Are Everton finding their feet after a worrying summer?
Holly Thackeray | August 26, 2016
Are Everton on back on an upward curve?
Cast your mind back a mere few weeks to the middle of summer, when Everton had barely made a splash in the transfer window, with a new coach at the helm and several star players linked to big money moves away from Goodison Park.
The Merseyside blues could have been forgiven for feeling things looked a little bleak, with the Toffees having just sent tactician Roberto Martinez packing after an 11th place Premier League finish.
But, within two matchweeks of the new season, Everton are sitting pretty in fifth, hovering around the European spots. It may be early but, are the Toffees finding their feet already under Ronald Koeman?
Coral have the Goodison club at a great value 11/4 for a top six finish this term, behind the likes of local rivals Liverpool (1/4) despite looking far sturdier. So, could Koeman’s crew be worth a punt?
So far, Everton have looked much improved, edging past West Bromwich Albion in their last outing. The Midlands men may not be a top-half team but they caused the Toffees plenty of problems last term, striking three goals past them in two games and grabbing all three points when at Goodison.
While, the Merseysiders’ league opener against Tottenham may have ended evenly, the same result as their two previous meetings under Martinez’s reign, but the team looked far sharper as a unit – as they also did in their recent 4-0 thrashing of Yeovil.
Lukaku locked down for another year
If Everton’s attack all play to their potential – that’s a roster including bruising Belgium goal threat Romelu Lukaku, promising Spanish wing schemer Gerard Deulofeu, crafty Kevin Mirallas, new signing Yannick Bolasie and driving midfield force Ross Barkley – they have the firepower to match their Reds rivals.
A key boost that came nice and early was lethal frontman Lukaku’s decision to stay put on the blue half of Merseyside. The big Belgian has now been towering above opposition in Everton colours for three full seasons, notching 43 goals in 104 PL appearances, and has just begun what could be a defining fourth.
Brushing off apparent attention from big clubs, with old club Chelsea among those mooted, the Toffees crucially kept hold of their leading man, from whom there is surely more to come.
After losing young defender John Stones to Northwest foes Manchester City, in a long-running transfer saga, Everton will be keen to avoid a repeat with Lukaku next off-season.
Koeman said of the striker’s decision to withdraw his transfer request: “He has made the decision himself to stay one more season at Everton, and that’s great news.
“A new contract is possible. I don’t doubt his qualities.”
Making the marksman a lucrative offer he can’t refuse could stave the wolves from the door for a while but, ultimately, it is success on the pitch that will allow the Evertonians to keep their most prized assets, specifically silverware and/or Champions League football.
Jut returning to fitness from an injury lay-off, it’s not a one-way street for Lukaku and Everton, with the former still yet to deliver 20 Premier League goals in a single season. Can he fire the Toffees to the top six this time with an even better tally?
Holgate a new homegrown hero in the making
Stones was a big loss from centre back for Everton, yet it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for coach Koeman.
It had initially looked a dream ticket for adventurous Englishman Stones to iron out his defensive inconsistencies under former ball-playing Ajax and Barcelona man Koeman – who could have used the 22-year-old to build from the back in typical Dutch style.
Yet, after a wobbly season under last manager Martinez, Stones sought the chance of pastures new under Pep Guardiola, landing Everton a cool £47.5m with add-ons.
That’s some handy profit for an as of yet unpolished gem that the Toffees took from Barnsley for around just £3m, making that at least £44.5m pure profit.
Stones may have looked silky in Guardiola’s new Man City system so far, but don’t expect him to be missed, at least in the short-term at Goodison, where several individual follies contributed to an overall rickety rearguard last term.
Ashley Williams, a low-key but crucial summer signing from Swansea City for only around £12m, has arrived at Everton to add personality, leadership and good old fashioned defending to the backline.
With the Wales skipper, 32, dominating defence alongside ageing club captain Phil Jagielka as somewhat of a stop gap option, the Toffees need only worry about the long-term future at centre back. Yet, they may already have that covered too in Mason Holgate.
Another buy from Barnsley for a reported comparative pittance of £2m, they already look to have secured Stones’ true successor.
Appearing in the glimpses so far as much more of a traditional defender, Everton have in teenager Holgate another northern English prodigy that looked calm and composed on the ball in his cameos and cup outings so far.
Finding his feet in a back three, as Koeman tinkered with a 3-5-2 to accommodate the previous absences of full back Seamus Coleman and frontman Lukaku, the tidy teenage defender should eventually be part of a back two pairing.
So, as Everton prepare to next welcome Stoke City (who they are odds-on 3/4 to beat), even without all their puzzle pieces fit, the Toffees have recovered to have an understated but perhaps great value transfer window featuring Bolasie, Williams, Idrissa Gueye and Maarten Stekelenburg.
Once Koeman gets his tactical claws in even more, Everton could be a real top six threat at that 11/4 price.
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