For better or worse, the summer transfer window has closed and Everton's roster for the next four months is set.
The Toffees' activity on deadline day was a little underwhelming -- but overall the team made a number of moves this summer. Still, a number of Evertonians are complaining about the lack of depth in Ronald Koeman's side at this stage. Are these criticisms fair though?
To answer this question, we'll look at a number of theoretical lineups to see where exactly big gaps in the squad might still remain. Overall, this analysis will show that the Toffees may have done better for themselves than many have given them credit for.
To start, let's look at what we might expect an ideal, healthy, and fit Everton starting lineup will probably look like:
This is the same lineup we saw Everton utilize against Stoke City, except with Seamus Coleman in at right-back over Mason Holgate. There may be a little disagreement over whether Coleman deserves his spot back after Holgate's hot start (I think he does), as well as over which combination of Kevin Mirallas, Yannick Bolasie, Aaron Lennon, and Gerard Deulofeu should be playing at wing.
Still, those are debates that reveal the level of talent on the team -- with Holgate's emergence, right-back has become significantly less of a trouble spot -- and we now have four wingers who have proven to be difference makers at the Premier League level in the past, so it's a good problem to have.
There's little debate across the rest of the positions:
- Idrissa Gana Gueye has proven to be perhaps the best value signing of the window.
- Gareth Barry is continuing to do what Gareth Barry does.
- Phil Jagielka is proving that he still has it (when given decent defenders to play alongside).
- Ashley Williams has a distinguished Premier League career and doesn't appear to have lost a step.
- Ross Barkley is off to a stellar start.
- The team has scored three goals and conceded none with Romelu Lukaku on the pitch, while scoring only one and conceding two with him on it. Yes, I know he isn't scoring right now, but this is a player with 61 goals in 127 appearances for Everton -- almost exactly a goal every other game. He's going to be fine.
- Leighton Baines is perhaps the remaining wild card. Is he capable of reverting to the player he was at the height of his career? That's unclear, but he's better than Bryan Oviedo and any other left-back the Toffees could have picked up in the transfer market.
In all, the point is that there really isn't anything Everton could have realistically done to improve over the outfield players they will deploy in their regular starting XI. Maarten Stekelenburg's position in the first XI is admittedly a little more precarious. He's been very good so far this season, but whether he can maintain that pace until January is unclear. I will grant detractors that perhaps a move could have been made at starting goalkeeper, but that's about it.
With that out of the way, let's look at team depth. What is the best XI Everton can put out after those 11 players? I imagine it would look something like this.
That isn't a team that's going to blow anybody away, but I'd honestly be very comfortable with this group against any lower-league competition in a league match, or even some relegation-threatened Premier League teams.
Enner Valencia gives the Toffees a (slight) upgrade at forward, while the team remains as deep as ever at wing with Lennon and Deulofeu able to make legitimate cases to play with the first XI.
The holding midfield pairing of Tom Cleverley and James McCarthy isn't going to overwhelm anybody, but the two are both capable of getting the job done. The next option down at central midfield, Darron Gibson, is a bit of a wild card. In his first season with the club, he was injury-free and actually quite good -- but he hasn't really shown anything of value since then. At worst though, he's a body who can occasionally do a job.
Bryan Oviedo, Mason Holgate, and Ramiro Funes Mori have all shown they are capable of being respectable Premier League players when used in the right situation. The other center back, either Tyias Browning or Matthew Pennington, still has to prove himself, but the potential is clearly there.
In goal, Joel Robles is decidedly average. He's an acceptable backup and there really isn't anything more to say about him.
The only question mark is at the No. 10 spot, where 18-year-old Tom Davies seems the most natural backup to Ross Barkley. Davies was very impressive in limited minutes at the end of last season, but he may not be ready to step into full first-team minutes if Ross went down with injury. In such a case, Mirallas, Bolasie, or Valencia might be able to fill in.
I also have to note Oumar Niasse at that position, who after being plainly told he wasn't good enough has found himself on Everton's 25-man roster for this season. I seriously doubt he actually gets any playing time, but if he was going to, it would be in behind the main striker.
Of course, Koeman would never use this lineup in a real match, not even an early stage cup match against clearly inferior opposition. But, it serves to point out that concerns about Everton's depth have been blown out of proportion. I only see three positions in which depth might be a legitimate concern.
- Goalkeeper - If Stekelenburg got hurt long-term, I wouldn't want to see Joel have to take a long spell as the team's top goalie. But, that's true of probably 80% of teams and their backup goalies, so it is what it is.
- Striker - Valencia adds depth and is probably better than Kone, but if Lukaku were to pick up a serious injury, it would be problematic. The combination of Valencia, Kone, and Deulofeu up top would not be able to replicate what the big Belgian brings, but it is hard to be upset with management for the situation. Koeman wanted to bring in Manolo Gabbiadini, but forces outside of the Dutchman's control made that not possible. Valencia was the next best thing.
- Attacking midfielder - If Barkley got hurt, Everton simply would not have a player who could replicate what he does. Davies is promising and might be able to lessen the blow, but probably not enough to earn a regular starting spot behind Lukaku. One or more of Valencia, Mirallas, Bolasie, or Deulofeu would have to fill in, accompanied by a slight change in setup. It isn't ideal, but truly talented No. 10s don't grow on trees. With Valencia and Bolasie in, the Toffees at least have some kind of Plan B if the worst comes to pass.
With all this in mind, a reasonable Everton depth chart might look like the following:
In all, that's a more than decent team. This squad won't be able to make top four, but teams very rarely go from bottom half in consecutive years to top four.
This is a team, however, that can certainly compete for a top six position, even if a few injuries come along. An outright injury crisis might threaten that, but an outright injury crisis likely would have done in Everton regardless of what additional signings were made on deadline day.
The depth exists. The talent in the first team exists. The manager seems to have a plan on how to use all of his players. Did Everton spend tons of money this window to bolster the side? No, but it is hard to see in what places simply throwing cash at players would have legitimately made a difference.
The window as a whole was a success and put the team in a position to significantly improve from the last two seasons, in spite of (or, perhaps in part because of) a quiet deadline day.