Editor’s Note: This piece was written and first published before Carlo Ancelotti’s surprise departure.
With the 2020-21 Premier League season finally to bed, it is as reasonable a time as any to discuss how Everton were able to fair. While the brilliant start of the first months of the season fell away in the final months of the season particularly, progress was made across this season and the Toffees are certainly a better team at this time this year than at the end of last season.
With that said, not one single person across Merseyside or the world will be happy about falling out of European competition entirely, with so many opportunities to finish in the top four to seven positions available and wasted this season; getting crushed by Manchester City on the final day was not pleasant, either. Draws against some of the most disappointing teams in the league this year could’ve put the team in a better position in the final weeks of the season, and a few more victories mixed in might’ve left Everton sitting above Liverpool, even.
Yet this is not so. The Blues finished in tenth place, as I mentioned was a distinct possibility in mid-April, and with that finish, the optics of the whole season appear much worse than they actually were throughout the year. With the points so evenly distributed across much of the table, there are only eight points separating tenth and fourth place; that is truly remarkable. So, what conclusions can be drawn from the way things turned out this season?
A year in conclusion; optimistic, sad, but not disillusioned
The Toffees spent a lot of time up towards the top of the table, so the final position does not adequately express how the team fought and competed throughout the year. While I have discussed our missed opportunities this year, these missteps are the classic issues that plague young, up and coming outfits; these players have to ‘learn how to win,’ as the expression goes, and unfortunately that often requires close, tough losses.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin shone across much of the year, regardless of the competition. Having loaned out Moise Kean to PSG, the Toffees needed a real partner to play with and act as backup for their young number nine; that Joshua King was a bust provided the Toffees little recourse in tough moments when they needed extra offensive firepower. Alex Iwobi provided little help on either wing or through the middle and no one else was consistent in helping wing play for the Toffees.
While the team brought in more experience and talent like Allan from Napoli and James Rodriguez from Real Madrid, those two players were injured too often for everyone’s liking. Their ability and influence when playing cannot be questioned and was on display at various points across the season, yet their absences were difficult to overcome at key points as well, and that must be addressed going forward. Former teammates of theirs have been continuously rumoured to be candidates for Merseyside as well, which could provide greater depth at a similar quality as each of those players. Abdoulaye Doucoure, too, was an immense addition and showed his greatest value when injured - the team could not compete in the same way without his fluidity, complete skill set and professionalism. Every team could use a Doucoure, and Everton could rightly use another one for how good the former Watford man has been when fit.
Ben Godfrey has proven himself a remarkable signing wherever he lines up, and with Mason Holgate struggling to maintain form, do not be surprised if the signing of a Max Aarons or Ainsley Maitland-Niles leaves Godfrey centrally played next to the gangly yet effective Yerry Mina. The defence will improve as it is added to and can grow further, as it is full of young pieces; Lucas Digne remains an afterthought with his remarkable skill a consistency on Merseyside and abroad no matter what.
Yet with the good has been the unfortunate, and there have been some players who simply will not be with the club moving forward in my belief. Bernard is gone, as might be Fabian Delph, Iwobi, Andre Gomes and perhaps even Jean-Philippe Gbamin as well. The first two are not really debatable, I believe, as they’ve been ineffectual afterthoughts for the team, while I simply haven’t seen enough out of Iwobi consistently at any position this season to warrant his spot on the club moving forward. Gomes has looked uncomfortable and unproductive under Carlo Ancelotti, which should signal his departure as well, while Gbamin simply hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to show whatever quality he might still possess. Should he remain, he will surely have to stay fit this season.
Selling these players and Kean, alongside Everton’s out-of-contract players, will create positions on the squad that can be filled by eager talent, both young and old, that will help the Toffees make a bigger impact next season than they did this one. There are candidates to join Everton as reinforcements at every position, and will have to be prepared to add their own abilities and desires into the team for the betterment of the club, whoever they happen to be.
What they’ll be joining is a club full of young players, with a few guileful veterans and a wise old Italian boss; they'll get a team that sometimes needs help getting going before it remembers how to play dominant football. They’ll get a hungry, loyal fan base and an assistant legend in Duncan Ferguson who could not possibly care any more about the club’s wellbeing than he does already. They will get teammates who just need to be pushed a farther, who need to be taught further how to play at that high level game in and game out without quit.
More than half of City’s goals this season came from players other than their main attacking forwards; the team was so dangerous in these waves that teams were stifled and crushed so often in instances where the attacking forwards had not passed the ball into the back of the net, because of the persistence of the squad as just one entity.
That is what Everton must be. Right now, clubs know that if they can smother a few pieces, that it will be difficult for the club to create possibilities in the final third as often as is necessary in the modern game. The club must continue to build in this off-season, towards a more dangerous and multifaceted version of itself, or risk stalling again next year as they did in this just ended campaign.
The boss and Marcel Brands have the vision, and we must trust that they can execute properly as more money is invested into the squad for another run at European competition; with a more balanced and seasoned squad, alongside further practice and repetition for those young players that will remain at the club for years to come, the Toffees have even more potential in the coming season than they did in the one that we just witnessed.
The club played well but lost the plot at the worst moments, in games they should’ve easily dominated and in matches in which they let the match slip through their fingers. The talent and ability is undeniable, yet the immaturity is as well. More accountable, credentialed experience and time under Ancelotti will do the trick, yet it can also be said that a conclusion of this season is that the team still has to be moulded into the outfit that both the coaching staff and fanbase demand of them.
I am not thrilled that we were not able to make it into one of these three European tournaments, as I think the experience, squad accommodations and financial gain would’ve helped the club grow faster and more aggressively. The team showed what it was, for better and for worse; more problems were exposed, but solutions also have become obvious in the process.
Players will leave and players will be brought in, with their assimilation being key for the Toffees going into the next year; the Blues reached for the European stars and came up short, yet the boss is going nowhere and Farhad Moshiri will continue to help him and Brands build a winning project for all of the fans who deserve it so much. The Premier League is a tough competition, and one that creates very difficult opponents both domestically as well as across European competition when a team finally reaches that position; Everton will get there, and this summer is just the next opportunity to get better internally by every means towards that end.