Welcome to the Royal Blue Mersey’s Everton Mailbag.
This weekly column will
perfectly appropriately answer the most pressing, interesting, and inflammatory questions surrounding our beloved Toffees. Whether it’s on-field tactics or the colour of a player’s boots, there is nothing to big or too shallow to be covered in this space.
As an avid fan of the Toffees, a supporter of the beautiful game, and an early 30’s married guy, I bring a “unique” perspective only a handful of other hobby-less new fathers can. Inquisitive minds will find a perfect blend of 50% fact, 51% opinion, and 0% math.
So if you have any questions for future mailbags, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot them to me on Twitter @RBMersey and if they aren’t terrible they will be answered as soon as I get around to it.
Now, onto the first set or questions. Some are solicited from some wonderful people who are equally as invested in the Toffees as I am, while others I have included as I know they are on most fans’ minds. Finally, some I include because I want to.
Onto your questions....
The central midfield is becoming crowded. Just look at the players currently training with the first team.
- Idrissa Gueye
- Gareth Barry
- Tom Davies
- Ross Barkley
- Tom Cleverly
- James McCarthy
- Mo Besic*
- Darron Gibson**
* = Rehabbing
With Morgan Schneiderlin’s arrival apparently imminent, it is only going to get more crowded in the middle at Goodison Park. How do you see the midfield roster shaking out for the 2017/2018 season?
- Kevin F. Norfolk, VA
What a great first question for the mailbag. I know that there are some Everton fans around the world that have been scratching their heads as to why Ronald Koeman would be in such hot pursuit of Mr. Schneiderlin with such a plethora of midfield options already at his disposal.
Toffee fans have certainly been pleased with the progress of the team in the back (though this area is still woefully undermanned as well) and overall team spirit, but are now itching to see the team transform into an attacking monster, headed up by Romelu Lukaku, but have yet to see those results emerge. Even the Toffees last Premier League match, a 3-0 win over Southampton, didn’t provide a goal until late in the second half.
So what does this have to do with the midfield?
Well, simply put…..
Think about the two men most tasked with personnel decisions: Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman.
Taking a look at each man’s respective clubs prior to joining Everton and you see a very similar approach in the midfield.
Walsh’s Leicester team was built on the back of two defensive midfielders, much like Koeman’s Southampton squad.
Both men seem to support the idea that two midfielders are predominately defensive, and are tasked with two basic responsibilities:
1. Win the ball back.
2. Complete a pass to a teammate, preferably in a more advanced position
Both teams found rabid success following this formula.
For Leicester it was N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater who did the dirty work and got the ball forward.
For Southampton, it was Victor Wanyama (now a major figure for Spurs) and the aforementioned Schneiderlin.
First, compare the defense stats of the last season together for each pair:
All four players fall within almost identical ranges, though Kante’s POY-like season is certainly above everyone else, and the defensive styles are almost identical.
From tackles to clearances both pairs have shown themselves to be ruthlessly efficient in winning the ball back from their team, or getting them out of it when they are in a bind.
As I mentioned, however, these pairs also distribute much the same as well.
Look at Schneiderlin! He completed almost 90% of his passes in his last season with Koeman. Additionally, he chipped in four goals and an assist in that campaign. The more bodies helping put the ball in the back of the net the better.
Awesome, Everton fans will say, we have plenty of defensive center mids who can complete passes to the center backs.
The difference with Morgan?
While he was completing nine-out-of-ten passes, he was averaging five through balls a match, presumably to into the forwards or attacking wide players like Sadio Mane.
He isn’t just keeping possession, he is putting the ball into dangerous places.
Finally, these aggressive passes often turn into triggers to press a team chasing towards their own goal.
So, now that we know what the coach and sporting director prefer, let’s go back to the original question of who is staying around and who is going.
- Idrissa Gueye is going NOWHERE! The thought of a pairing of him and Schneiderlin should get Toffees fans watering at the mouth. Take Kante’s stats and put them with Schneiderlin’s and that could be Everton’s midfield in a month.
- Gareth Barry is probably going to stick around for another year. I only say this because I believe Koeman needs as many dependable professionals as possible, and he could prove a useful squad player for games against lower-level teams. In these matches Everton will dominate play and his passing and tactical acumen can come in handy. While he is a round peg in a square hole with Koeman’s approach, but there is something to be said for another strong leader in the changing room.
- Tom Davies is going wherever his low-shin guard wearing legs will take him. As opposed to Barry, Davies fits PERFECTLY into the new Everton approach and his ability to win the ball and distribute will prove vital next season as the squad continues to transform and shed dead weight.
Being with Barry, Gueye and Schnedierlin will be the best on-the-job training he could receive. If he is able to increase his passing percentage and his tackles just a bit, there is no reason he won’t be pushing for a spot in the XI every week.
- Ross Barkley is going to the next level. With the construction of a physically AND technically strong midfield, Barkley will stop have to play half #8 and half #10 and be able to focus on pushing the ball forward and finding spaces to exploit and ways to get the ball to Romelu. Add in the passing percentages of his supporting midfielders and Mr. Barkley is going to step it up and become more of a match-to-match force.
- Tom Cleverley is going to the Championship. Tom’s problem is that he doesn’t defend at an elite level, though he isn’t terrible. Same with his passing and attacking stats……mehhhhh. Tom is the B student who works their butt off but is starting to realize no matter how hard they work there will always be more talented and just as driven students. Sorry Tom, you aren’t Ivy League material, have fun in the SEC!
- James McCarthy is going to get sold in the summer. It’s not that he isn’t talented, or doesn’t work hard, it’s just that he isn’t GREAT at anything, besides hustling. He will stick into tackles, but also miss the big ones. He can pass, but it is sporadic and not controlled enough to be the metronome for the team, and not aggressive enough to be a 10. When Everton plays a 4-1-4-1 he is in his wheelhouse, but with the current (and hopefully incoming) squad that formation will go the way of the dinosaur. Everton will capitalize on his high stock and sell him for 20-25 million.
- Mo Besic is going to be put in a bubble. This one is hard to call. Besic has shown nothing but heart and desire since joining the Toffees and his injury history is disappointing. I think Koeman will give him the chance over the Spring and through the summer to prove his worth. A September loan might make sense if he is struggling for minutes, but I think Koeman will kick the tires a few times before making a call.
- Darron Gibson is going to
disappear stay non-existent. He signed a contract over the summer, but I see Everton turning him into 5 million bucks in the Championship, or lower, in the summer. How? He used to play for Man U! Remember!?!?
So as I see it the Toffees will be heading into next season with 6 central midfielders:
Idrissa Gueye, Ross Barkley, Tom Davies, Morgan Schneiderlin, Gareth Barry, and Gylfi Siggurdsson (or someone like that).
When compared with the status of the middle of the park entering this season, I, as well as most other Evertonians, will be thrilled with the list above.
It seems as though Everton’s outside backs have had a revival of sorts this season. Leighton Baines is providing service like it’s 2010 and Seamus is doing his best Olivier Giroud impression, minus the Frenchiness (thank goodness). Is that due to health and motivation, or is it due to Koeman’s tactical adjustments?
- Josh W. Atlanta, GA
I think both players have found Ronald Koeman to be a new lease on life.
Tying back into the previous question, the substantial upgrade in central midfield has created far more balance than last season. Idrissa Gueye’s ability to cover ground sideline to sideline has really allowed both backs to operate with more freedom than ever before.
Whilst in previous seasons they feared one stray pass would put them out of position, Baines and Coleman now know that with Gueye and BEAST Ashley Williams, whose impact is difficult to quantify, forming the spine, they will be given time to recover their defensive positioning.
It also allows Coleman to do what he does best, get involved in the attack. Seamus has found the formation tilted so that the wide player in front of him, usually a forward/winger hybrid like Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Enner Valencia, will continually tuck in and allow him to maraud forward and get off crosses.
Once teams respond to this pressure, they will overload and force the right side of Everton’s formation to sit back.
In response, Everton will then push play through the left, allowing Baines to hit crosses from the deep corner, or from between the midfield stripe and the top of the 18, an area from which he is particularly deadly.
While Baines is doing that, the winger on Coleman’s side is staying wide, stretching the back four and creating enough space between the outside back and center back for Seamus to dart in and put the ball in the back of the net, often unmarked.
Compare the buildup in the goals versus Hull and Arsenal.
The problem is that we are relying so heavily on our outside backs to create offense due to an inability of our wide players to beat lines of defense simply off the dribble.
The addition of even more dangerous wing players in front of them should give Leighton and Seamus even more chances to remind everyone why they are one of the best outside back duos in the league.
Have Everton fans really been too hard on Ross Barkley? That old ass dude we hated that used to wear red (and LA Galaxy turquoise) said so.
- Brian My desk, right here
Oh Steven Gerrard. A guy who fought his way into the Premier League when Bill Clinton was President and the internet was in its infancy thinks that Ross Barkley has been put under too much pressure because it’s his hometown club.
I find this entire conversation to be utterly ridiculous. A 23 year old MAN is in his fifth year of pursuing his profession should be protected from criticism??
I could see if the fans, or Koeman, were just baselessly chastising him for every wrong turn, but it just isn’t there.
Koeman has simply said that if Ross Barkley wants to be the player Everton fans thought he could become, he must improve his game.
OH MY GOODNESS!!! HOW COULD HE SAY SUCH A THING???
Everton fans SHOULD be thrilled to hear an honest assessment of Barkley after too many “wonderful” “fantastic” and “spectacular” plaudits from Bob Martinez left our Merseyside diamond covered in soot.
I don’t see how moving to a BIGGER club with more pressure will help Ross improve if the friendly home confines can’t pull it out of him. If a change of scenery is going to turn Ross Barkley into that much better of a player, I don’t think his ceiling is that high and we should recoup 30 million pounds for him.
All that being said, I truly believe that Ronald Koeman’s influence both tactically and personnel-wise will take Barkley to a whole new level of play. With qualities teammates around him, and less pressure to do it all, we will finally see the bright shining diamond we all knew we would one day.
Or he doesn’t progress, Koeman turns him into a mess of money, and we all move on with our lives. What a world.
If you could buy only one more player this window, what position would you address?
Joe R. Hoboken, NJ
This question, more than any other, will draw an array of responses from Toffee fans.
A forward to support/ replace Lukaku!
A winger who can create!
A keeper who performs week in and week out!
A center back who wasn’t born in the 80s!
Each argument brings with it a lengthy list of supporting points, from goals not scored to chances not created.
For me, however, finding a young center back who the manager trusts and can groom is of the utmost importance. While Ashley Williams is still maintaining a high level of play, Phil Jagielka has proven time and time again he is no longer a viable option.
Ramiro Funes Mori seems to have all of the requisite physical skills, but not the mental acuity upon which you can base your team. It seems the weekly switch off between the two comes down to Koeman asking himself the following:
Will Jagielka’s leadership overshadow his lack of physical abilities, or is the inherent risk of getting beaten in behind multiple times too great to take and therefore I have to start Funes Mori?
It’s a question to which the possible answers only create more questions.
A manager should be able to choose his best center backs and stick with them. If rumors are true and Everton IS hunting a young EXPENSIVE center back in January I think it confirms my belief that Koeman doesn’t feel ANY progress can be made until the calamitous goals are cut out.
Where are Everton going to finish in the table?
- Daniel K. Nokesville, VA
I know, I could answer this question every week, and I probably will. But now that transfer season is in full swing and the mood at Everton is better than is has been since the end of the 13/14 campaign, it is always fun to look at things through
rose-colored Blue glasses.
I think that this season’s squad will finish in 7th. Not as high as some Toffees would like to hear, but coming out of last season I think that it is a wonderful spot to be in.
When you consider that the six teams in front are all peaking with personnel, things really look bright. What, is Manchester City going to spend MORE??? Manchester United going to increase their budget?
With our huge infusion of cash, an owner who will spend it, and a manager that attracts world-class talent, this season is just the beginning of a long run of top-of-the-table Everton squads.
True rebuilding takes time and we are on the right path.
How big of a deal is it that Everton is no longer in any cup competitions? Is there ANY silver lining?
- A despondent Brian F.
This is a tough one.
I know that Toffees fans woke up Sunday morning with a weird sense of optimism coated in disappointment. For a week that brought so much joy, including the opening of the transfer window, it ended on the sourest of notes.
It wasn’t only that we lost to Leicester, it was that we had the lead late in the match and not only couldn’t put them away, but actually gave the entire match away.
Fans are upset with Koeman for team selection, and he with the players for late-game focus, but I offer a hypothesis that will both calm the nerves while increasing the urgency.
Koeman’s continued statement of intent to bring in up to 4-5 new players in this transfer window has undermined the confidence of much of the squad.
If you are Tom Cleverley, or James McCarthy, or even Gareth Barry (though his professionalism will mask it), what has been your motivation since the stark realization that should the gaffer have his way in the window you will become even MORE expendable.
Think of it this way. How many players are ASSURED of maintaining a starting role, or at least in the mix for time, once Koeman gets to the summer?
Gueye, Coleman, Williams (if we don’t sign 3 CB), Baines, Lukaku, Davies (?)
Every other guy in the dressing room is wondering if he is going to become the next Oumar Niasse should reinforcements be brought in. Cast aside, with no major rush to move them out.
Yes, they are professionals, but they are also humans. Taking orders from a coach who has directly, or indirectly, insinuated that they would like you to leave the club as soon as they can find someone better is not an easy pill to swallow.
It’s one thing to be cast aside and told you aren’t part of the team, but it is another to be told you aren’t in the future plans (or immediate for that matter should the circumstances change) and then be asked to go out and execute to the best of your abilities.
I’m not saying that there are Everton players slacking it, though many fail the Goodison heart-check test and need to be moved on, but they won’t be the best player they can be.
Because they’ve already been told it’s not good enough.
So.........anyways.....getting to that silver lining.
Without any extra competitions to worry about, the squad only has 18 games left in the season. That means that those players who do have the tenacity to stick it out will be competing harder than ever with the knowledge that there is NO squad rotation, because there are only League games to worry about from here on out.
With numerous intense practices, versus recovery sessions, Koeman can drive home the finer tactical points of his game plan, and with a starting XI in mind has a full compliment of prep time for each match, allowing for optimal utilization of all the talent available. (At least those willing to work for it).
This extended training time and tactical focus should produce more mature, intelligent performances from one of the most erratic teams in the Premier League. This should equal more points and a higher finish in the (mid) table!
It’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got until August.