When I wrote a column back in December about Everton’s Week 15 matchup with Watford being of the utmost importance, I did so with the belief the squad was going to be ready to roll entering the busy holiday period.
The season, it seemed, was sitting on a knife-edge and this match felt like a true barometer of the team.
Fringe players would have an opportunity to show their worth to Ronald Koeman one last time, young players like Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin would get the chance to show they can hold up in the Premier League, and the team would put a lackluster month (and devastating injuries) behind them to catapult themselves into a new season.
It didn’t happen that way.
Instead, our beloved Toffees capitulated to a less than impressive Watford team, and with Arsenal, Liverpool and a trip to the defending league champs upcoming, needless to say confidence wasn’t high.
But then, the old Everton team spirit returned, and the last minute loss to the Reds and FA Cup failure notwithstanding, the team has shown themselves desiring for, and earning, the fans admiration.
It feels as though the fans are still getting to know the new squad, and early returns have been positive.
Like you don’t remember where you were when Ashley Williams won us the match against the Gunners!
Or when Tom Davies made THAT run and finish.
Or when Seamus Coleman finished emphatically into the roof of the net versus Palace.
The difference in the team over the last few weeks is staggering.
From September 24th- December 10th the Toffees were only able to pull off 1 win in 10 league matches.
1 IN 10!!!!
Ten league matches is more than a quarter of the season! What the heck was going on?!
Well, I rack up most of our sputtering start to residual habits from the Roberto Martinez era, a resignation to inevitable mediocrity of sorts.
Then, it seems, it changed.
Since December 13th, our beloved Goodison-dwellers have won 6 out of 7 matches!
(This stat clearly underscores the roller-coaster ride that is being an Everton supporter by the way.)
In fact, come kickoff against Stoke City on February 1st, the squad will have gone over a month without giving up a Premier League goal!
Whilst fans are surely disappointed that silverware will elude the club for at least another season, even the most cynical of supporters will acknowledge that though the Toffees haven’t quite reached the summit, we are definitely climbing the mountain that is the Premier League.
So without further delay, onto your questions!!
What is amazing about the last few weeks is that with so many major story lines happening simultaneously, the RAPID rise of Ademola Lookman has gone largely under the radar, at least with Everton fans.
The signing of Morgan Schneiderlin was seen as an immediate step forward for the team. A proven player at the highest levels, the Toffees were getting a proven entity and the team would be better the moment he stepped on the pitch. (He has).
When Lookman signed, however, it felt as though most fans categorized it as if he were another David Henen. A talented youth with unlimited potential for sure, but also largely unproven, having only played professionally for 18 months.
His raw talent was clear to see, but he was about to jump up two leagues and it was going to take time, and as we have learned about Koeman he does not just let players learn on the field.
As I mentioned in last weeks mailbag, you have to check off all of the boxes before stepping on the pitch for Koeman. He has held Barkley, Davies and numerous other players to that standard, and it has resulted in Davies emerging as a true talent, whilst Barkley is finding the best form of his career and fulfilling his long-known potential.
So, back to Lookman.
Most fans figured he would train with the squad, play with the U-23s (Unsworth deserves more money!) and assuming he followed Koeman’s directions could make a few late-season appearances as a substitute to reward him for his efforts (and legitimize his price tag???).
From day one, however, Koeman has been VOCAL about how the young man from Charlton has far exceeded in expectations.
Not in talent, however, but in his work ethic and consistency.
Look at what Koeman told the Guardian this week in the lead up the Crystal Palace match after his goal against City on his debut. When you consider Koeman is about as complimentary as a food critic at Arby’s it’s quite revealing:
Oh really???????? Go on...........
Let’s put that into the.........
WHAT IS KOEMAN REALLY TRYING TO SAY MACHINE!!
“Yeah, we all know he scored in the last minute of a blowout. Awesome.”
“We paid a s*** ton of money for a teenager who has less professional experience than my son. If he isn’t the real deal the guys will find him out quickly in training.”
“But lucky for us, not only can he handle it, his skill set has translated quickly and he is showing up his teammates, and Aaron Lennon and Enner Valencia probably won’t be around much anymore.”
Later in the interview, Koeman goes on to say that he will be giving him a start sooner rather than later.
It took Tom Davies six months to convince Koeman to trust him enough to put him into the first XI, and he is a white robe and sandals away from convincing Everton they are watching the second coming.
It took him a week before the Dutchman was raking Kevin Mirallas’ ankles at training to get the young England international into the side.
Finally, this young guy isn’t another young defender like Stones or Holgate, or a midfielder like Davies.
Lookman has the ability to change games single-handedly, as Everton fans have already seen.
He beats defenders with unbelievable footwork, can accelerate and sprint with the best in the league, has an eye and ability for a pass, and finishes both outside and inside the box.
One trait that Toffees fans have also noticed is his uncanny ability to find the ball and get involved in the play.
Look at his activity in just twenty minutes against Palace.
One successful take-on, five completed passes (out of five), one shot on goal, and another one that was blocked.
Additionally, the variety of his passes show his immense skill set. Unable to isolate himself versus a defender, he calmly picked up his head and switched the point of attack without having to swing it around the back.
This prevents Palace from using the negative pass as an opportunity to step forward, press the ball and kill the attack.
Instead, Everton keep the ball in the attacking third and Lookman adds himself to the options in the box for the possible cross.
Compare the first 25 minutes of the second half versus the after he was subbed on in the 70th.
While Everton enjoyed the majority of possession against Palace, most of their early second half efforts towards goal proved futile.
This is most often due to the Toffees inability to make the Eagles centerbacks uncomfortable by getting into the spaces at the top of the 18 and forcing them to step up and create space in behind for late Everton runners to expose.
(This is the eventual combination of factors that would lead to Coleman’s winner.)
Look at the difference after the young Charloton starlet came on.
Not only were Everton able to get into the danger area around the top of the 18, they completed passes, created opportunities (including Lookman’s efforts on goal) and that space ultimately was the birthplace of Coleman’s game winner.
These are the types of impacts that have made Koeman stand up and take notice of the young England international, and when packaged with his efforts on the training pitch have the Dutchman ready to start the young man as soon as possible.
It also explains why the manager has been willing to let Gerard Deulofeu go without another signing, much to the chagrin of Everton fans worried about an inconsistent attack.
He has already found the young man he believes can help take Everton to new heights. His new Sadio Mane if you will.
So, to answer your question Nicholai:
He played about 20 minutes, and he looked pretty good.
What’s up with Tom Davies hair? He trimmed it earlier this year, think he is going to cut it again soon or make it his trademark?
- Kevin F. Norfolk, VA
THIS is an important question.
Young Mr. Davies’ hair has been a point of contention for those of us with little to do and lots to think about.
At the beginning of the season Tom was flowing some almost shoulder-length locks, but has since downsized into what I would describe as a ‘Rachel from Friends type-bob cut with a chinstrap beard’.
Now that I type it out, that isn't very complimentary.
I am of the belief that unless you produce Ronaldo-type statistics, any focus on your non-soccer physical attributes is not a good thing. It has a tendency to pigeon-hole players into a caricature of themselves.
No matter what type of player you are, it seems as though you will forever be thought of (and defined by?) your choice of locks.
Don’t believe me??
It isn’t that our Side-Show Bob quaffed friend isn’t a good player, but anyone who dyes their afro blonde has to have their decision making called into question.
If he thinks that is a good look in public, how can we know he will make the right decision on the ball???!?!
Plus, he looks goofy. Isn’t it safe to presume he will PLAY goofy??
Lucky for Tom, he is young enough to avoid these mistakes.
If I were him I would trim the locks tight, keep a 5 o’ clock shadow, my socks rolled low, and my head down.
The thought of Davies being a Scholes-esque patroller of midfield, understated off the field but unmissable on it has me beyond excited. No wonder he’s earned the moniker ‘Ketwig Kaiser’ - the second part of the nickname a nod to the great Franz Beckenbauer. The first part? Click here.
The kind of player you can build a squad around, matches the grittiness of the club’s supporters, and who doesn’t care what his hair looks like.
He shouldn’t be worried about whether his hair is combed or spiked up.
If he is as good as we all think he is he will have OUR hair standing on end.
Once Morgan Schneiderlin finally signed on the dotted line with Everton after a prolonged courtship, Everton fans everywhere had already been long in discussion on the potential midfield makeup, and if Schneiderlin was really a substantive upgrade on our current players, at least based on his cost.
With Idrissa Gueye out on AFCON duty, Tom Davies took advatange of his opportunity and revealed himself as a legitimate option (if not starter).
The conversation only got louder.
The debate was ebbed slightly when Koeman made the adjustment to a 3-5-2, adding a central player and another spot for the long list of central midfield options.
So, with Gueye (arguably the Toffees POY so far) due back in a few weeks, who will Koeman trust to man the central midfield in our push for Europa League?
First, the options:
Schneiderlin, Davies, Barkley, Gueye, Barry, McCarthy.
(WOW!!! that is quite a stock of players for Koeman to choose from, especially compared to May ’16)
Second, the roles:
If you look below, you can compare the 4-2-3-1 (sometimes 4-4-2) the Toffees lined up in versus Southampton, with the 3-5-2 they have employed against Manchester City in Palace.
The responsibilities of the central midfielders vary quite drastically, with more distinct spacing and patterns in the 3-5-2.
So, why the switch? Will they stick with the 3-5-2?
First, while the Toffees defeated Southampton using a very localized press, their wins against City and Palace show much more balanced and REPEATABLE tactical displays in winning efforts.
Second, Everton’s clear lack of true wingers (two-way players not just showmen like Deulofeu), especially after Bolasie’s absence, necessitated experimentation.
(The 5-0 loss to Chelsea while playing 3 in the back briefly quelled Koeman’s desire to change to the formation full-time, but he returned to the tactic when the team needed a boost and it has worked.)
Finally, it is beyond evident that RK really only trusts Ashley Williams in the back when playing with 2 centerbacks.
He appreciates Jagielka, but knows his physical limitations has far surpassed his ability to do the dirty work, and Funes Mori does not have the mental makeup for Koeman to trust him in a back four on a weekly basis.
He has been working hard to sign another top quality center back, but in the meantime he has realized that by playing with 3 he can slot in Mason Holgate (only not on the pitch because Seamus is playing so well) and Funes Mori with the knowledge that Williams will be there to cover them and clean up should things go awry.
This also allows Coleman and Baines to emphasize their fantastic attacking instincts, and gives Lukaku a partner (Mirallas and eventually Lookman) to play off of.
One more sweetener is that by using this formation he doesn’t have to chase a center back in the historically low-value January market and can keep Jagielka around as cover if no deals do happen.
So with all this info, I think that Koeman will ride this formation out for the season. 3 mids will be the way to go from here on out.
So who gets the nod?
Well, let’s be frank about it.
Koeman didn’t go spend 20 million fat ones on Morgan Schneiderlin to have him be a backup to 35 year old Gareth Barry. He is going to be in the starting lineup eventually and will stay there once he is.
He may rotate out a match or two as he recovers fitness having not played a long stretch of games in quite a while, but Koeman knows him, loves him, and is going to play him.
Speaking of Barry, I think he will grab another start or two, but will become a bit of a closer. Someone to bring on to settle a game down in the late stages and provide guidance for the youngster like Tom Davies.
Davies will continue to get matches, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lose out to Schneiderlin and Gueye once the full complement of players is available. It isn’t that he won’t start a few matches, he just won’t feature with the same regularity once Gueye returns.
Idrissa Gueye will slide right back into the side once he returns. His impact is beyond measurable and in a midfield three may push us so high Lukaku will be backing down the opposing goal keeper.
The last deep midfielder is James McCarthy.
He’s a good player and has been a sporadic star at Everton for his industry and occasional goal.
However, I don’t think he will see much match time for the rest of the year.
Koeman finds him too one-dimensional and will make as much money as possible on the Irishman when he can.
I personally would love to see us swap McCarthy for Lamine Kone at Sunderland. I know some people question Kone’s attitude, but paired with Williams they would be a FEARSOME duo. He was as important to their defense helping them stay up last year as Jermaine Defoe was to the Sunderland attack. Not only does he win almost all of his aerial duels, he has fantastic footwork and distribution. He would change our squad for the better.
Ok... moving on!
That leaves Ross Barkley.
Ross is going to get a long run of games as Koeman attempts to cement this form into Barkley’s expectation of himself. The new 3-5-2 formation has unshackled Ross from the responsibilities of tracking and freed him up to be the creator and tempo setter we know he can be,
All that being said, I think the manager is going to let Tom Davies have a run at the higher midfield position to remind Barkley he is still battling for his spot. Davies has shown himself to be equally as creative as Ross.
So with everyone healthy, before any more January transfers, I see Koeman rolling a midfield three of Schneiderlin, Gueye, and Barkley.
Davies will rotate in at both deeper and more attacking positions and Barry will be a spot player.
(By the way, I do believe at some point Koeman is going to roll out a midfield three of Schneiderlin, Gueye and Davies and then have Barkley playing a second forward with Lukaku in lieu of Mirallas. That lineup has the ability to press all over the field, just like Koeman loves. )
When you consider the players who have been manning the central midfield for the past two season it is remarkable what Koeman and the entire front office have done in such a short amount of time.
Everton are poised to have oodles of both youth and talent in the midfield for seasons to come, and whoever Koeman chooses is going to get the job done.
Do you think a new shirt sponsor will mean kits people actually want to buy?
I get the feeling that you aren’t too thrilled with the choices fans have had the past few seasons as far as kits go.
While Toffees everywhere can understand a solid blue kit for home matches, the away and third kits have been met with a resounding shoulder shrug. From all white to all yellow, I must admit I have been somewhat apathetic towards the choices available for purchase.
I’m not a fan of crazy kits, but I feel like the designer are taking the easy way out every year.
Our kits are like Steph Curry’s kick, made not to upset anyone, besides those with a sense of style.
I’ll admit I am hesitant about the change from Chang, but hope that the new name on the front will motivate our kit designers to take a gamble, and hopefully hit the jackpot!
There may be no player this side of Ross Barkley who draws such varying opinions week-to-week than Joel Robles.
A few seasons ago he was a young understudy to Tim Howard, where he waited for what would inevitably be his turn at the gloves.
Then he was tagged to compete with the aging American.
So, between Howard’s injuries and eventual departure to Colorado, Joel was offered the opportunity to stake his claim at being a long-term replacement for the American.
Though he has always been prone to the spectacular save (see the game-changer at Palace on Benteke’s header just minutes before we take the lead) he has also proven himself just as inept on a number of occasions.
Or at least it felt that way, and when it comes to goalkeepers if your team doesn’t have confidence in you, you know it. So Joel’s continued struggles, or at least inability to shine, has caused sort of a buildup of small smudges that distort fans appreciation of him.
Let’s see what the stats say.
So, comparing Robles performance the last three years with Howard’s last real full year between the sticks and Stekelenburg’s performance this season, the young Spaniard shines.
He is hanging up more clean sheets than a housekeeper, is averaging more than 2 saves more per goal conceded than Stekelenburg this season, while making the save amount of saves per game.
It should be noted, however, that Everton’s two keepers this season are facing less shots on average than any previous season, an indicator of Koeman’s increased focus on defensive responsibility and Ashley Williams’ ability to kick the hide off the ball when need be.
Robles is facing the same amount of shots as the tall Dutchman, but it takes twice as many shots to score on him, and it’s the same when compared with Timmy as well.
Finally, since Robles’ weakness on the crosses has been evident, I included each keepers ratio of punches and catches per game. Figuring an increase in catches, or more importantly a decrease in punches, would indicate increased confidence on crosses.
It’s an imperfect method, but it does seem to confirm what we have been seeing, or perceiving.
Look at Joel!!
The last two years he has DRAMATICALLY reduced the number of punches he has, while increasing his catches.
As any Manchester City fan can tell you, if your keeper can’t handle the physicality of the Premier League, including crosses, they won’t be able to guide your team to success.
Robles has improved by leaps and bounds in this area. When crosses used to come in against him, his dominant physical frame somehow shrunk into the maul of players and fans hoped his flailing hands made contact.
This past week against Palace, however, we saw a keeper who is much more confident in himself and who came through the crowds with strength and composure to gather NUMEROUS Palace crosses.
I’m personally not 100% sold that Robles is the keeper to lead us to into Champions League land, but at his age I would have no problem if Koeman kept him around to continue to compete with another young keeper with a higher ceiling.
It’s evident Robles has a strong work ethic and the ability to show a young keeper the ropes, especially if they join from another league. The Toffees should ride his strong play through the end of the season and then sign another keeper to compete.
But don’t count Robles out yet.
Just like those crosses, he might just learn to take hold of his opportunity.