On June 30th Everton released several players whose contracts have expired and are expected to announce soon the acquisition of Burnley’s James Tarkowski on a free transfer. The addition of the experienced centre back will be a boost to the club’s defensive options, but if the Blues are to avoid anything resembling a rerun of last season’s traumatic brush with relegation, then they will certainly need to address other weak areas of the team.
Manager Frank Lampard and new Director of Football Kevin Thelwell, who arrived in March, will be busy scheming a rebuild of the squad for the new campaign, which commences in less than six weeks. The level and number of incoming players will depend greatly on outgoings, given Everton’s tight financial situation, so here I take a look at which areas of the team will be priorities as things stand.
It will come as no surprise to any fan that suffered through last season that the Toffees rarely exhibited any level of consistency when it came to controlling play. In fact, they ranked dead last in possession from the 98 teams that compete in the “big five” European leagues with a pitiful 39.7%, an astounding statistic. In terms of passing accuracy, the Blues were way down in 90th place, on 72.2%. Whereas Rafa Benitez eschewed possession, in favour of a direct counter-attacking style, Lampard made it plain straight off that he wanted his team to play out from the back and through the thirds. Crucial to such a plan is a midfielder who is comfortable receiving the ball from the defence and orchestrating play from a deep position.
Unfortunately, Everton currently lack such a player. The likes of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and the on-loan Donny van de Beek were tried, with varying results. None were really satisfactory. The best option was Fabian Delph, who put in a few good performances late in the season, but the former Manchester City man is unable to stay fit and is one of those players who will be departing at the end of the month. A deep-lying midfielder, acting as a pivot, will help the Blues greatly in terms of exerting greater control and will be a key acquisition this summer. A number of players possessing the required characteristics have been linked with the club so far, so it is clear that the recruitment team view this position as a priority.
Role: Defensive midfielder with good technique and range of passing.
A Balanced Attack
Everton have been fudging things on the right side of midfield now for some time. The left-footed James Rodriguez offered something different for spells the season before last, though the lack of an attacking full back capable of offering width on the overlap meant this was a non-optimal solution. Others such as Richarlison, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi have been tried in the position, to varying effect. Last season, free agent Andros Townsend was brought in, but he is also left-footed and though he attempted to get into crossing positions on his right, he is lacking the pace to beat a man as he enters the veteran stage of his career. Otherwise, it fell mostly to Anthony Gordon to line up on the right flank, occasionally Demarai Gray; both are more effective when deployed on the left.
Hopefully Nathan Patterson will be given more of a shot at replacing veteran Seamus Coleman at right back this season, the 21 year old managing only 45 minutes in an FA Cup tie before succumbing to injury. The Scot offers a lot more dynamism going forward than the club captain. If the lad bought from Rangers for an initial fee of £12.6m cannot start on a regular basis, then Lampard will need a right winger who is capable of getting to the touchline and crossing for centre forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin. We’re not hearing a great deal of transfer talk regarding this position currently, but the recruitment team must be aware that this an area where Everton lack a natural fit.
Role: Right-sided winger/midfielder, preferably possessing strong crossing ability.
Central Striking Options
The Blues were derailed offensively almost as soon as the campaign got going, as Calvert-Lewin, already playing with a broken toe, picked up the first major injury of his career, which put him on the treatment table for four months. Upon his return, the England man only started resembling the dynamic striker fans had grown to depend on right at the close of the season. In the meantime, the team had to make do with Richarlison or Salomon Rondon deputising in the central striking role. The Brazilian is a different kind of forward to the tall Calvert-Lewin and not ideally suited to the style of football employed for most of the season, whereas the willing Venezuelan was merely inadequate. Richarlison’s departure from Merseyside is imminent, which robs Everton of a viable alternative to the main man up top.
Accordingly, the club will have to sign someone that is comfortable and capable of playing as a striker, as we’ve seen Rondon is far short of the required standard and Ellis Simms, returning from a loan spell at Hearts, in Scotland is nowhere near ready to step up at this stage. Hopefully, Calvert-Lewin will be fully recovered from his injury setback but the Toffees cannot leave themselves as exposed as last season, should he continue to encounter difficulties, or fail to find form. It is imperative that a capable alternative be brought in to provide depth and competition.
Role: Centre forward
The Blues leaked goals like a rusty old steamboat during last season - 66 in all, ranking them a fitting 16th in the league. Much of the problem stemmed from a lack of a settled central defensive partnership, in the absence of Yerry Mina, the team’s most reliable centre half, for much of the campaign. The big Colombian managed only eleven league starts; Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate 23 apiece. Michael Keane was the glue that held things together most of the way, the former Burnley player starting 31 games. Bereft of the ex-Barcelona man’s leadership qualities, the defense looked generally nervy and uncertain, lapses in concentration and individual errors undermining the Blues’ best efforts time and again. Whether Mina, who has one year left to run on his contract stays or leaves, his injury record leaves much to be desired and the club certainly need to bring in additional quality.
Tarkowski will be announced as an Everton player on July 1st and arrives offering a reputation for reliable play and a strong character. Additionally, he is considered to be a much more technically adept defender than was on show at Turf Moor under the pragmatic Sean Dyche, so this figures to gel nicely with Lampard’s desire to play out from the back. It is quite possible that one or more centre backs could leave the club during the current window, so the Blues may look to recruit an additional body, perhaps one more suited to a possession-style of football than, say Holgate.
Role: Centre back, technically adept and with passing range.
Reinforcing the four areas outlined above is the bare minimum that the club must do in order to hope for more than just staying clear of a relegation battle. Of course, players will be leaving, either on free transfers, actively moved on for a fee, or targeted and signed by teams in a stronger position. Depth at full back may be sought, as Nathan Patterson may be judged not quite ready, or nominal left back cover Niels Nkounkou not good enough. It could be a wise move to pick up another more technical midfielder, to play central or deeper. A creative attacking player could be desirable, given the paucity of quality chances generated last term.
With five substitutes to use in games now, this is also the time for Lampard to beef up his squad with more viable and Premier League-level players so that he can utilize those substitutes.
Regardless, considering a limited budget and a sell-to-buy policy, the club should be looking at three types of signings: youth with high potential, established quality and bargains.