Yes Toffee fans, it has finally arrived.
The first competitive fixture on the schedule is upon us, and there couldn’t be more at stake right out of the gate.
Thursday’s match up with Ruzomberok is the first in Europe for the Toffees since a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Dyanmo Kiev led to a 6-4 aggregate loss in the Round of 16 of this same competition in 2015.
A win in the series against the Slovakian side, however, would get Everton taht much closer to qualifying for the group stages with one more series standing between them and a guarantee of at least six more European nights.
The outcome is just as important as it was three years ago, but this opponent is far different from the Kiev team that last lined up against the Toffees in European competition.
Here is an exchange between two of our writers concerning the challenges facing the traveling Slovakians.
(Identities may or may not have been changed to protect the guilty.)
There is no doubt a team that is used to playing in front of 1000 fans (what are they a high school team?) will have to adjust quickly to what is sure to be a raucous Goodison crowd who will be welcoming home Wayne Rooney and getting a taste of Europe for the first time in too long.
And what should Everton expect when they get to Slovaki next week for their away leg of the series?
I’ll let my coworkers update you on that as well:
I have no doubt that Ruzomberok has a number of nice qualities (including a competitive team), and is FULL of wonderful people.
However, when ANY interview about your upcoming match up with a top Premier League side ventures into the less that hospitable odors of the area because there is nothing else to talk about????
Let’s just say I send my best regards to the traveling Toffees fans who will bravely fill the 37 seats reserved for traveling fans.
Let there be no doubt though, that while the opponent may be small the importance of a RESOUNDING win couldn’t be bigger.
Starting the season in late July poses a number of logistical and personnel difficulties for large clubs, especially those in the midst of a massive transition like Everton, but it always provides for the opportunity to build early positive momentum heading INTO the Premier League season.
With the early season murderers row of opponents facing the Toffees to start the Premier League campaign, it is IMPERATIVE that Everton start the season off on the right foot on Thursday to quickly integrate new talent, take the pressure off the return leg next week, and show Everton fans that the amazing summer transfer window had by the club so far is going to translate onto on the field success.
With Koeman at the helm and the players at his disposal I have no doubt that Everton will find success on Thursday and beyond.
Looks like I’m not alone in my optimism either.
Looks like everyone is taking notice of the “new” Everton.
Time for them to deliver.
Now, onto your questions!!
Simple. I think Dowell has a big season ahead of him. The question I have is do you think his big season is with EFC or a loan club?— jon hein (@jdhein13) July 25, 2017
Last week I answered a question about Kieran Dowell by saying that he was more than likely heading out the door for a loan, even after he scored this beauty in Everton’s first friendly.
It just felt like with the imminent arrival of Gylfi Siggurdsson or some other playmaker type, and with the incredible depth of Everton’s central midfield, Dowell was going to find minutes hard to come by.
Then the U-20 World Cup Winner, after presumably reading the mailbag, then promptly went out and did this against FC Twente.
While the goals have been impressive, and are much needed as Everton continue their pursuit of more attacking targets, Dowell’s overall play has drawn praise as well.
Following another steady (albeit far from unblemished) performance against Genk, I now find myself wavering on the young midfielder’s future.
While I don’t think he has the chops to play a major role this season for the Toffees, I do see Koeman finding a handful of appearances and perhaps a start or two for the youngster across all competitions.
Is that what is best for Dowell, and ultimately Everton, though?
Or are all parties best served to send the young Englishman to a side that will offer him consistent playing time at a high level and let him come back next season ready to offer a steadier hand to Koeman with the lessons undoubtedly learned from a full year as a professional?
It is a tough question, and while Koeman does have until September 1st to make things happen, the pace of acquisitions and exits this summer make me think the Dutchman wants to get his side sorted and moving forward.
It may seem as though Dowell will be in the conversation for the Toffees for the next few weeks, but even as the squad stands short a few transfers, I still found it difficult to locate a place for Dowell in my 18 at the end of this article.
Everton are a much improved side and competition is fierce at almost every spot on the field.
If I were a betting man, come September 2nd I think we will see Kiearn Dowell in a kit other than Everton blue.
However, if I’m wrong though (happens all the time) it is only because Dowell has continued his rapid ascent and staked an unquestionable place in the Everton squad, a feat that would benefit the Toffees and is something EVERY Evertonian is rooting to happen.
If you had to pick one Everton player to clone and play 11 of in a competitive match, who would it be and why?— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) July 25, 2017
My first response to this question was to line up 11 Jordan Pickford’s and just let him distribute the ball to himself on the counter all match.
I mean he has the assist part down already:
Plus, from the looks of things the finishing isn’t far behind either:
However, after mulling it over, I decided that while Pickford isn’t out of shape by any stretch of the imagination, his conditioning could prove to be a hurdle at any position besides the one he currently holds between the sticks.
So with that in mind, I decided I would focus on players who, like Jordan, offer attributes at both ends of the pitch, while actually being able to get there.
Enter Davy Klaassen.
Another new Toffee, Klaassen is a perfect blend of aggressive defending and technical precision.
Going back to the 2013-2014 season, we can see Klaassen’s evolution as he started he career with Ajax.
Early on, Klaassen did two things very well:
- Didn’t get beat
- Took his opportunities to create/score goals.
Davy Klaassen, Ajax 13-14. This is an odd radar, and it's odd on the AM template too. Crazy conv rate from shots pic.twitter.com/3wA8CEItt3— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) August 4, 2014
Early in the following season, we see a young but evolving Davy give up passing percentage points in exchange for a HUGE increase in Key Passes, driving his already outrageous scoring contribution even higher.
To balance that out, we also see Klaassen, presumably more forward, getting into more tackles, and doing so allowing himself to be dribbled past a touch more, but nothing to be concerned about as it was an obvious effect of his increased role moving the team forward.
Davy, Davy Klaassen, king of the wild frontier. Strong tackles crossed with HUGE attacking passing stats. pic.twitter.com/r8Upg3HOdP— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) September 29, 2014
Now, fast forward to last season and you will see the unbelievably balanced player Klaassen has become.
In this tweet, his season (domestic and European) is compared first to Attacking Midfielders and Forwards on their template, and then his numbers are stacked up against central and defensive midfielders.
Rated against attacking threats, Klaassen comparatively never loses the ball and while he doesn’t dribble past folks and didn’t get off a ton of shots, his Goal conversion percentage is in the upper most echelon of all players.
So Klaassen scores when he gets the chance. Got it.
When Klaassen’s attributes are measured as a more defensively minded player, his argument to be my personal clone army only gets stronger.
While we noted Davy’s lack of ability (desire?) to dribble past defenders, we should also point out he is also never dribbled PAST by opposing midfielders.
Additionally, even when compared to players whose sole job is often to maintain possession versus Klaassen’s dual role, his ball retention number shine.
Oh yeah, and he contributes to his teams scoring.
To give you some idea the RATE of his production at both ends of the field, I will offer up two comparisons.
Now, I am not saying Klaassen is going to keep up this rate of production in the much more competitive Premier League, but rather trying to give fans an idea of how he tends to get the job done in the attacking and defending ends of the field.
Offensively, his output was similar to Mesut Ozil for Arsenal.
Now, if you have ever seen Ozil trot around the field at half-speed and are STILL worried about Klaassen’s efforts defensively, just compare him to Nemanja Matic, a player who focuses almost exclusively on shutting the other team down and your worries will subside.
(Again, I’m not saying Davy is Matic, but the production last year in their respetive leagues is eerily similar.
Except, as noted above, Klaassen also got forward.
Still don’t think Klaassen can play every position well? Or perhaps not against tougher competition?
Here is a one game snapshot that shows what Klaassen can do against a tough side in a big match:
His performance versus Schalke in the first leg of their Europa League Quarterfinal.
In that match the Dutch midfielder was squared up with Schalke’s Leon Goretzka (now at Bayern) and in doing so Davy complied some pretty ridiculous statistics, outplaying the German holding midfielder in every facet of the game.
Not only was Davy more efficient than his German counterpart, he was EVERYWHERE!
Check out his touches that match, talk about covering the field!
Oh, and when he gets it, his team keeps it.
Check out how often he lost possession in that first leg match up with Schalke:
Klaassen’s performance that match is just another in a string of never-ending examples of how the Dutch midfielder is capable of massively influencing the game at both ends.
He may be small, and his goalkeeping may be questionable, but if I had to clone one player it would be Davy Klaassen.
How many / which players will score eight or more goals this season? Will anyone top eight assists?— Brett Schneider (@513Brett) July 25, 2017
I thought about going into long detailed explanations on who I thought would reach the 8 mark in goals and/or assists, but instead I decided to make a chart, because think column lacks visuals!
As you can see, I chose the seven players I believe will have the biggest impact and included what I believe to be their chances of reaching the benchmark of 8 goals or assists the reader set out.
You’ll notice that I took the liberty of including Gylfi and a forward to be named later because I feel like if I act confident Gyfli is coming he will, and I have ZERO doubt there will be another striker coming through the door, and based on the names being floated they would have no problem contributing their fair share to the scoring cause.
Now, there are a number of players who, under the right circumstances could see themselves reach these numbers.
From Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring to Tom Davies creating, there is no doubt Evetron has depth well beyond the seven I have chosen above and I will happily celebrate their accomplishments with equal fervor when they prove me wrong!
Of those I did choose, however, I am supremely confident in the goal scoring prowess of Rooney, Sandro and another striker to be named later, as well as set piece Gylfi.
Should we have 4 players reach at least 8 goals, a fairly realistic goal based on the makeup of the team and players, those 32 goals would be more than the goals scored by our top 2 scorers last year, Lukaku and Ross whose 25 and 6 led the team last year and earned them a trip out the door.
(Ross is leaving).
There exits, Rom’s in particular, created a scoring void that will be filled by a number of players, and while Rooney and/or Sandro may (hopefully) separate themselves from their teammates a bit in the scoring department, the success of Everton will rest on the ability of more than just those two to score.
I have supreme confidence in Koeman and his vision and believe that the new look Everton team will have scoring and creative contributions from a number of players, making the Toffees less predictable and more exciting and successful than ever.
If you still don’t believe me, just keep reading to check out the results as Sandro and Rooney get to know each other.
Who would you start on the left wing for the Europa league qualifier Thursday, Lookman or Mirallas?— Norman R Groves (@NormanGroves) July 25, 2017
This question is like an Ogre and....
Point is, this question is not as straight forward as it first appears.
It’s layered and we need to peel them back one by one until we get to the core question concerning who we will see Thursday.
So let’s start from the beginning.
I think most fans would consider the following players ‘locks’ for Thursday (I’m assuming it’s a 4-3-3.)
Now, there are a few positions I have filled in that will still incite (deserved) debate.
Some fans will no doubt passionately argue that Tom Davies or Jon Joe Kenny should start over Davy Klaassen or Mason Holgate.
They will have a number of points to support their claims, but I don’t think you spend over £20 million on the captain of a finalist from last year’s Europa League to put him on the bench in a series like this.
I could be wrong, but the preseason pairings lean towards the Dutchman completing the midfield triangle with Schneiderlin and Gueye.
As for Holgate right back, this is the position I choose with the least amount of conviction.
So why Holgate over Kenny or Cuco Martina?
Well, for that, I will peel away another layer
While your original question was about the choice between Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman on the left, I believe it should be slightly modified.
I believe that Mirallas is a lock to start on the left because he is a veteran and when paired with Baines form a partnership that can rely on years of matches played together to overcome an opponent who while undoubtedly scouted will offer a bit of an unknown quantity.
Plus, it’s not like’s he had a bad preseason.
So what does Kevin Mirallas starting have to do with Mason Holgate?
Well when I applied the (sound) logic of Koeman depending upon those players he knows best, I found myself coming back to Holgate over Martina and Kenny.
Kenny is much more a right back in the mold of Seamus Coleman, and the player I HOPE Koeman picks on Thursday, but I just don’t see the Dutchman letting Kenny cut his teeth in such an important match.
Martina, on the other hand, has plenty of experience playing for Koeman with Southampton but is new to the side, and if there is one place you don’t want to take a chance with miscommunication between new teammates is in the back, especially in a match that you would like to see Jordan Pickford resigned to a spectator in.
So as we peel back the last layer we find ourselves now staring at what I believe to be the core question concerning Thursday’s lineup:
Who will start out wide on the right, Ademola Lookman or Sandro?
Lookman has played traditionally as a left winger, but has shown versatility for the U-20 side and Koeman has tried him on the right, with success, this preseason.
Lookman has been with the squad since January and has done nothing but impress this preseason.
Don’t forget who set up Rooney for his goal against Gor Mahia:
Lookman is a dynamic player who offers a unique skill set on this Everton team, as that goal so evidently displayed above.
Sandro, on the other hand, is a bit of a wildcard to the side.
He only joined up last week, but didn’t take long to make an impression in his first appearance in a Toffees kit, setting up Wayne Rooney for another preseason goal.
Sandro is a bit more of a striker than Lookman in that he expects to score like a top level forward (he is and he will).
He can play anywhere across the front three, and though I would argue he is better at the other two spots than he is at out on the right, as evidenced above the difference is negligible.
So who gets the start?
Well, using the Mirallas/ Holgate line of thinking, starting Lookman to keep some familiarity to the side would seem to be the way to go.
However, whereas I said earlier that “if there is one place you don’t want to take a chance with miscommunication between new teammates is in the back” that logic doesn’t apply to the attacking side of things.
Attacking soccer is an unspoken art form.
There are absolutely tactics and training in developing a consistently efficient attack, but more importantly, you need players whose natural innate abilities break down barriers between themselves and teammates by speaking with their play.
I’m not going to lie, I have VERY HIGH expectations for Sandro this season, and I think Koeman shares my view. He is unbelievably talented and can become the top-level striker Everton need to move into the Top 4.
That’s why I think the Spaniard will get the call over Lookman and round out the first XI of the season.
Now, additionally, I included the 7 players I think will round out the 18.
To be honest, the first 11 (outside the Sandro/Lookman debate) wasn’t nearly as difficult trying to figure out who players 16-18 are going to be.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Kieran Dowell and James McCarthy are just a few of the names I have omitted from my 18 that could very easily find themselves on the team sheet Thursday.
I had to base my choices off of my starting lineup and this is the most balanced team I could create with the ability to open up or shut down a game should the need arise.
What I’m trying to say is, when the team sheet comes out on Thursday and I am completely wrong, just remember....
Oh, and for it’s worth put me down for a 5-0 Toffees romp.
Remember, if you ever had a question for the mailbag please leave it in the comments below or send it to us on the Twitter machine @foleysthoughts and @RBmersey!!
And as always.....Anything goes!!