The transfer window is open, and Everton has a long summer ahead if the club is to improve upon its middling finish in the 2017-18 season. Before transfer rumors start flying in earnest though, we should try to understand what exactly it is that Everton and new manager Marco Silva need in the transfer window to make a move back toward the top six.
Today, we’ll look at squad weaknesses – those areas that need improving. Tomorrow, we’ll look at squad strengths.
I know there are some who believe that Leighton Baines is no longer a player who should be starting week-to-week. I don’t necessarily see it that way, but I think we can all agree that left-back is a position of need, regardless of your evaluation of Baines.
The English left-back is 33 years old, and has missed time due to injury in each of the last two seasons. Even if you believe he’s got the quality to be the first-choice player at that position (I do), you also have to recognize having his only cover being *checks notes* …Cuco Martina? is a serious problem.
Martina gave his all at left-back while Baines was out, but he’s only barely a Premier League caliber right-back, much less a left-back. The only other option in the squad is Luke Garbutt, who Sam Allardyce added to Everton’s Premier League roster in January, to only use on the bench one time then bury in the reserves once again.
Those Danny Rose rumors aren’t going away, which would lend credence to the idea that Everton thinks Baines’ days as the first-choice left-back are numbered as well. But, even if Rose or a player of similar caliber isn’t the final target, the Toffees at least need another rotation-level player at left-back.
There has been some premature chatter about youngster Antonee Robinson, but it’s really way too early to hand him a starting role in the Premier League.
Like at left-back, there are varying opinions of the players who currently sit atop the depth chart at this position. Allardyce closed the season with what I believe is the club’s best center-back pairing, Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane – but even I don’t think I want that pair as the every-day duo next season.
Jagielka will be 36 years old by the time next season starts, and it just isn’t realistic to expect him to be a top-choice player at that age – at least not if the club wants to improve on last year’s results.
Keane was signed last summer to be the center-back of the future, and despite an error-strewn season he showed glimpses of being capable of fulfilling that prophecy, though a nagging foot injury slowed his development this year. I’d expect him to be a regular starter from the opening of camp in 2018-19.
Things get murkier among the squad rotation center-backs. Ashley Williams has surely played his last match in Everton blue, right? Right?
Mason Holgate remains a frustrating project – full of potential because of his physical strength and speed, but eternally held back by his remarkable inability to think the game at all. He may be best served going on loan to a Championship side next season, getting regular match time, and making a case for a bigger role starting in 2019-20.
That leaves Ramiro Funes Mori, who rumors suggest is angling for a move away from Everton to play with his brother in Mexico. Because he missed most of this season with injury, it’s hard to judge exactly where he fits at the club right now even if he stays.
Allardyce didn’t appear to rate him too highly in comparison to Jagielka and Keane, but Allardyce’s opinion is worth about as much as salt water to a thirsty man, so who knows.
I think it can be universally agreed that the Toffees should be looking for a first-XI caliber center-back for next season – someone who can immediately jump in to pair with Keane.
Past that, things get less clear. I think Jagielka is still a useful part of the equation, and should probably be the third center-back on the depth chart. There probably needs to be one more depth defender in the picture as well.
But, who would that be? Williams? Holgate? Funes Mori? I wouldn’t really want Williams or Holgate in that role at this point, while Funes Mori would be a reasonable option, but may be looking to depart the club.
If so, Everton may need to add an additional depth defender for 2018-19.
There’s a reasonable amount of uncertainty at this position, so let’s start with what we know.
Theo Walcott is good. If he’s healthy, he’s a starter at wing in any meaningful match.
And that…concludes all we can confidently say about the wing position at Everton. Let’s dig into the uncertainty.
Yannick Bolasie returned from a bad injury this season and didn’t look to have lost much of the explosiveness that has defined his career. That said, I’m not sure he’s ever really been a player of high enough quality to be a week-to-week starter at a club with Everton’s ambitions, regardless of what Ronald Koeman thought.
Nikola Vlasic is not a winger, and I will die on this hill if I have to. He is very clearly more suited to a No. 10 type of role, and I’ll talk about how he fits there more tomorrow when we discuss squad strengths. But, will Marco Silva see him that way?
Of course, conducting the orchestra of uncertainty is Ademola Lookman, who was unused, loaned, and mocked by Sam Allardyce – then went on to accrue three goals and two assists in RB Leipzig’s final two matches of the Bundesliga season.
Lookman isn’t a finished product yet, but he’s very clearly capable of playing an important role on a team of reasonable quality in a top European league. But, I have absolutely no idea if he’s going to have any interest in ever playing for Everton again after the way last season went down.
Even if Lookman stays and Silva believes Bolasie is a useful player, Everton will still want to at least add one depth more winger. Three players at the position simply isn’t enough, especially when the club’s top player is notoriously injury prone. Also, with Wayne Rooney leaving, it’s highly unlikely Gylfi Sigurdsson is ever used out wide again.
Still, there’s an equally possible scenario in which Silva completely overhauls the position. If he doesn’t like Bolasie and can’t retain Lookman, the club could need almost an entirely new corps of wingers before the 2018-19 season begins, even if the Blues are able to secure an unlikely work permit for Henry Onyekuru.