If you told Everton supporters at the start of the season that the Toffees would take 11 points out of 15 from matches against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur to end the season, they probably would have guessed the club was on its way back to European competition.
And yet, the Toffees sit in eighth place with the 2018-19 Premier League season now behind us. To have proven to be capable of such highs, only to finish in the same place as last season, with only five more points to show for it, is beyond frustrating.
So clearly, despite all the good that we saw in the last two months of the season, there are clearly some issues to be worked out going forward. The easiest scapegoat for Everton’s underwhelming final place in the table is likely its set-piece defending.
And for months, that really was a genuine problem that threatened to relegate the Toffees to even more mid-table obscurity. But if we’re being honest, it mostly worked itself out in the final quarter of the season. In Everton’s final 10 matches this season, opponents scored two set piece goals (not counting Christian Eriksen’s strike on the last day of the season, which is a completely different kind of set piece goal).
Extrapolate that out across a 38-match season and you’re looking at eight goals conceded from set pieces. Manchester City conceded seven; Liverpool eight.
So rather than focus on an issue that was most certainly an issue but has now essentially been resolved, I’d rather focus on three personnel-specific negatives from the 2018-19 season that I think could dog Everton into next season.
When Yerry Mina played, I thought he looked solid — not a world-beater, but solid. For a team with Everton’s aspirations, solid would be good enough.
The issue, of course, is that Mina missed half the season with injury, and even when healthy, couldn’t manage to supplant Michael Keane and on-loan Kurt Zouma. With a Zouma permanent deal looking unlikely given Chelsea’s impending transfer ban, you’d have to suspect that Mina is ideally the starter alongside Keane next season.
The question with Mina, based on this season, becomes two-fold.
First, is he actually any good? His early impressions have been solid overall, but 890 Premier League minutes isn’t quite enough to form a well-informed opinion
Second, and more pertinent, can he stay healthy? Per TransferMarkt, the Colombian center-back has missed 35 matches through injury since August 2017. In that period, he’s only got 26 club appearances!
Now, part of the issue is that he was buried very deep in Barcelona’s depth chart, but it’s a cause for concern nonetheless. If we assume Zouma doesn’t return, a Mina injury would leave Everton especially thin at center-back.
Marco Silva has appeared indifferent toward the idea of bringing back Phil Jagielka. Mason Holgate wasn’t good enough for Silva in the first half of this season, and his decent spell at West Bromwich Albion has come at right-back — oh, and it’s the second division.
Morgan Feeney is presumably in line for a senior team promotion after captaining the Everton U23s to a Premier League 2 title — but he brings a whopping two matches of first-team experience.
And yet, as it stands now, there’s a real possibility that the only thing standing between Everton and regular starts for one of those players is a center-back with 21 total appearances in European football who has missed more games due to injury than he’s played since Summer 2016.
If you had to guess at the start of the season which Everton first-team player would miss out the most due to injury, you probably wouldn’t have guessed Yerry Mina. You would have probably guessed Theo Walcott.
And yet, only Gylfi Sigurdsson played more matches in all competitions. Walcott appeared in all but one Premier League match, and 40 of 42 matches across all competitions.
Walcott was healthy basically all season and got off to a great start to the season — picking up two goals and an assist in Everton’s first three matches. From there though, his production fell off a cliff.
Through the remainder of the Premier League season, Walcott had three goals and one assist — none of which impacted Everton’s season in any meaningful way.
Walcott has never been a player who makes significant creative contributions, but he’d been among the most consistent goal-scoring wingers in Europe over the last decade. But this season saw both his xG and his finishing rate in front of goal continue to decline.
The emergence of Richarlison — another true goal-scoring winger — immensely softened the blow of Walcott’s decline. But the Toffees need depth at this position, especially if the team’s goal output from its strikers remains low.
A strong performance in Everton’s final match of the season gave a little hope that Walcott might yet have a role to play going forward, but Silva needs to be realistic. Theo is entering his age-30 season, having been playing first-team football since he was 14. That’s a lot of miles on the legs of a player who relies primarily on his pace to make meaningful contributions in matches.
After looking so promising following the January 2018 window, Walcott’s future at Everton could be in serious doubt.
The summer of 2017 was a bright one for Everton supporters, who watched on as England claimed the U-20 World Cup. Five Everton players — Jonjoe Kenny, Callum Connolly, Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Kieran Dowell — were members of that title-winning team.
Tom Davies was also coming off his first senior-team season, having announced his presence on the Premier League stage during Everton’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester City.
And yet, here we are two years later, unsure of how any of these players fit into Everton’s long-term plans.
To call the 2018-19 season for Calvert-Lewin and Lookman a failure would be unfair, but it sure cannot be described as a roaring success either. Ade looked to be mentally checked out early in the season, after being refused his move to RB Leipzig. He looked promising when he finally returned to meaningful senior team minutes, but Silva largely preferred Bernard to the English winger. His future at Everton remains somewhat unclear.
Calvert-Lewin emerged as Silva’s first-choice striker by the end of the season, but based largely on his work rate, rather than his technical ability. He finished the season with six Premier League goals, and a scoring rate of just under one goal every three matches. While his season certainly wasn’t bad, there was reason to hope that perhaps he could have placed a tighter grip on a first XI place. He failed to do so, and Silva will have to at least consider adding a striker this summer.
For the rest of the players on this list, 2018-19 was decidedly worse.
Callum Connolly spent the first half of the season playing only sporadic minutes for second-tier Wigan Athletic. He was loaned again in January, this time to Bolton, which spent his entire tenure in a relegation place in the Championship.
Jonjoe Kenny failed to make a serious claim to even the backup right-back position behind Seamus Coleman, as the last week of the season saw on-loan center-back Kurt Zouma win the starting right-back position with the Irishman out injured. With Coleman not getting any younger, the Toffees need to start seriously evaluating the right-back position. If Kenny — now 22 — can’t even beat out a center-back for the backup right-back position, his future with the club is in serious doubt.
Dowell’s season was probably the most disappointing of all. Following an extremely successful loan at Nottingham Forest last season, Dowell was seen as the ideal candidate to back up Gylfi Sigurdsson at the No. 10 this season.
But he was underwhelming in two cup appearances and didn’t play a single Premier League minute before being loaned to Sheffield United in January. If Nikola Vlasic is willing to return to Everton next season, Dowell will certainly become third-choice at his preferred position, with no real path back to regular senior-team minutes.