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Continuity is key to unearthing Everton’s rough diamonds

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Too much chopping and changing at Everton recently has been damaging. Under Marco Silva, a more samey approach could prove the perfect antidote

Everton v Southampton - Premier League
Everton were dazzling at times against Southampton, making Goodison roar once again
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since Farhad Moshiri became Everton’s majority shareholder in February 2016, five men have occupied the Goodison Park hot seat and 57 players have donned the royal blue shirt, all to the cost of somewhere north of £350 million.

Such an unprecedented level of investment in the Toffees surely deserves tangible success in return, though Moshiri’s efforts have, as yet, yielded nothing.

But, after the maelstrom of the Iranian’s first two-and-a-half years as Everton’s majority shareholder, at last calmer times seem to be heading the Blues’ way under new manager Marco Silva.

Indeed, ten of the 11 starters in yesterday’s fully-deserved 2-1 win over Southampton were players the Portuguese manager inherited, the wonderful Richarlison the only exception. For Silva to inspire the same group of players that were a shambles too often last season to play exciting, winning football is a sign of excellent man-management, the kind of which pundits lavish praise on the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino. The rejuvenation of Morgan Schneiderlin, many fans’ whipping-boy last term, is a further testament to this.

When Ronald Koeman presided over Everton’s now-disgraced transfer window last summer, spending roughly £150 million on eight new players, his approach was akin to that of a small child on Christmas Day, excitedly showing off their new toys to all in sight. The Dutchman was far too keen to show off his expensive acquisitions whenever and wherever possible.

With the Blues defending a 1-0 lead at eventual runaway champions Manchester City, rather than opting to shut up shop, he brought on two new signings; creative midfielders Gylfi Sigurdsson – clearly unfit – and Davy Klaassen. Everton surrendered their lead and left with a point in what felt a missed opportunity.

The sorry tales continued. In eight of Koeman’s 18 games in charge last season before his October dismissal, half-time substitutions were made; seemingly an admission that he had simply got it wrong. Sigurdsson toiled in a brief spell up front under David Unsworth and looked just as uncomfortable on the flank; Dominic Calvert-Lewin – naturally a striker – was bizarrely shoehorned at right-wing-back; while fellow forward Sandro Ramirez and midfielder Tom Davies were pigeonholed out wide. Cuco Martina, who looked out of his depth even in his favoured position of right-back, made for painful viewing as a deputy left-back under Sam Allardyce.

It is still early days for Silva, but the signs so far suggest he will not emulate his predecessors’ mistakes. His constant message of his new signings needing to earn their place is a refreshing far cry from Koeman’s hasty, slapdash approach.

Though hooked for Mason Holgate following Phil Jagielka’s red card at Wolves, Sigurdsson has started both the Molineux away day and the Southampton game in his favoured position, behind the striker. Often ineffective on the wing for the Blues last season, just as he was there for Tottenham, the Icelandic was scintillating as the fulcrum of Everton’s attack on Saturday.

Instrumental in producing the sort of football that would be anathema to managers like Allardyce, he was key in turning once-apathetic crowd into one that, at least yesterday, were reinvigorated and optimistic. For the first time in at least a year, Goodison was rocking again.

Marginalized on the left wing last season by Koeman and Allardyce, his impact was always going to be limited. In a position where pace matters more than ever, Sigurdsson’s lack of speed proved unsurprisingly to his detriment. Under Silva’s far more attacking, cavalier style of play, an extended spell as a number ten should only see him get even better.

Goodison was back to its buoyant best on Saturday

Meanwhile, centre-half Michael Keane, so often at fault last term for Everton’s defensive woes, has improved, and spending three-quarters of the two games with the same partner – Holgate - can only have helped. Of the two seasons John Stones spent as a Blues regular, his first, and undoubtedly better campaign (2014-15), was spent almost totally next to the experienced Jagielka (26 of Stones’ 28 games).

The following year was not so clear-cut; Stones may have got his big-money move to Man City at the end of it, but he was joined at the back less frequently by Jagielka, and more so by the erratic Ramiro Funes Mori, as well as the inexperienced Matthew Pennington and out-of-position Muhamed Besic. Stones’ form was patchier, and the sense of interruption surely contributed to this.

In his first campaign at the Toffees, Keane suffered a similar fate. Five different defenders partnered him over the season in a horrendous year for him personally and the club as a whole. Now, with the same man alongside him almost entirely thus far, he looks far more assured. His place will understandably be threatened when new arrivals Kurt Zouma and Yerry Mina are fit and firing, but if he continues in a similar vein, there should be no need for more unnecessary upheaval.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Everton FC - Premier League
Michael Keane has shown signs of improvement after a nightmare first season at Goodison Park
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The sort of clarity that such continuity engenders will, inevitably, make for an easier path for him, as well as youngsters such as the supposedly recalcitrant yet immensely talented Ademola Lookman. It will also breed an even better goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford, one of the few shining lights at Everton in the past year.

It is no coincidence that the greatest, or most memorable teams in football history, consisted of starting XIs that many could still recite easily today; more recently Leicester’s odds-defining heroes of 2016, Antonio Conte’s title-winning Chelsea side of 2017, or Guardiola’s record-breaking City team last season.

So, while Silva may have sprinkled unpredictability all over the pitch, predictability on the team sheet could be crucial in his maiden campaign on Merseyside.