Everton Season Preview: Toffees back on track?

Football’s traditionalists will argue a seventh place finish should be the minimum expectation for a club of Everton’s stature and history. However, it is hard to see 16/17 as anything other than a year of impressive progress under Ronald Koeman, following the chaos of the previous regime. Supporter Adam Partington from the excellent Grand Old Team speaks to The Football Lab ahead of the new season.

I said on GrandOldTeam TV at the start of last season that I set three targets for him that I thought would epitomise a good season for Everton. One was to beat Liverpool in the league, the other to have a good cup run and the third was a top half finish. He didn’t hit those first two but exceeded expectations on the final target. Overall, it was a decent campaign, we got European football, and I’m positive it’ll only get better.

One of the main problems during the last two years of Roberto Martinez’s reign was the lack of work rate from the players. Do you think last year, Idrissa Gana Gueye set an example that others followed?

That was a big issue, we just didn’t work hard enough and if you look at the success of Leicester during that same season as Roberto’s last, that’s what their title win was built upon. But yeah, Gana was very good. The team, however, just looked generally more disciplined and sharp. We stopped that annoying habit of conceding after we scored and the entire side looked more capable of going the distance in certain games. For me, the edition of Morgan Schneiderlin and the introduction of Tom Davies also made a big difference in the centre of the park.

Like Gueye, summer signing Jordan Pickford was the best player in last year’s bottom side. Can he displace Joel Robles?

Pickford is definitely Everton’s new number one. Joel Robles looks like he’s leaving and that’s fair enough, he’s probably at a point in his career where he wants to play every week and he is capable of doing that in a top tier league – he’s just evidently not what we need if we want to make that next level.

You’ve lost your 26-goal top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, to Manchester United. Do you rate him as one of the best strikers in the world?

He’s not one of the best in the world yet, but I’m not brave enough to say he can’t be. I know people like to make these little videos demonstrating how bad his touch is, and I accept that it’s something he probably needs to work on, but you can’t argue with the amount of goals he scores. Granted, he needs to start netting in the big games, and he won’t get away with not doing that at United, but he’s got the minerals to go as far as he wants in my opinion. However, I’m not that gutted we’ve lost him, it was always going to happen and we had him for longer than anyone thought. The club is going in the right direction and we’ve been given a good fee, so it’s not the end of the world.

Aside from Lukaku, nobody scored more than five Premier League goals last year. With Davy Klaasen, Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney joining, will you have more strings to your bow this year?

I think so and it’s one of the reasons why I’m not as disappointed as some might expect about losing Lukaku. Koeman said we were a bit one dimensional and it’s better to spread the burden. When you think about it, there’s a good chance we can replace Lukaku’s goals between the lads you’ve mentioned, and that’s without the potential addition of Sigurdsson and Giroud.

At the time of writing, Ross Barkley is odds-on to go to Spurs. How do you reflect on his time at the club?

It’ll be strange. Depending what he goes on to do, I’ll be wondering how on earth he didn’t become the centre of the Everton universe. I mean, on his day, he’s got so much but we just don’t see it enough and we still see him making the same mistakes (due to his lack of concentration) as we did when it first started. I’m really disappointed he’s leaving and I think given the fact he’s a boyhood Evertonian it’s harder to take. But I don’t know the details are (nobody does) and why we’ve got here. I wish it would work out for him though. He should have become our Gerrard.

Ashley Williams signed from Swansea last summer. Was he your best centre-back last year?

He probably was but that was just purely down to a lack of competition, I actually expected a lot more from Williams. Ironically, Phil Jagielka came in later on in the season and found his best again. I think that’s won him another year at the club.

Michael Keane signs from Burnley. With Phil Jagielka getting on and Ramiro Funes Mori out for the long-term, was it important to sign a centre-back?

Yeah, I think we need another one too. But I’m chuffed with Keane and I’m glad he chose Everton.

Seamus Coleman is set to miss the start of the season with a broken leg. Is this an opportunity for new signing Cuco Martina to nail down a place?

According to my conversation with Aid Smalls from Fresh Saints on a recent GrandOldTeam podcast, the answer to this question is no. Southampton fans are utterly bemused why we’ve signed him, it’s a bit of a strange one.

Leighton Baines doesn’t quite seem to have the pace he had a few years ago. If he wasn’t an iconic figure at the club, would you have signed another left-back in the last two or three years?

Leighton Baines is a still a very competent full back in my opinion, but you’re right – he’s probably not at his best anymore. I think we need another left-back anyway and I expect to see one.

You’re in the Europa League this year. Do you see that competition as a chance to establish yourselves as a force on the European stage?

I think we can win it. You’ll obviously have reds laughing at that suggestion but I stopped caring what they said when I was about six. Look at the sides who have gone close in that tournament over the years? Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Braga, and Fulham have all made the final within the last decade. Why couldn’t an Everton side that contains a rejuvenated Wayne Rooney and co?

Everton aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole?

I’m only really interested in Everton but I am looking forward to seeing how the top teams will shape up. It’s getting more competitive and that’s good. Personally, I think Man United might go close at the top. I’m also happy to see the likes of Brighton and Huddersfield Town in the top flight!

Where will you finish?

I have no idea. It’s going to be hard to break into that top 6 but then nobody would have thought Tottenham would be where they are today a few seasons back. We’ve just got to keep building and acquiring the right talent.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Everton may be weakened up top in Lukaku’s absence, but their midfield looks stronger than it did 12 months ago while Keane and Pickford should improve them defensively. The Toffees will be a major threat in the Europa League and it would make sense for Koeman to make that competition his primary focus. 8th

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