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Everton Season Preview: Striker

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Michael Steele

Current Players:

Name Appearances (starts) Goals Assists Shots (on target)
Romelu Lukaku 33 (31) 16 6 78 (49)
Steven Naismith 36 (17) 9 4 35 (20)
Kevin Mirallas 37 (31) 9 11 62 (31)
Arouna Kone 6 (1) 0 0 9 (4)
Conor McAleny 0 0 0 0
Chris Long 0 0 0 0
Hallam Hope 0 0 0 0

Key Departures:

As of this writing, Lacina Traore is the only departure from last year's team at the striker position, and the possibility still remains that he could be loaned out to the Blues again. Even if he doesn't return, Traore only made two appearances last year (scoring in a win over Swansea City in the FA Cup) before suffering a long-term hamstring injury and missing the rest of the season. Still, his impressive height (6'8'') and power would certainly make him worth another look on loan if it could be arranged. Here's a scouting report we ran on Traore back in January.

Arrivals:

Since I'm counting Lukaku as a returning player, Everton have not officially added any new forwards to the squad to this point, though Anderlecht's 18-year-old Belgian striker David Henen is widely expected to make his move official in the coming days. Roberto Martinez has already stated that if and when Henen is signed, he will go straight into the Under-21s and won't be expected to contribute to the first team at all this year. This makes sense, as he never featured for Anderlecht's first team and is coming off a season on loan at Monaco's B side. Here's a writeup we did on Henen a couple of weeks ago.

Returning Players:

You might just have heard that Romelu Lukaku is returning to Goodison Park, this time on a permanent basis. We've already written plenty of words about the exciting young Belgian, and though his game has its flaws his potential remains unlimited. However, with Everton competing in four different competitions this season, they will likely play in upwards of sixty competitive matches, and Lukaku won't be able to start all of them.

Steven Naismith can play as a striker, though it's up for debate if this is the position where he is most effectively utilized. Personally, I think Naismith could thrive in this role, as we saw in last year's 3-0 demolition of Arsenal. He has also looked decent there in preseason. Naismith's career on Merseyside got off to a rough start and I was among his fiercest detractors not that long ago, but he has experienced a rebirth of sorts under Martinez and my opinion of him has changed completely.

Another option is to use Kevin Mirallas as the lone striker, which is something Martinez has said before he believes could work. However, on the few occasions when Lukaku was injured or ineligible last season and Mirallas was given a chance, the results were rarely impressive.

Then there's Arouna Kone, who joined Everton from Wigan Athletic last summer for a £5 million fee that raised some eyebrows. The Ivorian failed to score in his first six appearances and then proceeded to miss the rest of the season with a severe knee injury, and has therefore been labeled a bust by many pundits. To be fair, he really hasn't gotten the chance yet to show what he can do, though the safe bet would be to view any contribution he makes in 2014-15 as gravy. Kone is not due to return to game action for at least a few weeks if not longer.

Lastly, don't forget about the kids: Conor McAleny, Chris Long, and Hallam Hope are all promising young talents, but realistically none of them will be anything more than impact subs during this campaign.

Tactics:

Unless Roberto changes his tactics dramatically, it's a virtual guarantee that Everton will start every match this year with a single striker at the top. In the 4-2-3-1 formation that has proved by far the most popular under the second-year boss, the lone forward needs to be able to hold the play up to allow the midfielders and full backs to join him in the attack, and then possess the vision and accuracy to be able to link with them. Being strong in the air is also a useful attribute for a Martinez striker, as is the ability to take your chances well (though really that's kind of the entire objective of this game we all love).

For a good example of what Everton needs out of their strikers (i.e. Lukaku) this year, watch this video highlighting last season's 3-2 victory over Newcastle. Though you don't get to see all of the buildup to each of the goals, you do get to see Lukaku slotting a cross from the wing into the back of the net, holding up the ball before finding Ross Barkley with a beautiful pass, and then taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce and making no mistake with the finish. Seriously, it's borderline pornographic.

Summary:

In conclusion, Romelu Lukaku is really good and should be a fine number one striker for Everton, starting the majority of the league games and the important European and cup fixtures. However, the problem is clearly depth - if anything were to happen to Lukaku the way the roster is currently constructed, we'd be in major doo doo. However, I would be shocked if Roberto wasn't able to add at least one backup option, most likely on loan. We still need reinforcements, but damn it was a lot more fun to write this article than it would have been a couple of weeks ago!