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The Everton Under-21s Big Season Preview

David Unsworth will once again take charge of the development squad for 2015/16.

Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Here’s Tom Woods’ look ahead to the 2015/16 season for Everton’s under-21 side.

Last season

The turning point for the under-21s last year came on a cold Tuesday evening at Leigh Sports Village. It was a chance to take first place in Division 1 of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, and all Everton had to do was beat Manchester United on their home turf.

As it came to be, the sides played out a 0-0 draw.

Following that game came quite a contrast in form for both sides. Everton only managed to win three of their remaining 12 games, losing seven. United, on the other hand, took 18 points from 27 and pipped both Chelsea and Liverpool to the 2014/15 U21 Premier League crown.

In fact, David Unsworth’s side had to avoid relegation in the end after getting into a late battle for the drop. But they managed to finish tenth, whilst Fulham and West Ham United’s U21 sides went down.

There were also two cup competitions in which the team competed. The U21 Premier League Cup was cruel to Everton as they crashed out to Huddersfield Town in the round of 32. That came before they qualified from the group stage of the Premier League International Cup, but ultimately finished their tournament run at the quarter final stage away to Leicester City going out on penalties.

Much like the senior team, it was a season of what could have been for the young guns.

Pre-season

Everton U21s opened up their pre-season with a strong victory away at Evo-Stik Northern Premier League side Burscough, in which 21 players – including some academy first-year scholars – had a run-out in front of a crowd of 369.

They followed that performance with a narrow win over Wrexham, before heading over to the Republic of Ireland and then Northern Ireland, returning having defeated Dublin-based club Bohemians as well as Glenavon.

Goals from Antonee Robinson, Antony Evans and Conor Grant guided Everton to a comfortable Wednesday night win in Rhyl, and then Southport were put to the sword in a game that was technically on home turf at the Merseyrail Community Stadium.

Unsworth almost navigated the team to a perfect pre-season. Heading into the final game away to Tranmere, the young Blues had six wins from six and were hoping to make it seven at Prenton Park. Unfortunately it was not meant to be, and the visitors fell to goals from Jonny Margetts and Cole Stockton, which cancelled out Tom Davies’ early opener.

They were also boosted by the signing of Belgian forward David Henen from Olympiakos at the start of July. Henen signed on a permanent basis after impressive performances for the under-21s last term while on loan.

A solid pre-season pleased the manager. When speaking to evertonfc.com following the Tranmere loss, he said: "With having a bigger group this year, our aim was to get to the first league game with everybody having played virtually the same amount of minutes We are on course to do that so that’s an aim accomplished.

"Within that we have had spells where we have controlled games, scored lots of goals, and done a lot of things right.

"In a way, I am glad that unbeaten run has come to an end because it brings everybody back down to Earth. It takes us back to the drawing board a little bit, which is what you have to do with young players

"It can’t always be on the up all the time. You have to experience playing against teams like Tranmere – physical sides – and sometimes they need to lose to become better players."

The fixtures

Date

Time

Team

H/A

Mon, 10 Aug

12pm

Tottenham Hotspur U21

A

Wed, 19 Aug

7pm

Liverpool U21

H

Mon, 24 Aug

7pm

Leicester City U21

A

Mon, 31 Aug

2pm

Tottenham Hotspur U21 (PLIC)

H

Mon, 14 Sep

7pm

Sunderland U21

H

Mon, 21 Sep

7pm

Manchester United U21

A

Mon, 28 Sep

7pm

Norwich City U21

H

Fri, 16 Oct

2pm

Middlesbrough U21

A

Tue, 20 Oct

7pm

Schalke 04 (PLIC)

H

Mon, 26 Oct

7pm

Southampton U21

A

Mon, 2 Nov

7pm

Manchester City U21

H

Sun, 22 Nov

12pm

Porto (PLIC)

H

Mon, 30 Nov

7pm

Reading U21

A

Sun, 6 Dec

2pm

Liverpool U21

A

Mon, 14 Dec

7pm

Tottenham Hotspur U21

H

Sat, 9 Jan

1pm

Manchester City U21

A

Mon, 25 Jan

7pm

Southampton U21

H

Mon, 1 Feb

7pm

Manchester United U21

H

Mon, 8 Feb

7:05pm

Chelsea U21

A

Mon, 22 Feb

7pm

Middlesbrough U21

H

Sun, 6 Mar

3pm

Sunderland U21

A

Mon, 14 Mar

7pm

Reading U21

H

Mon, 4 Apr

7pm

Norwich City U21

A

Mon, 11 Apr

7pm

Chelsea U21

H

Mon, 25 Apr

7pm

Leicester City U21

H

The young Blues start the season away to Spurs, playing the North London side for the first of two times this month. But the first notable match is the team’s first home game versus Liverpool, where the Sky Sports cameras will take to Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium for the mini derby on Wedensday, 19 August. It is currently the only scheduled Everton Under-21s game to be televised, and has a 7pm kick-off time.

Everton have a shot at redemption at the venue of last season’s turning point – that 0-0 draw – when they take on Manchester United at Leigh Sports Village mid-September, and they round of the year with the away mini derby at the beginning of December, before playing the reverse league fixture against Tottenham eight days later.

2016 brings about a difficult start with tough tests on the road to Manchester City and Chelsea, separated by challenging visits by Southampton and Manchester United. The league campaign is set to conclude on Monday, 25 May at home to Leicester City.

Everton will also have repeat participation in both the Premier League International Cup – having been drawn in Group B alongside Porto, Schalke 04 and Spurs – as well as the U21 Premier League Cup.

The bulk of the games are scheduled for before Christmas, but with fixtures likely to change and be pushed back to next year and the inclusion of cup ties, the schedule will probably look different a couple of months down the line.

First up

Everton and Tottenham Hotspurs’ under-21 sides certainly won’t be strangers to each other come the end of August. Not only are they meeting in the competitive opener this season, but they also closed the season together in May, and will be facing off at the end of the month in the Premier League International Cup.

The last time the teams met, Everton ran out 3-1 winners at Goodison Park having already secured league safety. Three first half goals from Chris Long, Sam Byrne and Jonjoe Kenny  were enough to put the game to bed, meaning that Grant Ward’s strike five minutes from time was a mere consolation.

Tottenham’s youngsters had a short preseason, as two Spurs XIs – comprising mainly of under-21 talent – won two games out of two. The first came in July, where they defeated Peterborough United 3-2 at London Road, and then they saw off Stevenage 2-0 at the Lamex Stadium last week. It’s a small sample size, and Everton could benefit from playing regular football over the past couple of months.

The teams have played each other four times over the past three seasons, with Spurs having the upper hand winning two games and losing one, with the other ending a goalless draw. The Londoners have also outscored Everton in those games by eight goals to five.

The sides meet on Monday afternoon at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre, with a kick-off time of 12pm. A match report will follow on Royal Blue Mersey.

Ones to watch

The idea of having a professional development league is to give players competitive experience against similarly aged, as well as a limited number of senior players. It helps get younger players ready to take the step up to the big leagues, which should contribute to improving the overall quality of the game.

Everton, much like every competing club, will hope that those in the under-21 side this coming season will play a part for the first team in the future. And although chances are that most won’t make it, there are plenty of players with the potential to go far. Here’s a closer look at the squad’s ones to watch.

Kieran Dowell

The midfielder, who had been linked with a loan move to Coventry City last month, has a chance to showcase his talents this year, looking set for a regular role in Unsworth’s teams. He played a handful of times last season, including a senior appearance in the Europa League against FK Krasnodar, showcasing skills, dribbling ability and versatility in a number of attacking roles.

David Henen

Everton signed Henen for £500,000 from Olympiakos at the beginning of July after he spent the previous season on loan. The winger is speedy, has great ball control, takes on players and has an eye for goal. He is probably the most likely to contribute to the first team in the coming years and, at the moment, is the most ready to take the step up. Still, there are some points of his game that could use some fine tuning and so another season in the development squad could help with that.

Ryan Ledson

Ryan Ledson does have a future with The Toffees, but even he admits that he needs some ‘real world’ experience if he is to achieve his ambitions with the club. Still, he looks set to start the year in the under-21 setup, and will get his chance to prove that he has what it takes to play at a higher level. In the absence of Jonjoe Kenny, who joined Wigan Athletic on loan this pre-season, Ledson captained the under-21s in their recent friendlies, which is an indication that he might take the armband when the competitive games begin.

Jonjoe Kenny

Jonjoe Kenny is currently at Wigan Athletic after joining The Latics on a two-month loan deal. And whether or not he sees much action for the under-21s this year, he is still a player to keep an eye on. The highly-regarded centre back was a regular as captain for the U21s last season and is an England U18 international. Although he isn’t the biggest of players, Kenny provides a blend of both calm and ferocity in the heart of the defence and could remain a Blue for years to come if his development continues on an upward trend.