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Everton English Premier League Season Preview: How Can Everton Improve?

Looking at this squad’s strengths and weaknesses.

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Before we look forward at Everton’s future under Ronald Koeman, it’s instructive to look back, and see where the Dutchman was able to improve his previous sides in successive years.

In this case, we’ll use the example of Koeman’s tenure at Southampton, given it’s his only other Premier League job thus far, and during his time there the Saints saw multiple influential players sold, just like Everton might this summer with Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley.

Ronald Koeman managed at St. Mary’s for two seasons - 2014/15, and 2015/16. Here’s who Southampton lost in that first full summer, and who they brought in as replacements.

Southampton Transfers Summer 2015

Out In
Out In
Luke Shaw Virgil van Dijk
Adam Lallana Jordy Clasie
Dejan Lovren Oriol Romeu
Calum Chambers Juanmi
Rickie Lambert Cedric Soares
Jack Cork Charlie Austin

Clearly, Southampton were gutted that offseason, having mostly been plundered by Liverpool for what amounted to nearly all of Saints’ best players.

Southampton recovered quickly in the market, with van Dijk, Romeu, and Soares in particular being superb signings, but it would have been reasonable to expect a drop off in on-field performance.

While the Saints’ defense did suffer - selling three first teamers will do that to a side - Koeman actually led the team to a higher finish in the table, and a finish that included fewer losses and more goals scored.

Southampton Under Koeman

Year GP W D L GF GA GD Pts
Year GP W D L GF GA GD Pts
2014/15 38 18 6 14 54 33 21 60
2015/16 38 18 9 11 59 41 18 63

There are parallels here that go beyond having the same manager. As mentioned, Southampton lost their top players over one summer. They also ended 2014/15 in 7th place. Shrewd business in the transfer market and the steady hand of Ronald Koeman kept the ship afloat and moving forward.

Improvement this season for Everton is not automatic, just like it wasn’t for Southampton several years ago. There are changes that need to be made in the side, with both personnel and approach.

Areas of Weakness

  • Dispossession. The Blues were dispossessed 4th most of any team in the Premier League last season. Due to both Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney being sharp runners with and without the ball, it’s unlikely that the dispossession numbers will improve.

    Davy Klaassen appears confident in possession, and a serious target man would help, too, but Everton don’t necessarily run their attack through methodical buildup.
  • Being dribbled past is a habit even more concerning than the dispossession numbers. Koeman’s side was dribbled past 6th most in 2016-17. Ramiro Funes Mori actually led the Premier League per 90 minutes in that category - by a lot - and the ages of Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams do not help their case.

    Leighton Baines is consistency personified, and Michael Keane will certainly improve this particular weakness, but Seamus Coleman’s long term injury means that Everton may struggle in this field again, particularly on days that Gareth Barry gets some run.
Everton v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Areas That Could See Improvement

  • Set pieces. Everton were 9th in set piece goals last season, but with the additions of Michael Keane, (maybe) Gylfi Sigurdsson, and (maybe) a Nikola Kalinic or Olivier Giroud-type, expect that number to go up. Somehow, the Blues also led the league in key passes from free kicks, which the Icelandic playmaker would only complement.
  • Shot metrics from long range. Everton scored exactly one goal from outside the 18 yard box in open play last season - Ross Barkley’s marker late in the year against Watford. However, with Sandro, Rooney, and Klaassen in the fold, expect significantly more peppering of the opponent’s goalkeeper. My colleague Zach covered this in further detail earlier this offseason:

As a team, Everton took 39% of its shots from outside the box last season, ninth most in the Premier League, but with only the three goals total (two free kicks and one from open play) they ranked 18th.

Sandro alone had five goals from free kicks last season, and three additional goals from outside the box in open play. Davy Klaassen, despite being a less active shooter and being more creatively oriented, has three outside the box goals in the last two seasons, which is only two less than Everton.

Thanks to the departure of Lukaku, the pending exit of Barkley, an additional competition, and some aging along the back line, it’s unclear if Everton will make tangible improvements in the table this season.

However, the opportunity is there. Ronald Koeman did it before, on the south coast, and there are clear areas that can be worked on. The season is hours away, and the time is now.