The date is April 20, 2019. The Goodison Park faithful sit in stunned silence as the gravity, humility, and irony of the moment sets in.
17th-place Everton have just been beaten 5-0 by Jose Mourinho’s side at home. Romelu Lukaku nets a hat trick in his return to his old stomping grounds. Alexis Sanchez picked up a goal of his own, as did Eric Bailly on a poorly defended corner kick.
Mercifully — or maybe not — Liverpool defeat 18th-place Cardiff City among the other results, ensuring that the Toffees will avoid relegation after a second consecutive miserable campaign.
How did the Toffees get to this point?
The continued downward spiral of the once-proud club truly started well before the season began. Marco Silva and Marcel Brands’
inability to add a quality center-back addition of Yerry Mina and Kurt Zouma late in the summer transfer window doomed the Toffees to a miserable start as the quickly aging Phil Jagielka and underwhelming Michael Keane were little more than a sieve in front of an increasingly frustrated Jordan Pickford, and the two new faces didn’t turn out to be much better either.
The combination of Leighton Baines, Lucas Digne, Seamus Coleman, and Jonjoe Kenny at the full-back positions gave Everton an above average full-back corps, but they simply couldn’t compensate for the issues in the center of the pitch.
Morgan Schneiderlin reverted to his poor 2017-18 form, and increasingly frustrated at the quality around him, became a complete liability in the center of the pitch. As a result, Silva started utilizing Beni Baningime has his No. 6 halfway through the season — the Congolese youngster was an improvement over the attitude-prone Frenchman, but still needs time to develop into a true starter.
Idrissa Gana Gueye did his best to make up for Schneiderlin’s struggles, but often found himself pulled out of position trying to cover for his incompetent teammates. Andre Gomes found himself in another situation where he was being shuttled all over the pitch, and ineffective in all the roles too, hurting his already thin confidence levels.
In attack, the Toffees came to rue the decision to allow winger Ademola Lookman to depart for RB Leipzig. Bernard turned out to be woefully undersized for the Premier League and was shunted off the ball with ease. Theo Walcott spent much of the season injured, and with no Lookman to fill in for him, Everton once again found itself shuttling central players like Nikola Vlasic, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Kieran Dowell into wide positions.
Richarlison, after a bright start to the season, was only slightly more successful on the opposite wing. The £40 million man turned out to be much more the player he was in the second half of 2017-18 than the first half, and Silva’s big gamble on the Brazilian winger didn’t pay off.
That left Gylfi Sigurdsson and Cenk Tosun to carry the attacking load almost exclusively. With the Icelander back in his natural position, he found some success linking up with the Turkish striker, but Everton’s inability to work the ball in the wide areas saw him often operating with two or three defenders around him.
Tosun ended the season with 12 goals, while Sigurdsson contributed 5 goals and 8 assists, but the Toffees found little else in the way of consistent goal scoring.
The January transfer window brought little relief. Silva and Brands approved an overpriced move for Marcos Rojo after their attempts to add the Argentine came up short over the summer. Rojo was a slight improvement over Jagielka alongside Keane, but failed to make a substantial difference given the club’s midfield shortcomings.
Everton also added World Cup star Denis Cheryshev to try to compensate for the club’s struggles in wide areas. Like Rojo, he was an improvement over the Toffes’ existing options, but failed to replicate his World Cup form for his new club.
Everton floated around the 15th-17th spots for most of the season — never truly threatening to risk relegation due to the abject nature of the bottom three, but failing to put safety concerns totally behind as well.
The Blues entered their April 20th home match against Manchester United with four matches to play, knowing all they needed was to gain one point from their final four matches (or have Cardiff drop any points). The matchup against Jose Mourinho’s side, featuring Everton’s former superstar striker, served as an opportunity to provide a rare moment of joy and relief in a season of utter disappointment.
Instead, the Toffees got absolutely plastered by the Red Devils — and in a moment of ultimate humiliation, only secured safety on the day due to a Liverpool victory over Cardiff City.
Everton now faces an enormous struggle to regain relevance in the Premier League. Silva and Brands’ struggles have put the future of both in jeopardy, while a bottom-half finish will certainly put a damper on recruitment going forward.
The club may be forced to rely on continued development of its young players like Calvert-Lewin, Holgate, and Dowell — but even if those players hit new peaks in the coming seasons, it’s hard to see who Everton could possibly build around them with.
Without a doubt, troubling times are ahead for Everton Football Club.