Everton winter window manifesto for a European place
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | December 20, 2015
Everton star striker Romelu Lukaku has revealed just how ambitious the Goodison Park team want to be this season, as the Toffees are targeting a Champions League spot.
Roberto Martinez’s men should not run before they can walk, however, and a top four finish with Coral is rated a 16/1 shot, so a more realistic achievement might be the top six at 7/2. There’s no harm in aiming high, however.
“We want to do well in the League Cup and FA Cup, but the Champions League spot is the main goal,” Lukaku said in a radio interview.
“It is very realistic when you see the results in the league. The teams that you don’t expect to be up there are getting stronger so it is a really exciting time.”
So what do Everton need to do in the January transfer winter in order to achieve this ambitious target? Here’s what our football experts think…
The Toffees have the joint-worst defensive record of any team occupying the top half of the table at Christmas. It can be attributed to injuries at the back, but Martinez must surely be concerned by one Premier League clean sheet since mid-September and that came against rock-bottom Aston Villa.
Playing an open, attractive brand of football is a hallmark of Everton’s manager. There was a swagger about the style under Martinez at previous employers Swansea City and to a lesser extent at Wigan Athletic. Outscoring opposition rather than addressing this issue has been his approach.
If Martinez is to take the Toffees into Europe again, then they have to tighten up. Left back Leighton Baines has returned from his lengthy layoff with ankle problems, but club captain Phil Jagielka is out until the New Year.
Another experienced centre half to supplement the skipper, John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori would ease worries that Everton are light in the heart of defence. Former Inter Milan captain Andrea Ranocchia is mentioned in dispatches from Italy, and at 27 is in his prime.
Highly-rated for so long by the Azzurri, to have just 20 caps at this age is a little worrying. Nerazzurri boss Roberto Mancini has not only taken the armband off Ranocchia, but used him largely as a Serie A substitute.
Moving this winter may be the only way to confirm his place in Italy’s Euro 2016 squad. At 6ft 5in, Ranocchia certainly has the height and presence to be a commanding Premier League centre back. Pairing him with ball-player Stones would certainly bring more all-round attributes to the Toffees.
Persuade Stones to stay
The trouble is top Premier League teams shall be sniffing around Stones again in January. If Everton’s prized asset remains well-advised, however, he will stay put until after the Euros. How he performs against the international elite of Europe then will be a true acid test of his credentials.
Martinez had to resist overtures from Chelsea this past summer with multiple bids for Stones coming in from Stamford Bridge. Looking at the Londoners’ league position now – as well as Guus Hiddink replacing Jose Mourinho as Blues boss for the remainder of the season – that doesn’t add up to as attractive a proposition as it previously appeared.
Those looking to snatch Stones may not be from down south, however, but fellow Northwest clubs who could offer England’s bright young defensive thing the chance to remain in the area. Both Manchester teams could flex financial muscle, though United have by far the better track record of utilising homegrown players.
Man City have done more than enough damage to homegrown talents; Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair were all touted for big futures before moving to the Etihad, and are now embroiled in the relegation battle with Sunderland and Villa respectively.
Pointing to these facts, plus potential change at Old Trafford if Louis van Gaal doesn’t address a downturn form for Man Utd, means Martinez shouldn’t struggle to persuade Stones into staying at Goodison for the remainder of this term.
Decisions on Mirallas and Naismith
Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright may decide that players need to be sold before others can be bought, however. And that leaves Martinez with some tough calls to make on those on the fringes of his attacking ensemble.
Chief among those are Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas, reportedly so instrumental in helping Everton land Lukaku, and Scotland forward Steven Naismith. Neither man, both in their late 20s, is in favour.
With Belgium once again regarded as tournament dark horses at Euro 2016, Mirallas must feel his place in the national setup coming under threat. His lack of game time gives Marc Wilmots reasons to look elsewhere for starters.
Mirallas hasn’t started a Premier League game since the opening day, and is linked yet again with Spurs as a result. Would Everton sell to one of their rivals for a European place? The jury is out, though Mirallas should be wary of White Hart Lane as clubmate Steven Pienaar’s spell there wasn’t successful.
There is more believably to rumours regarding Naismith joining Aston Villa for £6.5m. He represent what Remi Garde is lacking in attack – a forward with plenty of Premier League experience.
If Kenwright is wise and Martinez accepts that he must let one of these players go, then using Norwich City’s previous interest in Naismith to get a bidding war started between relegation rivals may inflate his valuation.
Get Kiev to yield Yarmolenko
Getting what is perceived to be an upgrade on Mirallas and/or Naismith would be essential, and £20m rated Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko has been a clear long-term Toffees target.
Dynamo Kiev managed to sneak through into the Champions League knockout phase after Chelsea beat Porto, and that does put them in the driving seat when it comes to negotiations.
Strong powers of persuasion from Kenwright and Martinez will be needed here. Ukraine will be at Euro 2016, Yarmolenko is a long-serving member of Kiev’s contingent and moving so soon before the tournament would be a risk.
Not least because of how poorly compatriots have done in the Premier League. Serhiy Rebrov, Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin were at best average when playing in England. Would Everton be a different story for Yarmolenko?
To pay so much and have him flop would be a disaster, damaging the Toffees’ chances of achieving their aim. Theirs is not a seemingly bottomless pit of transfer funds like Merseyside neighbours Liverpool, Chelsea, or Tottenham where Daniel Levy is among the shrewdest of selling chairmen.
Yet Yarmolenko would add undoubted quality, as he’s scored 13 goals and laid on eight more teammates this term with deadly Dynamo. Capturing ahead of the Euros would be a coup, but it’s in the believe it when you see it category for Everton.