Desperate season destined unless Everton address defensive dearth
A third successive 2-2 opening day draw for Everton, now 9/2 chances with Coral for a top six finish, under Roberto Martinez confirmed what many pundits feared – the Toffees are in dire need of defensive reinforcements.
Frustration would be a fair description of how this summer’s transfer activity at Goodison Park, or lack thereof, has panned out. A Bosman move for midfielder Tom Cleverley, continuing a steady stream of Manchester United players that end up at Everton, plus a permanent return to Merseyside for Spain cap winger Gerard Deulofeu, are the only first-team arrivals.
Despite this, a home game with Watford, who on paper looked like a loose confederation of individuals plucked from around Europe during a summer of sweeping changes at Vicarage Road, presented the perfect opportunity for Martinez’s men to start strongly.
Preparations for hosting the Hornets were disrupted, however, because of the recurrence of an ankle injury to Toffees left back Leighton Baines. He missed the end of last term through needing surgery to repair a ligament, but broke down again in training.
Nartinez described Baines’ setback as “a real disaster”, but he could equally be talking about his decision to let other defensive options go. Veteran centre back duo Antolin Alcaraz and Sylvain Distin have both been moved on and, although neither were first-choice anymore, Chelsea’s reported interest in John Stones will leave Everton even shorter.
Of Baines’ injury, Martinez said: “We don’t know how long he will be out for, but it has been a real disaster. It is not going to be just two or three weeks – I think it is going to be a little bit longer than that.”
Many media outlets are reporting Baines is set to miss England’s next couple of Euro 2016 qualifiers in September, putting his expected return date during the early autumn. Who is going to deputise for him at club level?
Luke Garbutt, an England Under-21 international, joined Championship club Fulham on a season-long loan and it is unclear whether Everton have a recall option on him. Teenager Brendan Galloway thus got the nod over Costa Rica’s Bryan Oviedo, who has completed 90 minutes in the Premier League just twice since returning from a broken leg.
An untried youngster or a player Martinez has mainly used off the bench stepping into Baines’ berth only adds to the defensive woe. Despite the fact that 21-year-old Stones is a regular, there are just two fit senior players that are natural fits for the Toffees back four at present.
Club captain Phil Jagielka and his lauded centre back partner were culpable for both Watford goals, and no credible cover. Martinez previously insisted: “We will never bring a player in for the sake of it and to fill a position.”
Recruiting defenders would serve a purpose, as it would create a sense of competition which is completely lacking at Goodison. Martinez recognises this: “What is clear is we need to bring in three players to get the squad in the shape we want to face the competition.”
Who, then, can come in and rescue a threadbare Everton rearguard? River Plate left-footer Ramiro Funes Mori has been mentioned in dispatches and is highly rated but, at 24, is yet to make the big move to Europe.
Celtic star centre back Virgil van Dijk is another linked with the Toffees yet, like the above, he would be making a huge step up from the Scottish Premiership to Premier League level. It’s a pity fellow Dutchman and free agent Ron Vlaar is sidelined because his English experience would be beneficial.
“I feel we will be strong when the window closes,” added Martinez. “We will make sure we are ready for the big test. We are looking for the right characteristics and we will work extremely hard until the deadline.”
Everton have it all to do over the next few weeks and, if they don’t get some players in to reinforce a defence that kept just 10 Premier League clean sheets last term, they will struggle. Relegation odds of 20/1 don’t seem all that outlandish.