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Toffees’ Thursday Mailbag

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Answering all of your relevant, and irreverent, Everton questions.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd exhale.

After Everton fans were lulled to sleep by not stepping on the pitch for a week and a half, it feels like the past 48 hours have been a dead sprint to the end of the month.

The reviews from the January window are in, and they are varied…..to say the least.

Some fans can’t believe we didn’t spend more money, some wonder why we didn’t bulk up in the attack, and others just want to see Tom Davies in person again.

So how do I think the window went?

I see valid arguments from all sides. While the Toffees certainly didn’t spend like some had assumed they would in this window, the business both in and out of the club was all positive, and we didn’t “take a loss” on any of our investments.

The future is bright because the club stopped themselves from impulse buying, but it certainly puts the onus on delivering more talent in the summer or risk upsetting the fan base. They have our trust, but it’s not blind.

The close of the January window and the rest of the season has a lot of layers to it, so let’s peel them back one by one and hope we don’t end up with too many tears.

TO THE QUESTIONS!!


Morgan Schneiderlin started. How do you think he did? Will he start again Saturday?

- Nicholas (Liverpool)

Well, I think that outside of a few passes that weren’t correctly weighted you can clearly see why Koeman was so adamant in his pursuit of the Frenchman.

First, check out his heat map.

www.whoscored.com

As you can see, Morgan operates as the central hub for the entire team. He likes to take up the central position and run the attacks through him. The stats tell the story:

What the graphic doesn’t tell you is that his passing accuracy was 95.9% and that he also had 2 tackles, 2 blocks, 1 chance created and 2 shots on goal.

His performance against Stoke was impressive for his first full game with a new squad. There are definitely some timing issues to fix pertaining to runs and exchanging space with his other midfielders, but when you take into account the amount of space he covered it’s a fantastic start.

Look at where his touches took place:

www.whoscored.com

That guy was everywhere!

Between him, Idrissa Gueye, Ross Barkley, Tom Davies, and James McCarthy, Ronald Koeman has a nice problem of team selection. All five players are uniquely talented, yet it appears as though any combination of them naturally balance each other out.

So who gets the call this weekend?

If I were a betting man I would put my money on: Gueye, Schneiderlin and Barkley.


What do you think of Everton’s socks they wore last night. What’s with the big yellow stripe?

- Brian F. :)

First, take a look yourself:

Stoke City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Having complained about the blandness (or atrociousness) of the kits in recent seasons, I do give the designers credit for trying.

Unfortunately, instead of looking chic, it looks like the team ordered their latest kits through Soccer.com and finally earned enough Goal Points to buy everyone a pair of these:

Or even worse, maybe the team decided they weren’t scoring enough and went out and picked up a bunch of HOT SPOTS (see below) but are all wearing them incorrectly.

No matter what it looks like, it looks BAD. Random lines of colors on the kit do not automatically make it look good.

My suggestion?

Increase the size of the yellow band on the sleeves so that there is some connection, and then you are onto something.


How could Koeman do this to us?! I thought we were going to be a big spending team?!? I want new players!! RONALD!!! HOW COULD YOU?!?!

- Lots of Everton fans (Everywhere, World)

While perusing Twitter, Facebook and other media outlets, it became clear to me that though Everton fans trust that the club has a clear plan to grow and move up the table, those same fans are not nearly as confident that the club is actually going to be able to successfully EXECUTE that plan.

Last spring (almost a year ago!) Everton got the sugar daddy visionary fans have been praying for in Farhad Moshiri. He was going to lead the club to new heights by investing in the staff, players, and overall infrastructure.

While Toffees fans were (incorrectly?) tempered in their optimism for a new stadium (it feels sooooooooooooo close doesn’t it?!?!), there wasn’t a Goodison-goer amongst us that didn’t have visions of a new era for the club.

By the fall, some fans thought, we’d have Joe Hart in goal, Kalidou Koulibaly marauding at CB, Axel Witsel roaming the midfield, and James Rodriguez feeding Lukaku for goals as we leapfrogged Man United and Liverpool and romped into the Champions League.

(At least I know I did…..for a little while)

The assumption was that since we have the money to spend, players would flock to the club.

However, without the allure of even the Europa (much less Champions) League, signing players from clubs already occupying those spots across the continent is tough.

Come on Koulibaly, forget playing Champions League and pushing for the Italian title!

No.

Aren’t you excited to play for an English club that has finished mid-table for the past decade?

No.

Want to come be part of a rebuilding project that is almost assuredly going to have growing pains along the way?

No.

We will pay you way more money than you currently make.

Oh, well in that case, where do I sign?

Yeah, money may eventually entice someone to come play at Goodison, but what are they really in it for? I don’t want a bunch of mercenaries running around wearing our crest, just in it for the dough.

Ok.....so how do we get those players in?

Well, first, you have to make Everton a desirable place to be, and recruit players with the right mind set. Two things at which I think Koeman has done a PHENOMENAL job.

If you are a top-level player looking for a change of club, Everton is now as appealing as ever.

Why?

Well, he started by identifying players who could make an IMMEDIATE impact on the club, and would be motivated to do so by offering a step UP from their current clubs.

Enter Yannick Bolasie, Ashley Williams, and Idrissa Gueye.

Signed from relegation-threatened Palace, already relegated Aston Villa, and relegated to Wales Swansea, these players viewed Everton as an opportunity to advance their careers, not just paycheck.

RK knew they would come in hungry for the opportunity, but with the talent to outperform their price tag. (Or in Bolasie’s case, at minimum justify it.)

WHICH THEY ALL DID!

It was months ago, but it is hard to forget the change-of-pace and attacking swerve Yannick added to the front line.

He was in no way perfect, and despite fans nervousness at his perceived lack of consistency, he worked as hard as any other player in both the attacking and defensive thirds.

Just imagine if he hadn’t suffered his injury! He would be playing alongside Rom up top, competing with Mirallas for playing time. What a lineup THAT would be.

Gueye, on the other hand, came to the club with some impressive defensive statistics, but Toffees fans weren’t sure if that was because of his tenaciousness, or because Villa’s opponents controlled their matches so often last season he had just had more chances to recover the ball.

While the latter may have had a hint of truth, the former has proven itself true as the North Star. (Excuse my pirate slang maties).

Gueye absolutely transformed our team.

Unrelenting and unwavering, the diminutive Senegalese international does the job of two players, freeing our midfield to push up higher and press the other team.

But most importantly, he plays with a consistent passion unlike any other player we have (until Tom) and obviously appreciates the opportunity not to travel to Bright Hove and Albion this season, and instead play at the likes of the Emirates and call Goodison Park home.

He is the type of player, along with Bolasie, who give you faith in the club’s recruitment efforts.

Along with those two, Koeman also brought in Ashley Williams. A man who needs no introduction, and even in his advanced years showed himself at Euro 2016 to be every bit of a Champions League level centerback.

As much as his aerial presence was badly needed (he has got some SICK hops), his constant leadership and refusal to accept anything less than the best from his teammates has endeared him to the Goodison faithful. (That Arsenal goal didn’t hurt either).

Everton v Yeovil Town: EFL Cup Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Williams is further proof that it’s not about picking the BEST players, but the RIGHT ones. His leadership has replaced Jags, who is no longer a shoo-in for the lineup, and shored up a back line that frankly was an embarrassment for much of last season.

So with three top recruits (and a solid keeper) in, and having (luckily?) missed out on a few others (THANK YOU SPURS!), Everton waded into the season full of optimism, but still looking too much like the side that had almost drowned at the end of the previous campaign.

That is when Koeman’s ruthlessness began to show.

After (wrongly) assuming that Roberto Martinez knew what he was doing, Koeman initially deferred to some of the former manager’s stalwarts like Tom Cleverley to provide some stability moving forward.

After bursting out of the gates, the stability the Koeman had hoped for began to waver. It quickly became painful obvious that not only did Koeman not rate some (most?) of the players in the squad, but he did not like that way they handled themselves in training.

It was evident that those players who were in the manager’s doghouse were waiting for January and a possible escape from a suddenly far-less-friendly situation. They appeared a bit defeated and resigned to their fate.

So what happened?

Everton struggled.

They won only 1 in 10, and January was looking like the only thing that could save the Toffees from another underwhelming season.

Then something funny happened. Koeman’s coaching and approach started to pay dividends.

Last minute loan signing Enner Valencia showed his effort in training, earned some minutes and had a positive impact on most.

Ross Barkley took the hint, picked up his match, and is blossoming before our eyes.

Most importantly, however, the young kids proved to Koeman they were ready after a few months of his training and tactics.

Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all got shots in the first team, injecting into the side the youthful enthusiasm it was so badly lacking.

DCL was on the fast track towards competing with Mirallas for time before he got hurt, but showed signs that he is a force to be reckoned with.

Holgate, who had been on the bench after a strong showing filling in for Coleman, took hold of one of the 3 CB roles in the new formation and isn’t going anywhere the rest of the season. (OK, he struggled in the Stoke match, but it happens!)

Lastly, Tom Davies stepped into the void created by Gueye’s departure for AFCON and well……you know the rest of that story.

When Koeman stood back and assessed his team on December 31st, the squad staring back at him was vastly different than the one he had inherited in the Summer.

He had brought SEVEN new regulars into the side (Stekelenburg, Davies, Gueye, DCL, Holgate, Bolasie, and Valencia) and had exiled players whose names had routinely showed up on the team sheet or had cost the club a pretty penny to keep on the bench.

SOOOOOOO BACK TO JANUARY (FINALLY!!)

After a VERY slow start to the summer window Everton had obviously learned their lesson. When 2017 came to be, most Everton fans were already set on the fact that we would be adding Morgan Schneiderlin to the mix.

(I won’t go off on a Morgan rant, but I believe most Toffees fans are VASTLY underrating the impact that he will have on our team. He is a true metronome in the middle, but also has the athletic ability to cover ground. He’s a Champions League level midfielder through and through.)

While it felt like the Schneiderlin deal was taking forever to close, Everton sealed up another deal. Ademola Lookman’s signing was originally one for the future, but as I mentioned last week in my breakdown of his first two performances, he has gone far beyond what Koeman thought he was getting when he signed.

(He is also a great asset on FIFA! He may only be a 65, but he’s fast and can finish! But I digress.)

Little did Koeman realize that when he was signing the young England youth international he was signing Bolasie’s immediate replacement!

So less than two weeks into the window the Toffees had added a CL midfielder and a young player with unlimited potential, but the ability to contribute immediately.

With those two now part of the squad, and the loss of Yannick, the number of new players jumped to 8!

8!

That’s a lot of new faces.

I know, Davies and Holgate were on the books and had seen some minutes, but Koeman saw their potential and smoothed out some of the rough edges before putting them back into the fire of the Premier League.

Now, though, Koeman had a decision to make.

Sitting mid table, an influx of new players already in the squad or close to it, and the team churning along, how was he going to approach the rest of the window?

The answer?

By tossing everyone else on the team out of it!

From Cleverly to Gibson, Koeman shipped out anyone who did not meet his standards for ability or work ethic. By the time the tree-trimming was done, the manager’s goal was obvious, and achieved.

The are only three types of players left standing:

1. Finished products still carrying the work ethic of a younger hungrier player,

2. Actual younger, hungrier players who possess the ability but still need to grow

3. Arouna Kone.

Think about how that changes the mindset at everything from training to matches.

Only the hardest working players have survived, and those that haven’t have been replaced by younger players willing to do the work or by a QUALITY signing who is guaranteed to do the job.

The intensity in training is ratcheted up with no one going through the motions and every player fighting for time.

There are no more holes. No more moving people around to cover areas of glaring weakness.

Look at the lineup against Stoke! It’s not perfect, but there is strength on the pitch and on the bench.

With Jags for cover in the back, Barry and McCarthy for grit in the midfield, Lennon for width, and Valencia and Lookman up top, there is a solution for any problem.

(In fact, McCarthy’s insertion in the second half and subsequent change to a four back system propelled Everton to a steadier second half performance after a shaky first 45.)

Sure, the team needs to add depth, but they also don’t need to SUBTRACT anything. That is massive when it comes to the summer. There is a lot of room to add quality players.

The front office won’t be wasting time on the phone with Leeds United trying to trade Darron Gibson for a bag of balls.

Instead, the sole focus from now until then will be to scout and recruit players who meet the new standard of Everton FC.

With a new coach, a team on the rise and plenty of roster spots I think the Toffees are sitting prettier than they have in a very long time.


How do you think Ademola Lookman played? I think he should start against Bournemouth. Almost won it against Stoke.

- Bill H. (Washington)

For the thousands….hundreds….couple of you that have actually made it the entire way through all of my columns, it isn’t news to you that I am driving the Lookman bandwagon.

When rumors started popping up about him I became really excited. Like, REALLY excited.

No, I don’t watch League One. I had seen him play for the England youth set up*

*No, seriously. I had. I actually love youth national team matches. I watch them all the time, and I eat up the highlight reels. The passion is UNRIVALED as young men battle for call ups and contracts , and inevitably the best players end up getting a sniff at the top leagues and you already know them. I highly suggest it…..and my wife highly suggests I get a life, but that’s neither here nor there.

He was raw, but as Everton fans have learned, when he gets the ball at his feet he is special.

It reminds me of what my father once told me about deciding whether or not to swing at a pitch while batting in baseball:

Don’t decide TO swing.

Decide NOT to swing.

When the Lookie Monster (maybe?) receives the ball, it’s as though he has to decide NOT to try and dribble past the entire other team. He is a loaded spring. His natural setting is forward.

This is not the normal critique of a young player who plays with his head down though.

He isn’t dribbling because that’s the only thing he’s good at, he’s just REALLY good at it. When it isn’t on, however, he knows how to pass the ball off and make a useful run. He had a whopping one incomplete pass against Stoke.

As we are learning, once he is on the field he is like Nightcrawler, popping up anywhere and everywhere, and when he gets involved in the play it usually results in a positive outcome for Everton.

Within 30 seconds of walking onto the pitch against Stoke he had put a shot on frame after a cheeky Tom Davies back heel pass, then proceeded to create numerous other problems for the Potters.

Heck, his only incomplete pass of the entire match was his cross-shot that Davies almost poked in at the back post for the winner!

He was an impact sub if I have ever seen one.

How did Koeman feel?

Well Bill, looks like you have your answer! Koeman has designs on dropping him into the starting lineup in the next few weeks.

When?

Well looking at the Toffees upcoming matches, and assuming he doesn’t start at home against Bournemouth this weekend, the next two matches both provide him a good chance to give Ademola a ‘Look’man. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

He could start him Saturday February 11th at Middlesbrough, or wait until Saturday the 25th and give him his first start at Goodison against Sunderland.

If I had to wager, I think he will start against Middlesbrough, if and only if because Koeman is as anxious as I am to see what this kid can do, and he can’t wait until the 25th.