Everton Season Preview

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A year ago, a revitalised Everton Football Club were fresh from a fifth place finish in the Premier League during Roberto Martinez’ maiden season in charge. The Club was brimming with confidence; our play had been impressive, as had our willingness to go at sides – we took many of them by surprise. We were more than worth our final position in the table and just fell short of Champions League qualification. Martinez had already attracted some big names to the Club – albeit on loan – but the following summer he then made those loan signings permanent and the buzz from season 2013-14 continued as we looked to another exciting season under the Spaniard. We couldn’t wait to see what our beloved Blues would go on to achieve in his second term at the Goodison helm.

Fast forward twelve months and we find ourselves scratching our heads after a disappointing campaign that turned out to be the complete opposite of the season previous. We appeared to lose our mojo, our attacking intent was less potent, at the back we were at sixes and sevens and the reliability shown from some players in season 13-14 disappeared. Our charismatic and expressive approach turned to a nervous-like, vulnerable performance for large chunks of the season and Blues fans were left to ponder just why this was happening. Confidence was low from the off, fans began to lose faith and worry about how the season would pan out, and only a good run in Europe can really be seen as the one main positive, but that even came to a crashing end. Without Lukaku’s 20 goals an 11th place finish might have looked much worse come May 2015. Questions have been asked of the manager, his methods and his players. Why the sudden difference? Those questions will hopefully be answered with a better display in the forthcoming 2015-16 Premier League season as the Toffees look to put their recent experience behind them.

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BIG SEASON FOR BOTH

So far this summer Martinez has allowed two players to leave – Antolin Alcaraz and Sylvain Distin have both departed Goodison Park – and the Blues Boss has also brought in two players with the additions of Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu. After such a disappointing campaign, it is safe to say that most Evertonians would have expected many more incomings at the Club by now. Yes there is still time left in the transfer window for the manager to bring people in but he has known since May where we needed to strengthen and how important it would be to set us up better for the forthcoming campaign. Doesn’t Roberto always aim to end each window stronger than when we started it? So far yes we’ve added more quality in Deulofeu and Cleverley, but with two outgoing in Distin and Alcaraz we are no better off in terms of numbers and the injuries have already began to hit us. Pienaar is on crutches, Hibbert has his leg in a brace, Gibson has a broken foot, Garbutt’s got ligament damage and Stones, Mirallas and Lukaku have already had injury concerns in pre-season. Not forgetting Aiden McGeady, Bryan Oviedo and Mo Besic also either nursing knocks or recently returning from them. It makes you worry doesn’t it?

The depth isn’t there and by now many of us would have liked us to be looking ahead to Watford on Saturday in confident spirits that we can have a real go again this season. There is no mistaking that if we don’t bring in at least another two players in the coming weeks then we could expect to be in for another challenging season ahead. Martinez and the Club have brought this pressure on themselves by leaving it this late to bring in players and although initially the signs were good with the early additions of Cleverley and Deulofeu, now there is no time left for any incoming signings to bed in, partake in our pre-season campaign or get to grips with life at Goodison Park – they will be thrown in at the deep end. Sometimes it works out well like that, but after such a disappointing season which followed a disorganised warm up campaign last year, a better summer could have been had this time around. Again our fans are left scratching their heads: Where is the money? Why is it taking so long? Why do we always lose a couple of players before we sign anyone? Will we keep John Stones? Why do we keep suffering injuries? Does this Club want to be ambitious or are we left just making do again? Time will tell in the coming weeks as to whether we add much-needed depth to the squad and whether or not we will keep one of England’s most talented youngsters at the Club. If these things don’t happen – we don’t sign anyone and go on to lose John Stones, it will be a bridge too far for many Evertonians, I believe the Club will end up with a mutiny on their hands. It might sound daft but it is what I believe. Surely anyone of you reading this must wonder where the record-breaking TV money goes at Everton FC – it can’t all go on wages and a few tins of paint for Goodison, surely?

On the subject of signings and money, Martinez has recently stated his desire to bring in a centre-half, a number ten and a striker too. I have to say I was slightly relieved and less worried after I heard this. Has the TV money finally landed then? Finally Roberto has said he is in the market for a striker; Arouna Kone simply isn’t the answer and we need reinforcements, we can’t just rely on Lukaku to carry us once more – it is a huge ask for any striker. Conor McAleny could potentially play a part this season and it would be about time if he did, he isn’t exactly one of the kids anymore is he. At the back it is a must that we strengthen, we lack any depth in that area and even if John Stones stays at Goodison Park (anyone’s guess if he will) we still need players in those positions. With Baines just back from an injury, Tony Hibbert with his leg in a brace and Luke Garbutt now on the treatment table too it is plain to see we can’t afford not to bolster our defensive department. Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway look great young prospects at the back and I’d expect them to be used at times this season, but they are at an age where they should be complimenting the depth we already have then eventually making those positions their own by developing and growing as players. As for further up the field and a number 10, creativity was distinctly vacant within in our side last season so again, this is a crucial position if we are to rectify our disappointments of the previous campaign. There is a huge weight of expectation on the shoulders of Ross Barkley and the arrival of a new creative midfielder would hopefully let Barkley off his leash and allow him to play with a freedom, expression and importantly without some of our fans constantly on his back. I think we all agree that those three positions highlighted by Martinez are the key areas, we simply need players if we are to kick on – without more bodies we will suffer. Injuries hurt us – as they do most sides – but with a wafer-thin squad and all eyes on our Manager after one good season and one bad, it is vitally important that we see positive developments in the coming weeks and hopefully a few victories to give us an early boost too. It will be a testing start as it usually is in the Premier League and judging by our last two seasons we haven’t been the brightest from the off in recent times. In both 2013-14 and 2014-15 it took us until September to register our first League wins and with Watford, Southampton, Manchester City and Spurs standing in our way before the month of August is out (Chelsea at home on September 12th too) it will be a tricky test for Martinez’ men. Let’s hope they embrace the challenge and see the tough opening to the new campaign as a real chance to set out their stall for the forthcoming nine months. If not we’ll all be having a full on meltdown within a matter of weeks and the memories of last season will begin to re-emerge, no pressure there then lads.

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PRE SEASON TRAINING

Looking at the current crop of players we have at our disposal I am going to take an individual look at each of them now and give my assessment ahead of the new campaign. I’ll start in goal and work my way down the squad and finish off with an overview and prediction before the big kick off on Saturday.

 

Tim Howard – I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one – I cannot understand why he is still in goal for us. If you watch Everton regularly then you must see the negatives far outweigh the positives in Howard’s game. Susceptible to aerial mistakes, beaten at his near post far too frequently, can’t kick for toffee, I’m sorry but we needed to replace him. I get the feeling he will do one more season here then move back to his homeland with one of the MLS sides. Truth is, this should have happened much sooner.

Joel Robles – Shaky during his cup cameos during his early days at Goodison Park but when he got a consistent run last season he proved handy between the sticks. Gained high praise for his run of form whilst Howard was out injured and many thought he was unfairly benched upon the American’s return. Certainly pushing Howard all the way now and I’d like to see more of him this season.

Tony Hibbert – Had his leg in a cast whilst at Ferguson’s testimonial on Sunday suggesting his latest injury could be more serious than revealed. Hardly played at all for some time now and not likely to be involved any time soon. Somewhat of a veteran at the Club nowadays but apart from tough tackling in my opinion he offers little more and surely we should look to move him on.

Seamus Coleman – Like many of the squad Seamus came in for criticism last season but did better after December/January. If Coleman is on his game he can be unplayable – he has set high standards over the years so when he isn’t playing at a high tempo with the opposition on the back foot then we see him as being out of sorts. Very much a crucial player at Everton and real Premier League quality, as ever, expecting a lot from him this season.

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COLEMAN – KEY MAN FOR MARTINEZ

Brendan Galloway/Tyias Browning – Both of these players have come into the senior fold of late and look to have quality. Browning is a product of the youth academy and Galloway was signed from MK Dons and Martinez has spoken highly of the pair. Both are likely to be regulars on the bench this season but should play some part in the cups or if we become injury-hit. Certainly two players to watch.

Phil Jagielka – Like the rest of the Everton defence Jags looked shaky last season for large periods but he put his early season performance behind him and eventually was awarded our Player of the Season. Jagielka might not be the most vocal Captain but he leads the team with his attitude, his defensive attributes and experience at the heart of our defence. Not getting any younger but will be instrumental in our back-four again this term.

John Stones – Worryingly the media will not let this one go and the Chelsea rumours continue. At first I was confident he would stay but now I believe he will leave – even though Everton have said no sale – or have they? Why hasn’t the Board came out and publicly blocked any potential move? It all seems to be hearsay, smoke and mirrors, dirty tactics. I can’t take another month of this. Love for him to stay at Everton because he is in a class of his own, but as we’ve seen all too often over the years players like him do not stay at Everton very long. If he stays he continues his blossoming partnership with Jagielka at the back and if he goes, it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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A MAN IN DEMAND

Leighton Baines – Just back from ankle surgery, Leighton Baines is working his way back to fitness and similarly to Coleman will no doubt play a key role this season from full-back. Baines is always looking to push forward and find space, so when he stopped doing this at times last season it looked like a loss of confidence. However he soon found consistency and can be relied on to weigh in with numerous assists along the way. Baines has been pushed off penalty duty so let’s hope he spends a lot more time practices them corners! Will be pushed for a place in the side from next season when Garbutt returns from loan at Fulham but still has an awful lot to offer at left-back.

Luke Garbutt – Unfortunately Garbutt’s loan spell with Fulham has started badly with the defender suffering ankle ligament damage – ruling him out for six weeks. I wish him a speedy recovery and successful spell with the Championship side. It was a big relief he signed a new deal at Goodison Park and should go on to play a massive part in Everton’s future, he’s a more than capable successor to Baines and takes a cracking set piece. One to watch for the near future.

Bryan Oviedo – Had rotted luck with his double-leg break in 2014 after a good run of form and since then has hardly played. When he eventually came back he then suffered a broken metatarsal and has since been recovering. Oviedo is not going to be a starter for Everton this season that’s for sure, and he will most likely be used as a utility player by Martinez, filling in where required. He did do well when he had his chance in the side before his nightmare injury but in reality he doesn’t possess any special attributes that are better than what we’ve already got.

Darron Gibson – Similarly to the above, Gibson has had bad luck with injuries but the Irishman’s record is much worse. Currently recovering from a metatarsal break Gibson came back into the side late last season – showed just how good he is – but then typically got injured and miss the final few games. He is still at the Club which means Martinez is willing to allow him yet more time to finally make it at Everton but with the arrival of Tom Cleverley his chances are even more limited. It’s now or never for Gibson, and whilst my heart want him to succeed at the Club, my head says he will soon move on and just be a case of ‘what if’. I hope I am wrong.

WILL HE FINALLY COME GOOD?
WILL HE FINALLY COME GOOD?

Aiden McGeady – Yet another injured player. It really brings it home writing this just how many we’ve got. The last four players I’ve listed here are injured on the one above them has just had surgery, it is ridiculous. McGeady has been linked with a return to Scotland with Celtic and although most Evertonians would probably drive him there it seems he will be staying on Merseyside. Martinez has said he has a future here but after some erratic form since arriving at the Club and a disrupted pre-season this summer it doesn’t look like he will become a regular anytime soon – especially with Gerard Deulofeu arriving at Goodison Park.

Leon Osman – For all his criticism Leon came back into the side last season and gave us a boost. Capable of weighing in with important goals, Osman does have real ability but he tends to blow hot and cold. His link-up play in the final third can be a pleasure to watch but anything in his own half of the field is worrying. His stature doesn’t help his cause as he is easily brushed off the ball and he isn’t getting any younger, but he will no doubt be heavily involved this season and Martinez will feel he is a good player to have around some of his younger stars.

Steven Pienaar – Pienaar has gone from a player who was almost never injured, usually fit and ready and influential in the team to a player who is constantly injured and sorely missed. Is it all about age? Pienaar is now 33 years of age and was spotted on crutches before a pre-season game this summer. Hardly the most promising sight is it? We need Pienaar back as an option, because ultimately we have nobody else down that left hand side. We don’t have a winger who can link up with Baines, and even though Pienaar isn’t naturally a left-sided player we miss his creative influence and ability to make things happen. He frustrates the opposition with his twists and turns and loves intricate passes in and around the area, we’ve missed that badly. Hopefully he can still play a part.

PIENAAR: INJURED AGAIN
PIENAAR: INJURED AGAIN

Gareth Barry – Increasingly looked out of his depth last season after a brilliant first season whilst on loan. Barry looked well off the pace, two yards behind the opposition and kept losing the ball or committing fouls. The lack of confidence around the team didn’t help matters, but it was almost like Barry had aged five years within the space of 12 months. Martinez stuck with him much to the annoyance of large sections of our support, and I’d expect him to do the same this season. He sees players like Barry, Pienaar and Osman as key to his plan and admittedly yes they are vastly experienced, but when their poor form begins to lose the team points on a regular basis then it has to be questioned. The jury is still out as to what Gareth Barry we will see this season and how long he will last in a midfield packed full of players.

Tom Cleverley – Arrived from Manchester United on a free in what was a smart bit of business in my opinion. Looking for a permanent Club after being frozen out at United, Cleverley saw Everton as the place where he wants to settle and prove a point. Under a Manager who knows him well he has a real chance to do just that. Been impressive so far in pre-season. Watch this space.

James McCarthy – Constantly linked with a move away from the Club and apparently unhappy with the contract terms we’ve offered him. Thankfully those rumours will now go away after the midfielder signed a new deal to keep him at the Club. This season McCarthy should be back doing what he does best – providing consistent energy, attitude and enthusiasm to an Everton midfield which often lacked it last season. Martinez gave him more freedom towards the end of last season and he weighed in with a couple of goals and assists, something which we are not used to with McCarthy. However with Cleverley and Barkley ahead of him in more advanced midfield positions we will most likely see McCarthy move deeper and be the breaker up of the play. A brilliant player to have and he has more than justified the money we paid for him in my opinion. Let’s hope he keeps doing so.

NEW DEAL
NEW DEAL

Mo Besic – Saw lots of him during the opening half of last season but he went missing for the second half of the campaign. One notable appearance was when he paired up with Barkley in the middle of the park against QPR – his tackle on Barton that night got tongues wagging too – but Besic is still raw, still young and Martinez obviously wants to manage him carefully. Definitely another option for our midfield and I’m sure many of our fans would like to see him more and more involved over Barry, I have to admit I am one of them.

Ross Barkley – Big season ahead for Ross after a disappointing campaign last time out. Our fans didn’t help at times with their criticism but even Barkley himself must admit he didn’t help himself at times. Has the ability to turn a game on its head and pop up with a peach of a goal – ideally we’d see much more of that this season. As I said earlier I believe the arrival of other creative players (and Pienaar getting fit) can only benefit young Ross who is still developing and similarly to Besic – being managed carefully by Roberto. A real star in the making, we need to be patient with Barkley, give him time to shine and when he does he won’t look back.

Kevin Mirallas – Got to admit I am surprised he is still here and I’ve openly been critical of him in the past. However, I believe it is important he is still at the Club because we are going to need his goals, assists and all round creative play. He has been heavily linked with a move away but appears to be happy here and staying on for at least another season – hopefully we will see more consistency from him because we all know the ability is there. Exciting to see him in the same side as the likes of Deulofeu, Lukaku, Barkley and more creative names if we manage to sign some.

Gerard Deulofeu – Delighted that he re-joined the Blues and pleasantly surprised. Deulofeu still has an awful lot to learn and did frustrate at times during his loan spell but what creative player doesn’t frustrate you? He tries things that others wouldn’t and always looks to put the opposition on the back foot. Martinez will try to iron out his lack of defensive qualities but ultimately he is in the side to score and create goals, not defend them. Deulofeu has had a frustrating time since his loan spell here two seasons ago and will have a point to prove. The price we got him for is an absolute snip. Can’t wait to see him back in royal blue, doing step overs and putting Evertonians on the edge of their seats once more.

BACK IN BLUE
BACK IN BLUE

Steven Naismith – The Scot was less involved towards the end of last season and to be perfectly honest there wasn’t a place for him in the side. All too often we saw Martinez push the likes of Naismith and Barkley out wide when we know they are most effective central, however Naismith has a battle on his hands to get back into the side, especially if we go out and sign a new number ten. He has guts, enthusiasm and buzzes around defenders, chips in with goals, but in terms of real quality, it pains me to say it but we should be looking for better players.

Arouna Kone – Just hasn’t got going. Injuries have hampered him but even when he has got back into the side he hasn’t really shown anything to make us think he will go on to be a success. It looks like Kone might get a start if Lukaku doesn’t make it against Watford and that just proves how lacking we are in that area. Martinez needs to admit this was one expensive mistake and it is probably never going to work out. Although he might play a part this season I’d fully expect him to move on next summer, if not in January.

Romelu Lukaku – Twenty goals last season says it all. We were a poor side and he dragged us through at times. During the opening half of the season Rom was poor but still managed to get on the score sheet – especially in the Europa, which he went on to be joint top-scorer in – but after Christmas he got his act together and started to look like a real player. People said we didn’t play to his strengths but we forget he is still really young – just as Barkley and Stones are – and we expect massive things from them. Lukaku isn’t comfortable with his back to goal, he loves a turn of pace, to drive in at defenders, and when he does that we seem him at his best. If Lukaku has another good season and gets to double figures, which I’m expecting him to do so, then he will no doubt attract big-money interest. This would be his fourth season in the English top flight in which he has scored a hatful of goals and if Everton aren’t back in Europe after that, he will surely look to move on. The Belgians usually do these days. For the moment he is struggling with fitness but Martinez insists he will be ready. I’m excited to see him at the forefront of our attack again but I just hope that more players are signed to go with the likes of Mirallas and Deulofeu who can provide him the creativity to feed off.

GOAL MACHINE
GOAL MACHINE

Conor McAleny – At 22, it surely has to be now or never for McAleny. He’s been out on loan to Scunthorpe, Brentford and Cardiff over the past three seasons and even though he only played a handful of games for each of those sides, Martinez has tied him down to a new deal and he’s been involved this pre-season. McAleny is a forward which is a relief because we could just end up with Kone as back-up, and if the Liverpool-born academy graduate is to make an impression then this season has to be it. It feels like he has been around forever, I remember when Moyes was in charge he came on as a substitute a few times but after suffering a leg-break and ligament damage since then too his appearances have been few and far between. He’s looked sharp in the glimpses I’ve seen of him during our warm up matches and after signing a new deal this could finally be the season we see him making strides to cement a place in the first team.

 

So there you have it, those are my assessments of how I see our current squad. I’m not going to talk about the Under 21’s or any young potential in the squad because my alarm will be going off for work soon if I write anymore! I have heard (and seen briefly) good things about Kieran Dowell though, who recently signed a pro deal at Goodison Park. The 17-year-old made his debut for the Blues against Krasnodar last season and the midfielder is said to be making a real impression for David Unsworth’s side. One for the future we hope.

As for the players listed above, I believe we do possess real quality in our squad but it just needs adding to. The likes of Stones, McCarthy, Deulofeu, Barkley and Lukaku are an exciting young core of a side that just needs an extra push to believe in itself and make a real impression on the League. We do have a blend of experience in there too but we still have plenty of mediocre players – the likes of McGeady, Hibbert, Kone and others, and these need to be moved on – just as Alcaraz and Distin was earlier this summer. We need to be more ruthless in our approach, continue to build and develop and be expressive and ambitious in our transfer dealings. Sign players who compliment the ones we already have. With over three weeks left of the window all eyes will be on Goodison Park to see the incomings and outgoings and I for one hope it will be more of the former than the latter. If that is the case then we can put last season behind us and begin to look forward again, who knows what we can achieve. The truth is, we shouldn’t be waiting around to see what might happen in the coming weeks, the plan should be in place and so should the squad, but is simply isn’t – yet.

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AFTER THREE MORE PLAYERS

If I was to hazard a prediction for Everton this season I would say a top ten finish, around 8th place at best. My heart wants me to predict a much higher finish than that for Everton FC but I just can’t see it unless we see any major movement in the coming weeks. Obviously we need to be aiming much higher than 8th place – we need to get back into Europe and start to play football like we did in 2013-14 – but with the sides around us strengthening in numbers – the likes of Newcastle, Palace, West Ham and Stoke (yes, those are sides around us and sides who I am comparing us to) – then it is going to be tough to drag ourselves back up the league and away from the ‘best of the rest’. One bad season doesn’t mean we are on par with some of those sides, but those sides have sufficiently strengthened, up to now we haven’t and Premier League teams won’t fear playing against us, especially the promoted sides and one of which we play this weekend. We need our best players consistently fit and firing if we are to get back up to the business end of the table – plus further numbers within the squad and a bit of luck along the way, it’s going to be tough.

Silverware has eluded us for so long and I’d love to see us have a real go at the League Cup this season. I don’t care what anyone says it is a trophy at the end of the day and we never take it seriously, that needs to change. We haven’t got Europe this season so you’d like to think we’d see a better performance in the domestic cups, 20 years without success is not acceptable. As for the League it won’t be easy to right the wrongs of last season and forget just how poor we were at times resulting in a bottom half finish – our lowest league placing for over a decade – but somehow I still harbour the belief that Martinez can be the man to take us forward and get ourselves recognised as a Premier League force again. I just hope the people who employ him buy into his vision, finally match the ambition of our fans, sign players who can take us to another level and allow this club to kick on, otherwise it could just be another season of standing still.

Martinez and Everton had a bad time of it during our last campaign but I still haven’t forgotten the Spaniard’s first season in charge and I certainly haven’t given up on him yet.

 

Up the Toffees.

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