The results from the penultimate round of the Premier League confirmed that Everton will finish no higher than eighth and no lower than tenth this season, and will not be able to qualify for the Europa League.
Getting into Europe was always going to be a remote possibility through a number of distinct results going the way of whoever finishes seventh - likely Wolverhampton at this point, though Leicester City mathematically could catch them too. With Arsenal and Chelsea still in contention to win the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League through that route, while also still being in contention for the top four makes things more complicated, there remains a chance that the team in seventh will play in Europe, like Burnley did this season, Everton the previous year and West Ham United before that.
For fans who will remember that awful 2017-18 season, the year started off too early for Ronald Koeman’s liking, with the Blues having to start off in the two-legged Third Qualifying Round in late July when most of the new signings were not even embedded in and the club stumbled into the group stages.
The lack of rest and subsequent preparation time during the summer came back to haunt Koeman who got the boot early in the season, and the Blues’ lack of squad depth or quality was laid bare in a tough group as Atalanta and Lyon carved the Toffees open time and again in emphatic defeats.
The 2018-19 pre-season was also cut short due to the summer’s 2018 World Cup, and the Blues were only able to conduct a good bit of their incoming transfer business on deadline day with Kurt Zouma and Andre Gomes coming in on loan at the last minute.
While the Blues did get off to a good start to the season, the lack of cohesive training time and fitness for incoming transfers told early, and Everton stumbled as the days grew shorter and winter approached. It was not until a two week period when Marco Silva was finally able to train with almost his full squad that the slide was arrested, and from that point on some glaring issues in the side like defensive frailties and zonal setpiece marking were properly corrected and the difference has been marked. The Blues are closing out the season having last conceded at Goodison Park on February 6th, and have eight clean sheets in the last ten games.
Director of Football Marcel Brands having a full season under his belt is also making a remarkable difference. While we are all clear that it will take at least a couple more transfer windows to clear out the deadwood from this bloated squad, the players of the present and the future have been targeted and signed already. In addition, both Brands and Silva have indicated multiple times that they have already identified not only the positions of need but the names that will fill them, and will pursue them aggressively as soon as the transfer window opens, starting with inking Zouma and Gomes to permanent deals.
While Silva has stressed that a club of Everton’s stature should be playing in Europe every season, for now not having to deal with the preparation and travel that comes with being in the Europa League qualifiers is a good thing. The players in the squad will be able to get a full summer’s rest and the manager is then going to be able to get an uninterrupted preseason with his full squad to work on their fitness and tactics ahead of the new season.
We’ve already seen that given time and a full squad Silva can work wonders. The focus for the Blues needs to be to strengthen in depth the squad we have to account for the inevitable injuries and losses in form that a long season will have, to ensure that performance levels don’t drop when that does happen.
With incoming transfers done early, the Blues should be in a good place to then have a settled squad that starts the season strong, setting up the platform for extended runs at the League Cup and the FA Cup, and an eventual charge at the top six.
The stage is set, now over to Brands, Silva and Co.