Toffees’ final four fixtures last term and only completed 90 minutes twice after Christmas. The goalscoring load on Romelu Lukaku’s shoulders was too much to bear and even after splashing £13.5m on Lokomotiv’s Oumar Niasse in January, the Senegalese forward failed to impress and is increasingly likely to depart before the deadline at the end of August.
Their season is summed up by the fact that they managed to finish level on points with Swansea City, who were heavily involved in a relegation battle up until the last few weeks of the campaign.
Since then, Martinez is expecting a hefty compensation packet after being sacked in May, and the Blues have completed shrewd managerial business of their own as they aim to avoid the same mistakes of last season this time around.
After Mauricio Pochettino confirmed he was joining Tottenham, plenty of critics were rather quick to suggest that Southampton had virtually no chance and seemed destined for a relegation dogfight in the season afterward. Most of their key players would be bought for lucrative figures, leaving the team without the English core and identity that brought many admirers to St. Mary’s under the Argentine.
Having earned managerial experience across Europe with the likes of Benfica, Valencia and most notably, his three-year spell with Feyenoord, it was time for another challenge. Koeman stepped into the breach to manage his first Premier League club, and as they say, the rest is history. He made a number of shrewd signings, kept a number of talented youngsters and managed to give them time to develop further – whilst building his side around a counter-attacking style which would not only make them tough to beat, but also dangerous to stop going forward.
Amongst his best signings were Sadio Mané, Dušan Tadić and Virgil van Dijk – not only because they all established themselves as key players, but helped bolster the squad in more ways than would’ve been imagined. The latter two still remain on the south Coast, whilst Mané is settling into his new life at Anfield with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. Even though Koeman is no longer there, he’s already laid the foundations for a quality team and one that the club’s new boss Claude Puel will relish getting involved with.
It came as a slight surprise appointment when Koeman was announced as the new Everton boss, but it reiterated the fact he doesn’t shy away from challenges and you already get the feeling he’ll enjoy his latest project.
Koeman’s acquisitions all settled into life with Southampton well, which helped the flow of his tactical approach as it allowed players time to gel and work on areas for improvement in training sessions ahead of important fixtures.
As previously mentioned, Koeman made good use of the team at his disposal and created a counter-attacking team that were threatening in the final third but could also deliver chances on a regular basis in the final third – hence why the signings of both Mané and Tadic were hailed as excellent given their effectiveness in-and-around the box.
He preferred to use formations such as the 4-2-3-1 and a variation of the 4-3-3, either with a defensive mindset or a more attacking edge involved dependent on their opposition. His decisions would only change drastically if he had a number of notable injuries or suspensions which affected the team’s balance, but the tactics and coaching points usually remained the same.
Being able to maintain a solid defensive shape out of possession whilst pressing together as a unit to win the ball back, was a nuisance for opponents as it gave them little or no time on the ball – increasing the likelihood of individual mistakes from the player in possession. This is also effective as it highlights the team’s discipline when they’re out of possession, instead of moving out of position, they’d keep their tactical shape to avoid being countered easily for instance.
In the current Everton set-up, it’d be fairly straightforward to try and work out who would play and start on a regular basis, provided they’re 100% fit and have a decent level of form.
With a 4-2-3-1 formation, Romelu Lukaku would be the lone striker with Ross Barkley playing the number ten role just behind him as the sole attacking midfielder. On the wings would be the pairing of Gerard Deulofeu and either Mirallas or Aaron Lennon with a midfield duo protecting the backline – James McCarthy has made the role his own over the past two seasons and would do a good job next to the club’s new signing Idrissa Gueye, signed from Aston Villa earlier this week.
Leighton Baines and Brendan Galloway would battle for the left-back spot, whilst Seamus Coleman (provided fit) would slot seamlessly on the right-hand side. With John Stones having moved to City, Ramiro Funes Mori could partner potential new signing Ashley Williams, considering club captain Phil Jagielka had suffered from injury for a large period of the 2015/16 season and with his 34th birthday later this month, he’ll be aiming to stay healthy and contribute as Everton look to improve on all areas of the pitch this forthcoming campaign.
TRANSFER MARKET ACTIVITY
It hasn’t been a busy summer of activity for Everton yet, but there’s still just under a month left to change all of that. Idrissa Gueye as previously stated joined the club for £7m from Aston Villa this week whilst goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg will be eager to challenge Joel Robles for the number one spot after leaving Fulham for Goodison in July.
Shani Tarashaj, 21, has returned from his loan spell in the Swiss Super League whilst a number of more experienced players have left for pastures new. Tim Howard, Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar have all departed with more business expected between now and transfer deadline day.
The Toffees have had a bid in the region of £10m rejected from Swansea for club captain Ashley Williams, whilst they’re interested in Southampton’s Jose Fonté as a replacement for Stones. If true, they’d also have to look at a number of attacking replacements with Lukaku being heavily linked with a lucrative switch back to former side Chelsea.
THREE KEY PLAYERS
Romelu Lukaku: If the talented Belgian does remain at Goodison past this summer, it will be another important season for the forward. He struggled in France during Belgium’s Euro 2016 campaign and received a lot of criticism for it, but there’s no doubting his ability or potential to continue getting better. Whether he’ll have the patience to remain at the club remains to be seen but he’s the focal point in attack for Everton and is the type of player teams are built around.
Ross Barkley: This has the potential to be Barkley’s biggest and most important season yet. He turns 23 in December and will no longer have the tag of a young talented prospect; it’s his opportunity to justify his worth in more ways than one. 12 goals and 11 assists last season in itself is a respectable return for one of the club’s star men but considering the team faded away drastically and only won four of 14 games after his brace against Newcastle in early February, he’ll be hoping for more consistency this time around as he aims to stay fit and firing all season long.
Ramiro Funes Mori: This season will also be an important one for Funes Mori, considering he’s already settled into life in England’s top flight after joining last season. He featured for the majority of the campaign and if not for his red card suspension in the Merseyside derby, would’ve probably played against Manchester United in their FA Cup semi-final defeat in late April. He is an aerial threat, a physical defender who’s not afraid to shy away from tough tackles and a player that is versatile enough to fill in at left-back, if required to do so. He also netted a few important goals from set-pieces and has been embraced by the Everton supporters as a defender with plenty of quality and potential still left to fulfil. He’s only 25-years-old and has made more interceptions than any of his defensive team-mates last season, despite having missed ten games
TALENT RADAR – KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Tom Davies: Everton have a lot of talented youngsters in their ranks, so to choose just one was a tough decision. With that being said, you’d have to say that 18-year-old midfielder Tom Davies is one of the club’s most promising players and having signed a new five-year contract deal this week, he has already publicly stated his desire to break into the first-team on a regular basis ahead of the upcoming campaign.
There’s no reason why he can’t do it, either. He made his professional debut in April against Southampton and flourished on the final day of the season in his first start against Norwich, winning the Man of the Match award for his energetic display – tenacious in midfield with maturity beyond his years, despite the occasion itself.
Having first emerged in the public eye last October where he was invited to train with the England senior side after his progression with the under-17 squad, he hasn’t looked back since and continues to improve at a rapid rate.
CONCLUSION AND EXPECTATION
They haven’t got an easy run of fixtures to start the new Premier League season off in style but, under new management, Everton can definitely improve. They’ve got a manager who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and as shown during their pre-season experience, he definitely wants more from his players – regardless of whether they’ve won matches or not.
He’s already seen as an important figure for Everton and his truth-talking is only going to make the Goodison faithful like him more, whilst his first-team players will be told clearly what he expects from them. It’s a talented crop of players who haven’t yet found their full potential but with someone like Koeman in charge, there’s no reason why they cannot achieve good things in the future.
He’ll be expected to look after the talented youngsters coming through the ranks, including the likes of Mason Holgate, Kieran Dowell and Jonjoe Kenny – not to mention Tom Davies as previously mentioned, who was excellent in their 3-0 victory over Norwich on the final day of last season. It’s always easier said than done but consistency is key to the Toffees finding a successful formula.