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It's Romelu Lukaku or Bust for Everton at Striker

Despite constant rumors linking the big Belgian away from the club, Everton's attacking hopes are still pinned solely to Romelu Lukaku, with the team's depth at striker as shallow as ever.

Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Current Players

Player Age Nationality Key Stats
Romelu Lukaku 23 Belgian 61 goals in 104 matches with Everton in all competitions
Arouna Kone 32 Ivory Coast 8 goals in 42 appearances with Everton in all competitions

Key Additions and Departures

Oumar Niasse, the third most expensive signing in the history of Everton Football Club, appears to be heading out the door. After playing 152 anonymous minutes under Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman seems ready to cut his loses with the Senegalese striker.

Niasse was not assigned a squad number for the upcoming season, and as noted on Wednesday, the Toffees appear to be shopping him to a number of European clubs.

Calling him "key" is an obvious stretch, but with so few experienced strikers on the roster, it is an important move to note.

Returning Players

Romelu Lukaku: Since the 23-year-old Belgian joined Everton, the team's fate has been largely predictable -- when Lukaku is scoring, the Toffees win. When he is not, they lose.

Last season, Everton had 12 wins, three draws, and three losses when Lukaku scored. In matches without a Lukaku goal, the team had eight wins, 11 draws, and 12 losses.

The striker has come under fire for his work rate, hold-up play, attitude, and potential desire to leave Goodison Park (all somewhat unfairly, in my estimation), but the results absolutely speak for themselves.

With Lukaku, the Toffees will find goals if they can provide only average service to the front man, and bunches of goals if they can find excellent service.

Of course, will he stay though? With the influx of new money into the club, Everton is no longer in a position where top players must be sold to balance the books. If Lukaku leaves, it will be because Koeman deemed it best for the club or the Belgian made a big enough fuss to force Everton's hand.

Arouna Kone: Despite a positive start to the 2015-16 season, Arouna Kone's third year at Goodison Park was relatively disappointing.

The Ivorian put up five goals and four assists before the end of November -- then scored only twice the remainder of the season, both times against lower tier competition in the FA Cup.

Regardless, Kone remains on the squad and has retained the team's #9 shirt, so Koeman must envision some role for the 32-year-old, particularly given that the Dutch manager seems more than happy to ship out Niasse without a second thought.

What that role might be is still unclear. Kone has proven that he shouldn't be utilized as a winger, he isn't a reliable enough finisher to be a late-match threat off the bench, and isn't skilled enough to create chances for others as a more withdrawn striker.

Tactics

Lukaku has diversified his game substantially in the last couple of seasons, looking much more comfortable holding up the ball and moving off the ball during long spells of attack. Still, the Belgian is most comfortable facing the goal, either chasing the ball down behind the back line or with the ball at his feet.

Will Koeman's plan for the team this season involve letting Rom do what he does best and face up to goal? Or will the Dutchman use Lukaku and his big frame as a target striker to allow the rest of the squad to play through him?

Summary

Unless a new player is brought in, Everton's hopes up front start and end with Romelu Lukaku. He has earned the right to be the team's outright top striker, but it is still far from clear whether or not he's willing to commit himself to Everton this year.

Even if he does stay, the prospect of having only Arouna Kone in case of injury is an alarming one. The Toffees need to bring in another attacker, even if it is just a bench player.

But, of course, the major story for Everton at striker will continue to be the fate of Lukaku. Will he stay? Will he go? Is there a contingency plan? Only time will tell.