Everton’s Under-23 side could not have had a better year last season, lifting trophy after trophy and culminating with the Premier League 2 title.
Even before August they already had three trophies secured - the SuperCup NI, Liverpool Senior Cup and Lancashire Senior Cup. A streak of six wins in December turned the young Blues into Premier League 2 frontrunners, a position they didn’t relinquish right until the end of the season, though Manchester City youth pushed them hard until the penultimate game of the season.
The offseason got only better for five players in particular - the England contingent of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell, Ademola Lookman and Callum Connolly went on to lift the Under-20 World Cup over the summer for the Young Lions.
With the success of the young team, the club management decided to try and get some youngsters a tougher challenge, getting playing time in senior squads throughout the country.
As a result, six players have been assigned to Championship clubs on loan - defenders Matthew Pennington, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway and Antonee Robinson (until January) along with midfielders Kieran Dowell and Joe Williams are all out on season-long loans with an aim to prove themselves worthy of winning spots on the Everton senior squad next season.
We’ll be following the progress of all the loanees here on Royal Blue Mersey all season long.
Among the other players departing are goalkeepers Russell Griffiths and Connor Hunt, defenders Josef Yarney and James Yates, midfielder Tyrone Duffus and forwards Delial Brewster, Michael Donohue and Courtney Duffus.
Apart from spending big in the beginning of the summer on the senior side, the youth teams also saw an infusion of cash which allowed the club to spend big.
Players like winger Josh Bowler and centre back Lewis Gibson are England youth internationals of repute, while Dutch defender Nathan Markelo is well-thought of. French forward Boris Mathis is a bit of a wildcard but got off to a flying start scoring in his first game. German striker Anton Donkor comes back to the young Blues on loan again, after his last stint at Finch Farm was disrupted by injury.
Four players from the Under-18 side made the step-up on a full-time basis. Central midfielder Beni Baningime featured in multiple games last season for the Under-23s already, while winger Daniel Bramall, midfielder Jack Kiersey and forward Shayne Lavery join him there now.
Despite the heavy transfer activity in the senior team as Ronald Koeman rebuilds the team’s spine, Under-23s manager David Unsworth did not see this as a threat to his youngsters’ further development.
Asked if the incoming players would suppress youth development, he was emphatic -
“It will raise the bar. And that’s great. It’s a challenge for the young players to be better than they already are. They know now they’ve got to be even better.
“What I do know is they will get an opportunity somewhere along the line, whether it’s in training or in a game. Ronald’s taken a lot of the young players on tour with him. It’s up to them to develop. We’ve got to go up a level. That’s a great challenge for me as well as them.”
Unsworth took his youngsters on a preseason tour to Spain for a period of high-intensity training in hot and humid conditions to get them in peak physical condition for the upcoming season.
The Blues have done well in the preseason so far, winning 6-1 against Flint, drawing 3-3 away at Accrington Stanley (who knocked out Preston North End in the EFL Cup this week), then beating Hull City’s Under-23s 4-2 before an accomplished 2-0 win over League of Wales side Bangor City (who played in the Europa League qualifiers). The youngsters slipped to a 4-3 loss against Championship side Brentford’s B-side last night in the last of their friendlies.
Everton Under-23s 2017/18 fixtures*
- Friday 11 - West Ham United v Everton - Dagenham & Redbridge FC, 7pm
- Friday 18 - Everton v Leicester City - Goodison Park, 7pm
- Friday 25 - Chelsea v Everton - Aldershot Town FC, 7.05pm
- Monday 11 - Everton v Tottenham Hotspur - TBC, 7pm
- Monday 18 - Derby County v Everton - Pride Park, 7pm
- Monday 25 - Everton v Arsenal - Southport FC, 7pm
- Friday 13 - Manchester City v Everton - City Football Academy, 7pm
- Friday 20 - Everton v Sunderland - Finch Farm, 1pm
- Friday 27 - Swansea City v Everton - Landore Training Centre, 7pm
- Sunday 19 - Liverpool v Everton - Prenton Park, 1pm
- Monday 27 - Everton v Manchester United - Southport FC - 7pm
- Monday 11 - Leicester City v Everton - Holmes Park, 7pm
- Monday 18 - Everton v West Ham United - Southport FC, 7pm
- Monday 8 - Everton v Manchester City - Southport FC, 7pm
- Monday 15 - Tottenham Hotspur v Everton - Spurs Training Complex, 12pm
- Monday 29 - Everton v Chelsea - Southport FC, 7pm
- Monday 5 - Arsenal v Everton - Borehamwood FC, 7pm
- Monday 19 - Everton v Derby County - Goodison Park, 7pm
- Monday 5 - Everton v Swansea City - Goodison Park, 7pm
- Sunday 11 - Sunderland v Everton - Eppleton Colliery Welfare, 12pm
- Monday 16 - Everton v Liverpool - Southport FC, 7pm
- Friday 20 - Manchester United v Everton - Old Trafford, 7pm
Unworth has been pushing his players hard and insists that success should only breed more success, so it would not be unrealistic to expect the young Blues to be competitive and bring home another few trophies this season as well.