There was a time early in the season in which it appeared that Everton had one of the most dangerous attacking forces in the Premier League.
Steven Naismith scored a goal in each of his first three games from his faux-No. 10 position, Romelu Lukaku had two goals and an assist in Everton's first five Premier League matches, and Samuel Eto'o provided a dangerous late spark off the bench, contributing a goal and an assist in his first two games with the Toffees.
Unfortunately for Everton, the peak of this trio's effectiveness came at a time in which the club's defense was shoddy at best. The Toffees, powered by Lukaku, Naismith, and Eto'o, scored seven goals in their first three matches. They conceded ten in the same period and came away with only two points.
As the season progressed, Everton's play in the midfield became a clear source of concern, and as a result, the service to the strikers was severely handicapped. As Gareth Barry struggled to control the midfield in the absence of James McCarthy, injuries to Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar left the Toffees short on quality midfield play and options on the wings.
As a result, Martinez was forced to experiment with Lukaku, Naismith, and Eto'o out wide at various points of the season, all with generally tepid results. The forcing of square pegs into round holes and poor service from the midfield led to struggles for all three strikers.
Between Everton's September 23 loss to Swansea in the League Cup and the November 11 1-1 draw against Sunderland, Lukaku had two goals in ten matches. During the three month period between November 11 and February 11, Naismith had two goals in 13 matches. Eto's went his final 11 matches with the club with no goals and one assist.
Of course, by the end of January, Samuel Eto'o had a falling out with Roberto Martinez and was ultimately sold to Sampdoria of Italy's Serie A.
Eto'o's departure opened the door for Arouna Kone, who made his 2014-15 debut in a meaningless 1-0 loss to Krasnodar in Everton's final Europa League group stage match. Meaningless might be a good way to describe Kone, in fact, as he managed only one goal and one assist in 786 minutes after returning from injury.
However, what was not meaningless was Lukaku's second-half performance. The young Belgian caught fire, quieting the critics and justifying his price tag by scoring 13 goals in 25 matches in all competitions, not to mention the four assists he amassed in the same period.
By the end of the season, Lukaku had 20 goals and seven assists in 45 matches in all competitions. He averaged a goal every 175.55 minutes, meaning he was essentially good for a goal every other game. His seven assists were second on the team to only Leighton Baines' 13.
Naismith finished with a respectable eight goals, given that he spent around half of his time on the pitch as a winger due to the struggles of Aiden McGeady, Mirallas, and Pienaar.
What We Learned
- Romelu Lukaku is a tremendous striker. Of course, it is not that we did not know this before, but simply that we may have forgotten during Everton's miserable mid-season woes. The Belgian attacker averaged a goal every other game; it is not reasonable to expect anything better from a striker on a mid-table team. Lukaku cost Everton a fair chunk of change, but if he continues this form (or even improves upon it!), he will prove a worthwhile investment.
- The Toffees need wingers. This is not directly related to the attackers, but it certainly impacts them. Not only does having mediocre players out wide detract from the chances the strikers will get, but it also forced them out of position on more than one occasion last season. Naismith was the prime victim of this problem. It is no coincidence that he scored three times in his first three games while playing just behind the striker, his preferred position, then failed to match that form the rest of the season. Any more time Naismith is forced to spend as a winger is time wasted.
- Arouna Kone is not good enough. He is willing to run for days, and for that he deserves credit, but he is not a consistent finisher, he is not strong enough on the ball, and he does not do a good enough job of creating chances for his teammates to make up for his other deficiencies. Perhaps a youngster like Conor McAleny can be the one to provide depth at striker going forward, but Kone has had his fair crack at the spot and not done enough to earn it.
What do you think? How good is Romelu Lukaku? How effective can Naismith be at the proper position? Am I too hard on Arouna Kone? Sound off on these questions and more in the comments below!