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 needs in the transfer window to make a move back toward the top six.
Today, we’ll look at squad strengths – those areas where Everton can likely afford to make no additions. Yesterday, we looked at the squad weaknesses.
Jordan Pickford was brought in from Sunderland last summer to be Everton’s goalkeeper of the future, and he’s proven to be exactly that over the last year. He was named Everton’s player of the season, has a firm grip on the England No. 1 job, and looks to be developing as a leader of his backline.
The backup situation is admittedly a little unclear, with Joel Robles and Maarten Stekelenburg still lingering with their Everton futures in doubt. Either player is a perfectly acceptable backup to Pickford, should either decide to stay.
If not, it might be time to give young Mateusz Hewelt a look. He made the bench for the senior team for the first time last season, and seems next in line to take the secondary keeper job.
If he’s not ready, Everton may have to move for a backup in the transfer market, but that need should be all the way down at the bottom of the list.
Seamus Coleman looked more or less his old self by the end of the 2017-18 season, and he’s one of the best right-backs in the world when in that form. He’s sure to remain among the first names on the team sheet.
Jonjoe Kenny did a reasonable job replacing Coleman before the Irishman’s return – at least once he was granted a chance by his managers. He’s still young and certainly needs improvement on both sides of the ball, but he’s a more than capable backup and squad rotation player.
Cuco Martina remains around as well as a useful player to have in case of several injury issues. Mason Holgate has played right-back in the past as well, but he’s very clearly not suited to that position, so it’s good that there are three players ahead of him on the depth chart.
When talking about central midfielders, it can be useful to sort them into three categories. The categories aren’t perfect or totally black and white, but they’re a good tool to understand personnel.
There’s a No. 6 – a deep-lying midfielder who shields the back four and transitions his team from defense to attack.
There’s a No. 8 – a box-to-box midfielder who contributes in both defense and attack, usually with a high-energy style of play.
Finally, there’s a No. 10 – the most advanced central midfielder, responsible for creating chances in the final third with limited defensive responsibility.
Everton is currently two-deep at each position.
At No. 6, the Toffees have Morgan Schneiderlin and Beni Baningime. Schneiderlin’s struggles in the first half of last season have been well documented, but he looked like his old self in the second half of the season, when his manager finally started using him in a way that made sense.
Baningime was criminally underused last season, as the youngster looks more than ready to make the full-time transition to the senior game. He’s composed on the ball, covers ground well for a No. 6, and seems to have a reasonable sense of defensive responsibility.
At the 8, Idrissa Gana Gueye leads the way. Frankly, Gana is the platonic ideal of a box-to-box midfielder – constant energy, a huge pain to play against, and useful, though not outstanding, in the defensive and attacking thirds. If the Toffees want to use a No. 8, they won’t find one much better than Gueye.
Tom Davies sits behind Gana on the depth chart, coming off a pretty underwhelming season. He’s got a great role model ahead of him, and can hopefully continue to learn from the Senegalese powerhouse.
In the creative role, Gylfi Sigurdsson is the obvious choice. He really began to look like the player Everton paid big money for in the second half of the season, but then fell victim to injury. He cannot be wasted out wide anymore – his proper place is in the center of midfield.
Likewise, Nikola Vlasic isn’t really a winger either, despite what Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce thought of him. He played more in the center than out wide in his time with Hajduk Split, and his skillset clearly projects to that position.
He’s got a great mentor in that position in Sigurdsson, and looks already to be ready to serve as a backup in that role.
Factor in the yet lingering Davy Klaassen and Kieran Dowell as well, and there’s just no room for another central midfielder unless the Toffees get rid of one – or maybe even more.
If you told me after the summer transfer window closed that striker was going to be a position of strength for Everton heading into 2018-19, I would have told you that you were crazy.
Yet, following a young player’s development, an unexpected reclamation, and a clever signing in the winter, things appear pretty solid up top.
The striker conversation for Everton has to start with Cenk Tosun, who, after actually being used by Sam Allardyce, looked every bit like the real deal. He isn’t outstanding in any one thing, but he’s relatively strong, relatively quick, relatively technically gifted, and relatively good in front of goal.
If he plays with a reasonably talented team behind him, there’s no reason he can’t keep scoring goals.
The depth at striker will come from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse. DCL is still young and needs to refine some of the technical aspects of his game, but he has shown he’s got the desire and understanding of the game to be a very good striker when he reaches his prime.
Niasse remains one of the most curious stories you’ll ever see in football. His journey from big-money signing to outcast to hero to respectable first-18 player was rapid enough to give even the biggest skeptics bewildered whiplash – and it now finds him in a position of reasonable importance at Everton.
He’s proven pretty regularly that he’s at his best off the bench, making late runs and finding gaps in a tired defense – and that’s an important role on a team that isn’t going to win many matches via a large-scoring beatdown.