Pre-season is done. It’s the eve of the Premier League season; big clubs unraveling foreign expensive toys, even smaller clubs are getting their fair share from Uncle Sky and BT. As they all sit down on the table, the mess begins. Action figures broken and probably returning to where they came from, money being thrown all over the shop for objects that have no significance to them and the smaller clubs comparing there cheaper toys to the big teams expensive ones based on irrelevant statistics. Eventually three kids will be kicked off the table and one will reign supreme, celebrating the chocolate dessert they get afterwards until they all do it again for another 9 months of the season.
For Everton it was a long, painful dinner, constantly told that we was phenomenal and had world-class puppets to play with, only to be constantly trolled by Swansea, Sunderland and Liverpool. Fortunately, it all ended without going into a relegation battle. So what are the chances this season? Can we get a position on the table the fans will be happy with? Can we keep our best players? All these questions will be answered (sort of) in my Everton Season Preview for the 2016/17 campaign.
Pre-Season: How did we look?
We thought the traumas of last season couldn’t possibly affect us, especially after the first couple of games we played. Old habits die hard, and after not practicing how to defend set-plays or long distance efforts for 3 seasons, it comes as no surprise as that is where we looked most vulnerable. The match against German side Dynamo Dresden summed up how we defended the last few seasons, horror mistake – this time from Seamus Coleman – and of course, a wonder goal to settle the odds, an Everton defeat despite scoring. Matches against Real Betis and Espanyol were just as painful to view, completely lacking any sort of creativity and poor defensive displays in both fixtures. Koeman’s interviews after the game are oddly refreshing to hear; I wouldn’t think another Everton manager would criticize his team after a game – he even said he was disappointed after beating MK Dons.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom of a pre-season, however. Everton looked dangerous from set-pieces for the first time since the Moyes era, we scored from corners and two fantastic direct free-kicks, Deulofeu and Mirallas the scorers. Introductions of Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Kieran Dowell have given the first-team a fresher look and we saw a great partnership between Kev and Gerry growing throughout.
We were also introduced to Koeman’s pressing play, changing formation into a 442 when not in possession. Deulofeu had spells upfront during pre-season and pressed fantastically at times; the best example of this was against Dresden. Another formation change we saw arrived in the shape of a 352. Defensively, this worked against Manchester United in Rooney’s testimonial, Holgate keeping Zlatan and the English captain quiet throughout. However, we lacked a creative edge once again. Pre-season can be summarized as incredibly inconsistent, however not a gigantic concern, Martinez had Moyes habits when he first came in and it’s exactly the same for Ronald.
Outgoings and Incomings: The Window so far
I never thought I’d actually be bored with Everton being linked with everyone; but it’s true. Most sources are completely boring and false anyway (*cough* the Mirror), but even some of the better ones have been wrong. Stekelenburg arrived expecting to be a 2nd/3rd choice goalkeeper, but is almost guaranteed to start against Tottenham. The only outfield player we have bought is Idrissa Gueye, a target at Leicester and stats only bettered by the best midfielder in the country, N’golo Kante.
Despite a debut overshadowed by giving away a penalty just a few minutes in, he seemed a good addition after his £7.1m transfer from relegated Aston Villa. Gueye’s 15/16 defensive stats hilariously outshine those of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry. However, we haven’t done enough, and certainly haven’t got anywhere near the expectations set from Everton fans, this transfer window. Steve Walsh being set DoF may of delayed transfer activites coming in, but we’ve only made one signing since his appointment.
The departure of John Stones is a hard one to swallow for me. A season of errors and mistakes – not delt with by Martinez or Jones – has overshadowed the fact he was our best defender by far for two seasons prior. Whatever you think of him, Stones has the potential to be one of the best in English football history.
Replacing a player of his status is some task for the board; our best option for the short term is Wales captain Ashley Williams. Ok, he isn’t a ball playing centre-back but he is guaranteed to “do his job” and we are a team desperatley needing a organiser in the team. . We’ve missed a leader on the pitch to carry us forward and organise us on the field, I’ve always rated Jagielka as a player, but is he a leader? We need a captain.
I strongly believe that there are better options; but in terms of leadership, there is none. I’d like us to throw everything at Kalidou Koulibaly or Virgil van Dijk, someone who is guaranteed to do the job for a good 5/6 seasons at the club. It’s a massive whole that needs filling.
Koeman has got much more of a re-building job to do than he had at Southampton. The Saints, at the time of his appointment, where chasing European football after some fantastic work with now-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. Koeman’s problem was the amount of departures from the club and replacing them with equal talent, at Everton, the problem isn’t the departures, it’s the players already at the club.
Everton conceded 12 goals from dead ball situations alone, this problem with 100% continue throughout the early stages, at least, of this campaign. Although we have started to practice dead ball situations for us in the final third, there is still a gigantic problem defending it. Another problem last season was our fitness, we would last upto the 80th minute, sometimes less! Jan Kluitenberg has been appointed to fix this problem, a fitness coach formerly at Southampton, Feyenoord and Benfica. Obviously, I have no idea what his fitness coaching is like, but we’ve looked ok in games towards the end in pre-season. Injuries to Muhamed Besic and Matthew Pennington aren’t down to him, but it shows there is still an issue.
Patrick Lodewijks and Erwin Koeman have also been hired as goalkeeper coach and assistant manager. They can’t be as bad as Inaki Bergara and Graeme Jones in the Martinez era and it looks as if their work has had an affect on the players. Steve Walsh was appointed as DoF from Leicester City. Walsh was responsible for the signings of Zola and Drogba to Chelsea and Mahrez and Kante for Leicester. Despite this, Walsh’s role at Everton isn’t just to scout players, but to set projects at Finch Farm and in terms of training as well as Director of Football. It’s fantastic we have him in for transfer purposes, but wouldn’t it be better if his role would be Head Scout rather than DoF?
Players to look forward to
It’s hard to tell if Ross had another set-back season or a season where he made another step up. We certainly saw his creativity levels increase, he created 55 chances which was more than any Everton player – the funny thing being he isn’t our most productive player. Either way, after a European Championship campaign of rotting on Hodgson’s bench, it’ll be good to see him prove him wrong and finally make that gigantic leap we’ve been waiting for since the 2013/14 season.
The Spaniard was responsible for half of Lukaku’s goals last season at one point, 8 assists in the league is no easy task but after a fantastic half of the season, that was it. Martinez left him on the bench for some bizarre reason, especially as he is our most gifted player. Deulofeu has got hot potential, if that future can be fufilled at Goodison Park (or even better, a stadium at the Docks) then we might see the youngster become one of the best in an Everton shirt.
Having made one sub and one start for Everton, he could be our next breakout star at the club. Davies has showed some brilliant ability on the ball in pre-season, even playing at right-back for a time before Seamus Coleman came back into the team. Koeman clearly likes him, giving him a new contract before the season started and giving him the number 26 shirt. With Muhamed Besic being injured before the season has even started, this could be the season we see Davies show off his amazing abilities.
With Conte, Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho, Wenger, Potechinno and Ranieri all fighting it out at the top, it’s going to be very difficult for Koeman’s Blues to join the party. We need stability more than anything, need to find our own two feet again and actually last 90 mintues of Premier League football. My expectations this campaign aren’t high, in my eyes, I’d rather see us win a trophy with a respectable position rather than another European campaign.
Predicted finish: 8th
Stats via Squawka,
Up the Toffees.
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