Premier League Preview: Everton

Nil satis nisi optimum. “Nothing but the best is good enough.” That’s the Latin phrase at the bottom of Everton Football Club’s badge. It’s a phrase that, while lofty to the extreme, Everton have fallen woefully short of for the last couple decades. There were plenty of good but not great seasons under David Moyes. Then Roberto Martínez came and went, not soon enough. Now, with Dutch manager Ronald Koeman in charge for his second season, the Toffees are trending up after finishing seventh last year. They were exceptional at home, picking up 43 points at Goodison Park, their best total in the Premier League era. Among those games were memorable wins against the big boys: a 2-1 comeback over Arsenal, and a 4-0 battering of Manchester City. Can they keep it going this season? Everton have been really busy this summer, with a whole slew of arrivals and departures. Koeman is remaking this team in his image, and it’s hard to argue with the young talent he’s brought in. But who will replace Romelu Lukaku’s goals? Will they or won’t they land Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea? And can they actually get someone to cough up £50 million for Ross Barkley? There are still lots of questions surrounding Everton as they look to climb even closer to the top of England this campaign.

2016-17 Record & Finish
17-10-11 (W-D-L), 61 points, 7th in the Premier League
+18 GD (62 GF, 44 GA)

Manager
Ronald Koeman – 2nd season with Everton

Koeman

Ins and Outs
Michael Keane (£24.23 million from Burnley)
Davy Klaassen (£22.95 million from Ajax)
Cuco Martina (free from Southampton)
Henry Onyekuru (£6.8 million from KAS Eupen)
Jordan Pickford (£24.23 million from Sunderland)
Sandro Ramírez (£5.1 million from Málaga)
Wayne Rooney (free from Manchester United)

Tyias Browning (on loan to Sunderland)
Tom Cleverley (£7.91 million to Watford)
Gerard Deulofeu (£10.2 million to Barcelona)
Brendan Galloway (on loan to Sunderland)
Arouna Koné (free to Sivasspor)
Romelu Lukaku (£72 million to Manchester United)
Conor McAleny (free to Fleetwood Town)
Aiden McGeady (£238,000 to Sunderland)
Henry Onyekuru (on loan to RSC Anderlecht)
Matthew Pennington (on loan to Leeds United)

X-factor
Dominic Calvert-Lewin

DCL

Everton have stockpiled a bunch of exciting, young players over the last few years. Calvert-Lewin might be the most thrilling prospect of the lot, and he has a chance to be the guy who steps in and fills some of the massive void left by Romelu Lukaku. He’s only 20 years old, made his first-team debut in December, and has the trust of his manager. Big games don’t phase him. His first senior Everton goal? It came during their 4-0 triumph over Manchester City. His most recent goal? It was the only goal for England as the young Three Lions won the U20 World Cup this summer. What is his ceiling? He could be Everton’s version of Marcus Rashford, and this could be Calvert-Lewin’s breakout year.

Best Case Scenario
When making preseason predictions, it’s easy to make projections for the current season based off the previous one’s final table. Rarely, if ever, does that work. But in Everton’s case, their goal is Champions League qualification, which means they have to jump over at least three of the six teams that finished ahead of them in 2016-17. Can they do it? Arsenal and Liverpool? Possibly. They’ll need help – a dip in form, or major injuries, or both – to get ahead of Chelsea, Spurs, or the Manchester clubs. Everton’s realistic ceiling for this season is a fifth-place finish, but if they continue to play well, score lots of goals, and rack up wins, they absolutely can put pressure on the teams they’re chasing and have an outside chance of breaking into the top four. They’ll need goals from Calvert-Lewin, Sandro, and the occasional ones from Yannick Bolasie and Wayne Rooney. Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye can shut down the middle of the park, and Koeman will hope the back four can hold it together until Seamus Coleman can return from his horrific leg injury. Regardless of where they finish, Everton won’t be boring to watch this season.

new faces

Worst Case Scenario
There’s always risk involved when you make as many changes in a transfer window as Everton have this summer. For the players coming to the club from other European countries, there could be an adjustment period to the league and the country itself. Some of the new, young signings might feel disproportionate levels of pressure, especially Jordan Pickford in goal and Michael Keane in central defense. The incumbent Everton back line is getting old, and fitness has been an issue there the past couple seasons. If Pickford struggles early on, and Everton have injury issues again and/or have trouble scoring, the Toffees might slide back down the table a few spots instead of continuing their parade back towards the top. Wayne Rooney doesn’t really fit in this current squad, and he will grow discontented as the season goes on, while scoring just a couple goals all season. Furthermore, off the field, the uncertainty around a new stadium remains just that. Everton have been looking for a new home for years now; yet here they are, still at their tried and true ground, Goodison Park. Even if everything goes horribly wrong for Everton this year, they’re still a top-10 team in the league. But if they end up ninth or tenth, it will be an indictment of Koeman and the moves he’s made, especially this summer.

If I were in charge for a day…
Sell Ross Barkley and replace him with Gylfi Sigurdsson. Barkley has the natural ability to be a premier creative midfielder, but he can go months without scoring. He struggles to stay healthy for a full season. And the red mist is never too far away; he should have been sent off in both Merseyside Derbies last season; he didn’t see red in either one. Everton’s £50 million asking price is too high for Barkley. In fact, they’d surely end up losing money by selling Barkley and acquiring Sigurdsson, but that would be a good investment as Gylfi would be an upgrade at that position. There are plenty of teams that would take Barkley; I could see him doing a job in Arsenal’s midfield. I wouldn’t mind seeing him go to Tottenham, where he’d likely earn more but play far less than Spurs’ current regulars. That oculd unravel quite nicely. Anyway, that’s a move I would make right now that makes Everton better right away, and for the next few years as well.

Assuming Barkley stays and/or Sigurdsson doesn’t come, here’s my first-choice 11 for Everton:

Pickford; Holgate, Keane, Williams, Baines; Gana, Schneiderlin; Davies, Klaassen, Mirallas; Calvert-Lewin

Debate away!

I’m not sure who at the club pissed off the Premier League scriptwriters, but Everton are going to be put through the ringer right off the bat this season. Here’s their first seven games:

Aug. 12 – vs. Stoke City
Aug. 21 – at Manchester City
Aug. 26 – at Chelsea
Sept. 9 – vs. Spurs
Sept. 17 – at Manchester United
Sept. 23 – vs. Bournemouth
Oct. 1 – vs. Burnley

Tomorrow, we stay in the northwest, just a little farther inland, as we preview Manchester United. I’ll try to keep it under 10,000 words. The Red Devils won the EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League last year, but will need to do much better than their sixth-place finish in the Premier League. Can they win their first league title in five years?

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!

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