Everton must show ambition to rectify recent stumble
It is no exaggeration to say Everton’s season can be reflected on as something of a damp squib, as expectations were high following Roberto Martinez’s exciting debut campaign in the Goodison Park dugout.
Attractive, attacking football had returned to the Toffees (14/1 with Coral for a top four finish in 2015/16), with the shackles thrown off following David Moyes’ more cautious tenure. However, an 11th place finish, six spots below last season, calls for some serious introspection.
Martinez has already hinted at a summer of change, telling press: “I’m sure it will be a busy summer. I do expect a lot of movement. Three or four players we bring in can adapt to what’s needed in the dressing room.”
With defenders Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz, plus loan stars Christian Atsu and Aaron Lennon, all not expected to feature in Everton’s squad next term, recruitment work is clearly needed to spark life into a roster that was spread too thinly over Premier League and Europa League campaigns.
The Merseyside men will not have the burden of continental competition to worry about going forward, though, and must concentrate on getting the balance right before challenging the top four again.
A statement of intent was made last summer with Big Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku’s capture, a club record signing at £28m and, although the coffers will not be as deep without Europa League TV rights, a similar marquee move must be made again.
This time, however, Martinez, who has a collection of some of the brightest young talents in Lukaku, Ross Barkley and John Stones, needs proven pedigree and fewer player ‘projects’.
Everton are said to be targeting two midfielders, with soon-to-be free agent Tom Cleverley linked heavily after making an FA Cup final with Aston Villa. The Manchester United man excelled under Martinez at Wigan Athletic, but the Catalan coach should be careful before taking a chance on his former charge.
The Toffees require an influx of big-game players with robust mentalities and, though Cleverley can help Everton keep things ticking over, the Englishman is a confidence player, not a character who can help dominate duels.
Without James McCarthy, the Merseysiders can lack crunch and ideas, so turning to veteran Esteban Cambiasso as a short-term fix could be an intriguing shout. After helping Leicester City escape the relegation zone, the King Power cult hero is said to be mulling over his options.
Having proven his ability to adapt to England, Everton could certainly do worse than acquiring such a serial winner.
A centre back is also expected to be on the cards, with Martinez believed to be eyeing Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann. In a season when porous Everton leaked goals, Dann’s reputation as Mr reliable would bring valuable competition for Stones and a shaky Phil Jagielka.
An alternative option could be Man Utd’s Jonny Evans, who has fallen severely behind in the Old Trafford pecking order. Although injury-prone, the centre half may be worth a punt in addition to Dann, as he would certainly fit Martinez’s focus on possession football and has top-level experience.
As for the wing positions, wide goal threat is already provided by crafty Kevin Mirallas, so the Toffees (20/1 to win the 2015/16 FA Cup) need a pure provider on the opposite flank.
Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu thrilled Goodison last term, yet has stalled after another loan, this time with Europa League giants Sevilla. Unlikely to make any hay at the Nou Camp now, the Spaniard is believed to favour a return to the Blue half of Liverpool, where Martinez got the best out of the wingman.
Returning for Deulofeu would no doubt be a coup, though a cheaper and perhaps more realistic option would be relegated Hull City’s rampant Robbie Brady.
Irishman Brady could link up with international teammates galore, with Seamus Coleman, McCarthy and Aiden McGeady regularly involved, and the left-footer’s tenacity would add bite to Everton out wide.
It is not just bullish Brady’s grit that would make him a smart buy for the Toffees, however, as the 23-year-old’s consistent crossing threat would surely yield higher assist rates at Goodison.
Everton do not need an extensive overhaul, but fixing these problem positions while holding onto the likes of Lukaku, Mirallas and Stones is essential if the Toffees are to be taken as truly ambitious.