If you’re a regular reader of RoyalBlueMersey, you probably know that I use this space on a weekly basis to dive into the tactics on display in Everton’s most recent match.
I start by showing you Everton’s starting lineup, like this:
Maybe I tell you a little about what’s changed from last week to this week, or any surprising choices made by Ronald Koeman — then, we jump together into the tactics, decisions, and matchups that defined the outcome of the match.
I refuse to do that this week.
“Why not? Why will you deny us our favorite weekly piece on the site?” (Allow me to enjoy my comically off-base illusions of grandiose, alright?)
The answer, good reader, is very simple actually. I refuse to provide any legitimate tactical analysis for a match in which the following actually happened.
That’s right — Everton spent the last five minutes plus stoppage time in a 5-2-3 with Arouna Kone and Enner Valencia on the wings, Tom Davies at right-back, and Gareth Barry at center-back.
I spent Friday and Saturday night awake in my bed, trying to figure out how a team that finished seventh in the Premier League — and picked up points against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United — was brought to such a ludicrous moment.
Obviously, injuries played a big part in Koeman’s late-game squad selection options. Most notably, the Dutchman continues to miss:
- Seamus Coleman
- Yannick Bolasie
- Aaron Lennon
- Ramiro Funes Mori
You can see pretty clearly how those injuries led to the lineup we saw at the end of the Watford match. The absence of Bolasie and Lennon has left Koeman short on options at winger; Coleman’s broken leg had put Mason Holgate at right-back, but he’s been dreadful going forward — so enter Davies; Funes Mori’s injury has left Everton with only two experienced center-backs, pushing Barry into the “late-game defensive substitution” role several times since the Argentine went down.
In short, I get it. I understand how we got to a point where that setup wasn’t entirely ridiculous, anyway. I stand by my analysis boycott — but I get it.
Given the lackluster nature of most of Everton’s recent matches, I’ve been thinking a lot about what next season will look like for the Toffees. In particular, the Europa League has been on my mind.
I know a lot of supporters have been theorizing that a victory in Europe’s secondary competition might be our most realistic way into the Champions League going forward, but this week’s match against Watford should make it clear exactly how far the Toffees have to go before winning the Europa League is a realistic goal.
Let’s do a quick case study of Manchester United, whose 1-1 draw against Celta Vigo on Thursday secured them a place in the Europa League final — one win away from securing a Champions League berth for next season. United too has been hit by a few untimely injuries, including:
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Marcos Rojo
- Luke Shaw
- Timothy Fosu-Mensah
- Ashley Young
Like Everton, these injuries are largely stacked at one position (left-back/center-back, just as Everton’s largely involved wide players). Like Everton, United suffered a season-ending injury to one of its most important players at a tremendously inopportune time (Ibrahimovic for United, Coleman for Everton).
Yet, without Ibra, United managed to win the first leg of the tie away from Old Trafford, and took an early lead in the second leg through a goal from Marouane Fellaini. Celta Vigo made things interesting with a goal in the 85th minute, at which point Jose Mourinho used his second substitution, giving him the following lineup to see out the match.
Eric Bailly received a red card in the 88th minute, at which point Mourinho used his final substitution to bring Chris Smalling in for Marcus Rashford to round out the back four.
Now, let’s compare that United lineup to Everton’s lineup in the final few minutes against Watford — recall that both teams were essentially defending a one-goal lead at the time.
Both of these teams were facing injury crises of similar proportions and looking to defend a slim lead — the difference between the two lineups is striking.
“Adam, we get it. United has a better team than Everton right now. The Premier League table already told us that. What’s your point?”
Everton still has a long way to go before the club has can compete with a team like United, who is a deserving Europa League finalist. Much of the focus on what Everton’s summer will look like has revolved around the futures of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, as well as the introduction of new, starter-level, players at positions of need, like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Michael Keane.
You’d suspect that, in order to be able to compete with the clubs in the Europa League semifinals (United, Ajax, Lyon, and Celta Vigo), the Toffees would need to keep Lukaku and Barkley around, add a creative midfielder, center-back, and goalkeeper to the first XI, and see Coleman and Bolasie return to the lineup around January with the same explosive ability we saw this season. That combination of things isn’t at all impossible, but it’s a lot to ask.
And that’s just what needs to happen with the first XI.
For a club to both make a deep run in Europe and remain successful in the hyper-competitive Premier League, a solid level of depth also needs to exist in the squad, particularly when injuries (inevitably) roll around.
You could pretty easily make the argument that the Toffees need a boost to squad depth at literally every position, with all three defense positions, creative midfielder, and winger at the top of the list. If Everton elects not to make Enner Valencia’s move to Goodison Park permanent, you can easily add striker to that list as well.
In order to have a team that can compete in the Europa League and Premier League the way that United did this season then, we’re talking about needing:
- Three additions to the first XI
- Two contract rebels to remain at Everton
- Two long-term injuries to resolve themselves optimally
- Four or five squad depth signings
Everton’s final Premier League match of the season is Sunday, May 21. Everton’s first match of the 2017-18 Europa League is July 27. That leaves 66 days for Koeman and the Toffees to get the squad squared away.
It needs to be a busy, busy, summer at Goodison Park.