The January transfer window is well and truly shut, and European teams will have to do with what they have in their squads now until the end of the season in about five months. For Everton, out of Cup football and not in Europe, there is only one priority between now and May 21st - breaking into the top six spots.
While not necessarily as active in purchasing players, the Toffees were nevertheless very busy as they successfully implemented their three-pronged strategy of buying early, getting rid and loaning youngsters.
Here are five random observations on Everton’s January activity.
1. Nine players cleared out
Isn’t that impressive? From the squad that the last manager Roberto Martinez termed as the strongest Everton team ever, Ronald Koeman decided nine of them were not good enough for his vision of what the Blues should be.
What this clear-out has done is leave a lean squad and a trimmed down wage bill. Now Koeman can be as aggressive as he wants with Steve Walsh and his targets in the summer window as they go about setting up this club for the next few years and possibly beyond.
2. Injuries and suspensions a big worry
The down side to having a squad as lean as this is that there’s plenty of positions on the pitch where we are at risk if there’s an injury or a suspension to the starter.
Of all those spots, Romelu Lukaku’s durability is of the biggest concern. When the striker is off the boil, the Blues have found it hard to come across goals. Everton are pretty thin behind Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman as well, and we’re hoping Koeman has a well-thought out Plan B.
3. Thumbs up on both signings
Two players came into the senior squad in January, and both have looked impressive so far. Morgan Schneiderlin sparkled against Stoke City in his first full start since September, and looks to be the perfect replacement for the ageing Gareth Barry.
Youngster Ademola Lookman is a joy to watch. Full of energy and daring, he’s an utter joy to watch when he has the ball and runs at defences. Plus he’s not afraid to shoot, something that not many players on this team (excluding Lukaku) have the ability to do.
4. 3-5-2 is formation of choice
With Aaron Lennon the only out-and-out winger on the team, it’s very unlikely we’re going to see the 4-4-2 again this season. The skewed 3-5-2 allows Coleman to do what he’s best at, and gives Baines the opportunity to occasionally amble forward.
And when it doesn’t work, like we saw against Stoke, it’s easy enough to revert to a narrow 4-2-3-1. That has also only been possible because of Tom Davies’ revelation as an offensive force, as it takes a lot of pressure off Ross Barkley to be this side’s number 10, a role he’s quite clearly not ready for yet.
5. Youngster depth excellent
Enough cannot be said about the amazing work that David Unsworth has done with the Under-23 side. Fans might hate to hear it, but expect a handful of clubs to come knocking this summer to see if he would be willing to take up the challenge at the Championship level at the very least.
Not only have Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Davies come up and seamlessly fit right in with the senior squad, he’s got his team leading the Premier League 2 by a handy margin and has most definitely gotten Koeman’s ear as far as who’s ready and who isn’t to make the jump to the matchday team.