THE PREMIER LEAGUE IS BACK!!
After fans had to wander though the desert that is the off season for two full months, surviving on the proverbial scraps of an underwhelming Confederations Cup and some tournament that happened in America that the US won...
... everyone can settle down and get back to the real business at hand, the Premier League.
Of course, before we jump in let’s take a second to celebrate our advancement in Europe.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was 180 minutes of clean sheet soccer and the good guys won. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane were exceptionally strong and they appear to be £55 million well spent.
Davy Klaassen showed what he can bring to the side and Sandro Ramirez might be the bargain of the season in Europe.
(I know it wasn’t Ruzomberok but that finish is beautiful.)
Anyways, Stoke City will not yet have played a competitive match as of this Saturday, and those two matches with the Slovakians will go a long way towards helping speed up the integration of so many new players before the first league match.
Speaking of opening weekend in the Premier League, it is not one that Everton fans usually remember fondly.
Just look below.
Luckily, our opponents on opening weekend, Stoke City, aren’t much better, at only 28% compared to the Toffees 24%.
So how does every body feel?
So you think this year will be a big step forward?
It’s fair to say that the feeling among (and inside) of Everton fans is a mix of optimism and fear.
(Fear might be a strong word, but it fits...I’ll explain later)
Many Everton fans aren’t thrilled with how the Europa League tie went, hoping for a more dominating performance over the two legs against what most deemed to be a far inferior opponent. It is a fair point based on the size, history, and talent in the clubs, but there are so many other extenuating circumstances.
While I appreciate that most fans have a pretty firm grasp on the game, they may not have an appreciation for the fine-tuning an athlete goes through to make sure they are ready for (and can hold up during) the incredibly long Premier League season.
Running the required 90 minutes in a European match is no easy feat, especially against an opponent who had already played a fair amount of matches.
The players are training to peak on August 13th.
Not because the Europa League ties wasn’t important (it was!!), but because it is a stretch to get the players through the entire season as is.
If you were to extend their ‘peak performance season’ by three weeks (especially in a World Cup year nonetheless) the players would get hurt all the time..
.. or die off at the end of the season. Ask this guy.
Instead, Ronald Koeman had to bet on his players to understand the gravity of the situation at hand.
The players did, and went out and did what had to be done in order to achieve the necessary results to win.
Which the Toffees did.
Everton advanced, and that is what is most important.
There were numerous problems that those two matches, at Goodison and in Slovakia, exposed to the soccer world.
Everton’s lack of pace was quite evident, especially when Ademola Lookman and/or Sandro was not on the pitch.
Klaassen, Kevin Mirallas, and especially Wayne Rooney have exceptional technical abilities and can get their shot off, or find the right pass, but are incapable of beating good defenders one-on-one on any type of consistent basis.
Sure, Mirallas can dribble parallel to the goalline with the best of them, but lacks the explosive step to get his hips in front of the defender and get his shot off.
Sweet, he can do it against FC Twente of the Dutch Eredivisie.
You know who once scored over 50 goals in all competitions in two seasons in Holland?
Put a quality centrehalf in front of him and they will shepherd him into benign areas like Mirallas is a sheep and they are that sweet pig Babe.
Anyways.....the side-to-side possession and passing that came to define long stretches of the two-leg series with the Slovakians was a chilling reminder of the end of the Roberto Martinez era when possession percentages were held up as benchmarks of progress, regardless of the outcome.
Having watched Koeman’s former teams I can say for certain that he is not a manager who likes to move slowly up and down the pitch. The high-pressing and more direct-in-transition attack he prefers requires players who can move up and down the field for 90 minutes in order to exploit every mistake by the other side.
Just look at Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal to finish off Ruzemborek.
It seems like a small thing but if Rooney had been played that ball he would not have been able to get a step clear enough to drive the ball across into the far corner.
More than likely he would have faced up the defender to create room to try and place a shot or wait for a (slow-happening) overlapping run.
Without a proven hold up forward, and Koeman insisting on playing our best version (DCL) as a winger, Everton will lack the time for their outside backs to get up the field and you will see a lot of the flat and negative passes that defined the Martinez era.
All that being said, I am not all doom and gloom here!!
As I said before the team won comfortably over the two matches and didn’t concede a single goal. While Seamus Coleman’s return can’t come fast enough (#freejonjoe) the back line looks as solid as it has in a while.
There are many (valid) complaints about the (lack of) options at outside back, but Koeman has already said he is looking for cover so we can certainly hope that the yet-to-be-named player will offer a different look than a solid but conservative Leighton Baines.
Speaking of which:
When you can basically say that one position on the field has been taken care of for a decade.
Having to only worry about 10 players is a massive advantage to any manager and it is a luxury Baines has provided David Moyes, Roberto Martinez, and now Ronald Koeman.
While Baines is beloved, it is also more of a sense of mutual respect than adoration. Not due to a lack of love for the left-footed assassin, but rather due to the fact the fans know he isn;t the type of player who needs the fans to carry him through the match in order to perform.
However, when the day comes and Baines is no longer patrolling the left side of the pitch for Everton, I have no doubt the fans will shower him with the love and respect he deserves as he is a true Everton hero, and the love for Baines will never stop.
Speaking of stopping things, there is a new signing who is already showing signs of being a player who might settle in for a Baines type stay in Everton blue.
There was plenty of hype and expectation around Pickford’s arrival, and his first match on the road in Slovakia only served to heighten expectations.
No, he didn’t make any spectacular saves, but the way that he commanded and patrolled his box, combined with his explosive athleticism and sumptuous distribution, gave Everton fans a glimpse of what is to come.
With a THOROUGHLY impressive Michael Keane now in front of him I have a sense that the expectations won’t be getting lowered for young Mr. Pickford anytime soon, and I don’t think he has any problem with that.
Alright, now to some predictions before we get to your questions!
PREMIER LEAGUE TOP 6
- Man City
- Man United
Everton League Goals:
- (TBD striker): 10
- Rooney: 8
Ok...now onto our questions!!
Wait.. one second... one last thing
These should be the home kits all season.
On a positive note, as a commemorative jersey it does not bear the SportPesa logo, making it that much more appealing to buy and wear.
It’s not that I don’t support Kenyan gambling companies....it’s just that I don’t support ANY gambling companies.
Nothing against gambling, just hate being a walking billboard for something I don’t enjoy.
Chang beer was bad enough, but it did help many a Toffee fan get through a Norwich-inflicted cup exit and the sort.
Let’s see SportPesa do that.
Without a true danger man striker, how important do you think Lookman will be this season?— Reverton (@Revert0n) August 7, 2017
I’ll be honest, I am a HUGE Lookman fan, and it’s not just because of his first impression:
It’s because he does little stuff like this so casually:
Nice bit of skill from Lookman today pic.twitter.com/fJSK3WiFDH— TheToffeeBlues (@EvertonNewsFeed) February 4, 2017
(Disclaimer: no Jack Wilshires were injured in the making of this GIF)
No, that move isn’t THAT helpful in scoring a goal, but it’s the fact that he brings the ability to change the pace of the game at the drop of a hat. This is a skill that, as we pointed out earlier, is not possessed by many on the current Everton team.
Add in the fact that Lookman can shoot with power on both his left and right foot and you can see why Everton forked over a pretty penny for a player of such limited experience.
Since signing with the Toffees in January, Lookman has scored in the Premier League and been an every game starter for a U-20 World Cup Champion team.
Without a hold up striker to bring a not-so-pacy midfield, it will be imperative that players like Lookman and Sandro are able to beat a line of defenders and create chances themselves.
I think Lookman can, and will.
I predict 7 goals and 8 assists across all competitions this season for Lookman, not a bad total for a teenager who was suiting up for Charlton at this time last year.
Assuming Gylfi transfer goes through before end of week, how soon is he realistically in the starting XI?— Texan Evertonian (@TexanEvertonian) August 7, 2017
Is this thing ever going to end?? I guess worst case is it HAS TO September 1st?Right?
I think I have started 1209382304928 sentences with, “Assuming we get Gylfi..”
That is not to call you out @texanevertonian, I’m just letting you know I have been operating under the same assumption, that Gylfi would arrive, for about three weeks.
It seemed a sure thing, then it got dragged out...then THIS hit yesterday.
Everton may have hurt themselves in the pursuit of Gylfi Sigurdsson. https://t.co/5Su5kuJDyv— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) August 8, 2017
It’s not that the deal might fall apart, more so WHY it might fall apart.
I can appreciate negotiations, but if Koeman has identified Gylfi as a player who will fit in his system and help the team achieve Top 4, then why in the heck are Everton haggling over £5 million when as of now the team has only had a net spending of £8 million or so.
It’s simple, if Koeman has as much influence as I hope he will march in and tell the board to pay up or risk under performing and costing themselves way more than £5 million in the long run!
Oh...to answer your question....if he joins this week, September 1st.
Sorry...I’m a little frustrated with this...
Bit frustrated with the time it's taking to get players in, I'd love them all to be in ready for start of season rather than 1st Sept— L_E Toffee (@L_EToffee) August 7, 2017
Now to be fair to the Board, there is a good chance that Saturday’s starting XI could field as many as 6 players signed this window, and could very see a lineup featuring (outside of Baines) only players added within the 12 months!!
In fact, the six signings from this year were all wrapped up well in advance of the window opening, or just after it. and the lull makes it feel like Everton are just spinning their wheels.
With the ferociously tough start to the season I agree that having everyone in before the season kicks off is preferred, but with the way the market is these days only the teams that sit out the window entirely will be able to skip the deadline day push.
With Gylfi (or other creative player) +2 still to come, that would take the signings this window to 9, not exactly reason to be concerned with how things are going in the front office quite yet.
Plus, let us not forget that this is a three year process and the team still needs major improvements to reach their goals.
Everton could play 69 matches this season (if they make the final of all 3 cup competitions). How many will they play?— Trigger (@EvertonAstoria) August 8, 2017
Ok now that we have that out of the way.....
The amount of matches teams are asked to play is getting pretty ludicrous, and the hysterically high number Everton have this season are even more cause for concern.
However, working backwards I think it is fair to say that Everton will play all 38 league matches, so the focus is on cups.
EFL CUP: Quarterfinals
FA Cup: Champions
Europa League: Semis
Assuming I am right (I am) and my math is right (it’s probably not) that would leave Everton to play a grand total of....
Now I MIGHT be overly optimistic, but I think all of the prognostications I made are within reason, to include all of them happening together.
I truly do think this is the year the drought breaks and the team picks up some hardware.
I, like every other sane Toffees fan out there, hope that and miracle happens and we sign VVD, but this guy makes a good point.
I'd have VVD at #efc but could he handle the pressure of starting for a side intent on being a continental force? No evidence as of yet.— Junior Member (@stamp_1878) August 7, 2017
Speaking of centerbacks.....
I have to be honest, I may have secretly hoped to see Jags ride off into the sunset at the end of last season. Not because of how poor he was at times (it got ugly), but more so because it would mean that Everton had brought in multiple new signings at his position, who would presumably be younger and more equipped for the speed of the Premier League.
I wanted to not need him.
However, I must also admit that Jags has looked VERY sharp this preseason.
I don’t want him in the XI on Saturday, but with more rest than he has ever had in his career and Koeman giving him tips and the respect of keeping him captain, I see Jags being a useful member of the squad.
I love that guy.
After a year under the new system, what coaching philosophy will we see this year that we did not see last year.— Joe Bearden (@GrayHairJoe) August 7, 2017
Last year was a bit of a tactical throw away as Koeman tried to piece together teams suited to defeat whatever the opponent at hand was giving him.
With all of the new arrivals, and more still to come, this season will give us a better glimpse into the Koeman philosophy as he has recruited players who fit into what he envisions.
The games were unpredictable, but Koeman was adept at building his team to win and not just adhering to some crazy philosophy that didn’t suit Everton’s talents.
Now that he has picked HIS players for the job, we will see how Everton implement Koeman’s visions of a team.
So what is that exactly?
A back line that has both grit and class, and a midfield and forwards (4-3-3) who press together constantly and consistently.
The addition of Klaassen to the midfield means that Everton now have the legs, in midfield at least, to play this style of match against anyone. Gueye, Davies, and Schneiderlin are all capable to pressing.
The team lined up in 3-5-2 but without Seamus Coleman they became unbalanced,
especially because the show to go with Tom Davies a a a right -wing-back.
Of course pressing starts up top where it seems Rooney could be stationed. Neither a big body or particularly quick, Rooney is simply not suited to this style, but he could be the place holder until the striker Koeman so clearly wants it signed.
(I’d play DCL but what do I know!)
The wings will step up and take away their outsid
e backs and force teams to try and play through the middle against the Toffees, no easy feat these days.
Koeman likes his players versatile and he has assembled a team capable of lining up and implementing his high-paced game, even if the attack is still missing a few key parts.
I can’t wait to see what is looks like when all the pieces are in place.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Stoke
************Don’t forget, you can send in your questions to the mailbag on Twitter @foleysthoughts and @RBMersey...remember....anything goes!!!*************