On November 27, Everton lost 1-0 to Southampton in Ronald Koeman’s first visit to his former club. Charlie Austin scored just 41 seconds into the match, and the Toffees proceeded to lifelessly throw themselves toward the Saints in attack.
It was an ugly performance that saw the team end October and November with only 5 points out of a possible 18, with no impressive performances to show during that period. It looked like Everton was going to need substantial additions to the squad.
Fast forward two months — since that match, the Toffees have beaten Arsenal and Manchester City, drawn Manchester United, and concluded January with three consecutive league victories.
Some new blood has entered the squad in that time; Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman have both come to Goodison and looked promising in their early appearances. But, these two are a far cry from the five new bodies Koeman reportedly was looking to add this month.
With the improved performances though, does Everton need to make any more new signings in January? Koeman has said that the Toffees won’t sign players simply to have new bodies in, so much of that depends on where there are still holes in the squad.
So, let’s take a look at each position to see where the Toffees’ remaining needs lie — if there are any at all.
Everton’s perceived need for a new goalkeeper has changed several times this season. Before the season began, many felt that just Maarten Stekelenburg and Joel Robles were insufficient to meet the club’s needs and that another new keeper should have come in over the summer.
In the opening months of the season, Stekelenburg was impressive though, and those requests quieted down. Then the Dutchman started to falter and picked up an injury, heightening calls for a new keeper to join the squad in January.
But, Joel has been solid during Everton’s recent solid run of form, again reducing the need for a new keeper to be brought in. At this point, Everton’s current pair have proven to be good enough to keep the team where it wants to be. Unless the Toffees have the opportunity to bring in a long-term, clear-cut No. 1 goalkeeper, it seems unnecessary to make an addition at this position.
Leighton Baines has had a solid season, particularly since Everton moved to a three-center-back system. The tactical change has changed the way we have to look at many positions, but Everton’s left-back needs are pretty static regardless of how many defenders Koeman chooses to play with.
There’s no need to look for an improvement above Baines, and the Toffees have Bryan Oviedo as a backup if needed.
Much like Baines, Seamus Coleman has had a good season, made even better by his move to a wing-back position in a three-center-back system. At his best, Coleman is still one of the league’s top right-backs, so there’s no need for improvement there.
His back-up is a little less certain than Baines’ though. In a four-man back-line, Mason Holgate has proven to be a capable backup at right-back. However, I’m less confident that he could slot into the more attacking role as a wing-back.
If something happened to Coleman and Koeman wanted to stick with with his current system, the most natural replacement at right wing-back might be Aaron Lennon — his pace and work rate the best existing candidate. Though obviously, this isn’t a perfect solution.
If Koeman and Steve Walsh could bring in a young, attacking right-back to play with the U-23s and serve as an emergency backup for Coleman, it might be a good move before the January window closes.
The perception of need at this position has definitely changed with Everton’s move to a 5-3-2. When the team was only using two center-backs at a time, Ashley Williams and one of Ramiro Funes Mori, Phil Jagielka, and Mason Holgate was sufficient, with the others providing backup ahead of youngsters Matthew Pennington and Tyias Browning.
With the change in system though, the only experienced backup center-back is Phil Jagielka, who A) doesn’t really have the pace to play one of the outside center-back positions, and B) probably won’t be here past the end of the season anyway.
If Koeman plans to stick with this formation long-term, he might be well-served finding an experienced center-back who is comfortable playing in a back three and can serve as insurance in case Holgate or Funes Mori begin to waver. If not, Jagielka and the young players should be sufficient cover for the rest of the season.
With Gerard Deulofeu on loan and Yannick Bolasie injured, let’s take a quick look at Everton’s available true wingers.
Kevin Mirallas is also capable of playing out wide, but he’s clearly put his best performances in from the center of the park this season, and Koeman shouldn’t be looking to move him from that position.
Past the former Tottenham Hotspur man, there’s a list of “attackers” who could play out wide if needed, but you wouldn’t exactly call wingers — this includes Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Enner Valencia (remember him?), and Arouna Kone.
Right now, this isn’t a big deal. Because the Toffees are utilizing wing-backs, they don’t need attacking wide players — there’s no place for them in the lineup as it is anyway. But not having two true wingers in case there is a need for a change of system is a dangerous game to play.
Koeman should look to add another winger, but his commitment to the team’s current system should decide what level of player is targeted.
A month ago, Everton’s most obvious need seemed to be in the center of midfield. Gareth Barry’s not getting any younger, Idrissa Gueye was going out to the African Cup of Nations, and the Toffees were struggling mightily to create chances from the center of the park.
Since then, Koeman signed Morgan Schneiderlin and found a system in which Barry can thrive — and one in which Ross Barkley and Tom Davies can share playmaking duties. With Gueye on his way back to Goodison following Sengal’s departure from the African Cup of Nations, there’s suddenly a huge logjam in the center of the pitch.
Koeman also rejected a bid from Newcastle United for James McCarthy, and has Muhamed Besic nearing a return.
Everton still lacks a true No. 10, but the team’s current system doesn’t really require such a player — and with the plethora of players who can play other roles in the center of midfield, it seems unlikely, and perhaps downright wasteful, to chase another central midfielder at this point.
Many Everton supporters have noted the same fear during this and previous transfer windows: “What do we do if Romelu Lukaku gets hurt?”
It’s a reasonable concern, and obviously in an ideal world the team would have a player who has proven himself at high level to back up the Belgian superstar. Unfortunately though, that’s just not realistic.
Everyone would love for Everton to have a Michy Batshuayi or Nolito-type player on the bench to back up Lukaku, but no player of that quality is going to come to Everton to play, at most, 15 minutes per match, and not win any silverware. The Toffees are heading in the right direction, but they just don’t have that kind of pull yet.
This leaves Koeman with players like Enner Valencia, Ademola Lookman, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin if anything were to happen to Lukaku. It’s far from ideal, but I just don’t see any way in which that could feasibly be improved upon.
Everton still has a few needs that could be filled in the transfer window, but none of them are as pressing as we might have suspected six weeks ago. Let’s review what we found the Toffees might still need:
- A clear-cut, long-term No. 1 goalkeeper
- A right wing-back to backup Coleman (if the team continues to use a five-man backline)
- A center-back who will be comfortable playing on the outside of a back three (if Koeman intends to continue using that system)
- A winger (or perhaps two if Koeman isn’t set on continuing in the team’s current system)
- A proven striker backup for Lukaku (if this is possible — which I’m not convinced it is)
The importance of these individual needs depends largely on how Koeman wants his team to play for the rest of the season. If he plans on sticking with the 5-3-2, a backup right-back and center-back are most important. If he’d like to return to playing with a four-man backline and two true wingers, then addition(s) at that position become most important.
There is also one more important factor - the Dutchman has also said that he will not buy players for the sake of it, and is interested in players of a specific quality that will strengthen his squad.
Come Tuesday night, Everton’s activity on transfer deadline day will give us a much better idea of what Koeman’s plans will be for the rest of this season, and beyond.