The 2016-17 season was far from perfect for Everton Football Club. It was a year of rebuilding in which talented young players emerged on the Premier League stage, the Blues defended Goodison Park, struggled away from home and heard transfer rumors grow ever-louder.
But it was a campaign in which most Blues can be confident that the foundation for a bright and prosperous future has been built for the club. It sounds like plans for a new stadium are well in the works, the team finished seventh in the league, qualified for European football and may have found their next homegrown superstar. There is a lot of good happening around Everton right now.
Possibly the most important additions of the entire season came from the hiring of Ronald Koeman as manager and Steve Walsh as the Director of Football.
Koeman joined from Southampton on June 14 after leading the Saints to a sixth-place finish in the league and a spot in the Europa League, their best-ever outcome from a Premier League season. It was clear that he was the top target of new stakeholder Farhad Moshiri, who rewarded Koeman with a three-year contract.
A little more than a month later, on July 21, Walsh joined Koeman with the Toffees after helping lead Leicester City to an unexpected Premier League championship as the club’s Assistant Manager and Head of Recruitment. While with the Foxes, Walsh was responsible for unearthing talents like Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, the core trio of the title winners.
Of course, there was action with players as well. John Stones, the young, talented centerback, finally bolted for Manchester City in exchange for somewhere around a 50 million (pound) transfer.
Notable players that came into the fold were midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, centerback Ashley Williams, wingers Yannick Bolasie and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and striker Enner Valencia (loan).
Early season success
The Toffees were undefeated in the league through their first five matches. The team remained fairly solid through the end of October, highlighted by a tough 1-1 draw at the Etihad, an away win over West Browmich Albion and dominating home form.
Everton did not lose a game at Goodison Park until December 19, when they dropped the Merseyside Derby 1-0 to Liverpool. In the eight home fixtures prior to that, they nabbed 16 points, including an exhilarating 2-1 win over Arsenal.
Goodison Park was a safe haven for Everton in the Premier League. Over the 19 league fixtures, the Blues were winners 13 times, drew four times and lost just twice. The two losses were to Liverpool, as noted earlier, and eventual champions Chelsea.
From January 2nd through April 15th, Everton won eight consecutive games at home. In that time, the Blues were scoring goals for fun. They beat Manchester City and Hull City 4-0 each. They topped Bournemouth 6-3, and there were a few other three- and four-goal games sprinkled in their. The attack, led by Romelu Lukaku, was on fire.
If all matches were played at Goodison Park, Everton may have won a trophy this season. Alas, they do have to go on the road as well. It was once they left Merseyside where the problems began.
Away from home, Everton had four wins, six draws and nine losses; the worst of which was a 5-0 beating at the hands of Chelsea in November. The only top 10 team that Everton beat was West Brom, and that came in the season’s first month. From February 1st through the end of the year, the Blues did not win a single road game. In eight chances, they had four draws and four losses.
Cup drought continues
One of the few bright spots of the last two years of Roberto Martinez’s reign at Everton was that his teams were always competitive in at least one of the Cup competitions. Koeman’s side, conversely, was atrocious.
League Two Yeovil Town was no problem in the second round of the EFL Cup, but Championship side Norwich City was too much to handle in the third round. Everton lost 2-0 at Goodison Park.
The FA Cup was even worse. In early January, after having just beaten them soundly two weeks earlier, the Blues were nipped by Leicester 2-1 in their opening match in the Cup. Once again, the loss came at home to inferior competition. Sure, the Foxes are a Premier League team, but all of their focus was on Champions League play at the time. They would have likely preferred to be knocked out, and yet Everton could not get the job done.
It was that short and sweet. The league season was only half over and Everton were already out of both Cup competitions.
Koeman used the winter window to clean out his closets and get rid of the players that he likely viewed as extra fat. That meant sending Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo to Sunderland, loaning (and later selling) Tom Cleverly to Watford and loaning Oumar Niasse to Hull. Gerard Deulofeu also went out on loan; to AC Milan, and it is sounding as if Barcelona may be taking advantage of the clause in his transfer agreement to buy him back this summer.
But Everton also made two notable additions. First Ademola Lookman joined from Charlton and, although he got a bit of senior playing time, is likely being groomed for a bigger role in the next year or two. The major move was the signing of Morgan Schniederlin from Manchester United. The Frenchman had played under Koeman with Southampton and had been a rarely used bench player for the Red Devils. He proved to be a perfect piece for Everton.
When the 2016-17 season is reexamined many years from now, it may very well be thought of as the campaign that gave several young Evertonians their first real shot at Premier League action, especially the talented Tom Davies.
Davies, an 18-year-old, easily recognized by his low socks and golden locks, has all the goods to be a scouser legend. At The Dixies, Everton’s annual award ceremony, the teen was given the honor of being named Young Player of the Year and also took home the hardware for Goal of the Season and Individual Performance of the Season for how well he played against Manchester City in the Toffees 4-0 win.
But Davies was not alone in getting some well-deserved pitch time from the depths of Everton’s U23 ranks. Calvert-Lewin was in and out of the starting XI, as was Lookman, Mason Holgate and Matthew Pennington. All of them have now earned valuable experience that makes them worthy depth options for Everton’s Europa League dreams next season.
Questions to be answered
Naysayers be damned, this was an impressive and important season in the history of Everton Football Club. The team has effectively bounced back from the failures of the Martinez regime. They find themselves with European football on the horizon and what would seem to be a boatload of cash to spend on talent this summer. They need all of these positives to roll into next year because there are certainly some questions to be answered.
Both Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley seem closer to the exit door than ever before. It would be a huge blow to this team to lose either of them, but it is something that needs to be prepared for.
Depth is the name of the game this summer. With both England and European competition coming, Everton will need a much more robust squad come July. The backline is aging and oft-injured. The goalkeeping situation begs for a true number one. And the team needs a creative force in the middle of the park when Barkley or Kevin Mirallas are struggling, which seems to happen more and more often.
You won’t be given much time to miss the Blues. Europa League qualifying begins on July 27th, giving you a little over two months to read transfer rumors, cry about deals that didn’t work out and get used to seeing SportPesa on that blue kit.