Everton Season Preview: closing the gap

With the 2018-19 Premier League season coming up, The Football Lab caught up with Everton fan Adam Partington (@PartAdam) from Grand Old Team.

You finished your 2017-18 campaign trophyless and 26 points behind the Champions League qualification places; surely a bad season for a club of your stature. Is this era about closing the gap to English football’s elite?

That’s the goal. I think it’s doable, too. People (mainly the Reds) laugh at Evertonians who dare to think that we can do better, but Tottenham and Manchester City both turned the old ‘Top 4’ into a ‘Top 6’, so why can’t Everton make it a ‘Top 7’ in the future? Obviously, Manchester City are a special case, but like us, they made some mistakes after the initial investment. The key is to learn from those mistakes and kick on.

It appears that while owner Farhad Moshiri has the ambition to take Everton to the level that fans want, he has been found wanting in terms of coherent planning. Are you glad he has appointed a Director of Football in Marcel Brands?

He’s learning on the job. Thankfully his mistakes haven’t proved too catastrophic, we’ve not been relegated and we’ve come out of a turbulent period with a decent side that only needs a couple of additions to be competitive again. I’m really excited about Brands, he brings a wealth of knowledge and an impressive pedigree. He’s already set about proactively moving our deadwood on and has acquired a couple of good signings. It’s fantastic to have someone like him at the club.

Marco Silva has been appointed manager this summer. Are fans looking forward to seeing the style of football he will introduce?

I am. I was at the Valencia pre-season friendly on Saturday and we played some of the best attacking football I’ve seen at Goodison in about three seasons. Ok, the bar hasn’t been set high, but that front four of Tosun, Walcott, Sigurdsson and Richarlison are exciting. From what I can tell, we look to burst forward quickly and hit sides on the break. As a supporter, that’s fantastic to watch and I’m really looking forward to seeing more this season.

Silva had an influential role in the development of Harry Maguire’s ball-playing skills. Are you excited by the work he could do with Mason Holgate?

Yeah, I think they’re slightly different players but Holgate has some of the right attributes to become a capable centre-half, so it’ll be interesting to see how Silva develops him. At the time of writing this as an area of the squad most in need of strengthening.

Many were excited by the signing of Michael Keane last summer but he doesn’t appear to have quite hit the heights expected. Given that Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams may be close to retiring – the latter leaving on loan – is it important that Keane and other centre-backs step up a level?

It is. His confidence looks shot at the moment. The best form we’ve seen from him was when he played alongside Jagielka but, as we all know, Jagielka is at a stage in his career where he’s unable to play all of the time. I think if Everton can bring in someone who can command a little bit of respect and who can take some of the heat off Keane, he’ll be ok. I haven’t given up on his Everton career just yet.

Jordan Pickford has gained a lot of praise over the last two years for his performances for Sunderland, England and yourselves. Deserved, in your view?

Yeah, he was outstanding for us last year so the World Cup was no surprise for me. What strikes me about Pickford is the amount of football he’s played in such a short career. I spoke to a Sunderland fan for our podcast last summer and he was telling me about how Jordan is lightyears ahead of his development when compared with other keepers at his age. He’s captain material and has the minerals to be the best goalie Everton have possessed since Neville Southall.

Right-back Seamus Coleman seemed to have a good season last year. Is he a positive influence in the dressing room, as well as on the pitch?

We missed him when he was away. That injury was sickening, not just because of his importance to the team, but because he’s a bloody good lad too. He’s a great ambassador for our football club and he’s still one of the best full-backs in the league. I think he’s almost back to his best, so hopefully, we’ll see some good performances this year. He does have a tendency at times to ball watch and not be too familiar with what is around him, but apart from that, he’s a big positive.

A few years ago, you could pinpoint Leighton Baines’ powerful runs as a key source of your attacking play. Now that he’s perhaps lost a yard of pace, does Antonee Robinson have a chance of breaking through?

You sent these questions before Robinson signed for Wigan and before Lucas Digne came onboard, so Antonee won’t be playing for Everton’s first team this season but he’s one for the future. His pace is frightening, I’ll be keeping an eye on his progress.

The likes of Idrissa Gana Gueye and Tom Davies look very good at hassling opponents high up the pitch. Is the task for Silva to find a midfielder to play alongside one or both and offer a little more creativity from deep?

I think there are big question marks around what Davies does with the ball, that’ll be a concern for Silva so he may opt to try and change Morgan Schneiderlin’s style and try to ask him to be a little bit more combative. Unless we bring in another player in that area, for me, it’ll be Gana and Schneiderlin with Sigurdsson in front of them.

Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun made a reasonable impact after joining in January. Are you looking forward to seeing what they can produce over a full season?

They link up well, I think there’s a good understanding and I fancy an impressive season from Cenk. Walcott just needs to stay fit, he has a lot to offer and a few people to prove wrong so fingers crossed he can do that.

Gylfi Sigurdsson didn’t look quite as productive as hoped on that left-hand side. With Yannick Bolasie potentially leaving, do you see Ademola Lookman getting a look-in?

We’ve got to keep Ademola. RB Leipzig are desperate to capture him so Everton have a battle on their hands but it looks like they’re not entertaining the sale of him. We’ve got some brilliant options out wide and that’s without the potential signing of Bernard, so hopefully, Lookman can play his part too. Going back to your original question, if Everton want to crack the ‘elite’, they’ll need two decent players for each position and more competition with the squad, that’s for sure.

Toffees aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you assess your competitors?

I honestly think one of the ‘top 6’ might be due a nightmare season, so there’s every chance that the likes of us or West Ham could knock on that door. I’m concerned about the quality of Liverpool, but I still fancy City for the league. Manchester United look like they could implode and I’m not sure Chelsea are running at 100%. Arsenal have gone through change and Tottenham will be in new surroundings.

With that said, it’ll be tough for anybody to uproot those teams this season. I can see Southampton going down, and depending on the situation at Newcastle, they could join them. I think it’ll be another good season for the promoted sides, with Huddersfield getting sucked into trouble this term.

Where will you finish?

Ourselves and West Ham will battle it out for 7th. Everton will win the League Cup.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Everton don’t quite have the resources to offer quick fixes for problems like the dearth of reliable centre-backs and classy midfield controllers. However, they still possess a reasonable squad including Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman, Idrissa Gueye and Cenk Tosun. Much-needed improvements have been made off-the-field and, in Marco Silva, they finally have a manager proven to improve individuals and encourage fast-paced play. Expect modest progress. 7th