Everton started the season looking to break into the top 6. They had a strong squad packed with summer signings and they had an experienced manager at the helm. Fast forward three months and they are battling relegation, without a manager and missing players from positions that are vital to their campaign.
Some have blamed Ronald Koeman’s management style, but that was the same style which saw them finish 7th, fifteen points clear of his former side Southampton in 8th. Some blame the lack of a striker following Lukaku’s departure, yet Burnley, who have scored one less goal than Everton this season, sit in 7th with ten more points than the Toffees.
Their defensive record is the worst in the league and some put that down to the decline of Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka, but surely the money spent on Micheal Keane was meant to solve that problem? All of this has put a lot of pressure on Goodison’s Director of Football Steve Walsh. So who can Walsh sign to rejuvenate this Everton side and make his appointment look like a stroke of genius?
1. Replace Jagielka and Williams
Everton have conceded 28 goals so far this season, three more than bottom place Crystal Palace and two more than Tottenham did across the whole of last season. Everton may have signed many pundits ‘One To Watch’ last season Micheal Keane, but they are still partnering him with Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka. The latter has not made an appearance for England since Euro 2016, as Gareth Southgate acknowledges the need to bring fresh players into the fold and stop picking players who most would regard as past their peak.
Signing Ashley Williams seemed to be a stroke of genius when he was poached for just €14 million from Swansea, but recently he has looked poor, missing the intelligence and presence that brought him praise from players and managers alike during his time with the Welsh club. It would be tough to bring in another Burnley defender since they currently occupy the position Everton finished last season, but there are still options amongst their Premier League rivals. I think the best option would be to sign someone a bit older than Keane but still with a fair bit of time left in his footballing career.
Down on the south coast Bournemouth have seen a recent turn of fortunes which has seen them keep a clean sheet in their last three matches, as well as having the best defensive record in the bottom half of the Premier League. Steve Cook has played a large part in their rise from League One back to the top flight of English football and is now an integral part of Eddie Howe’s tactical plans. Transfermarkt.com rate him at £4.5 million, a small price to pay for a some defensive stability.
2. Prepare for a Future Without Leighton Baines
Much like Jagielka and Williams, Baines’ time at the top will expire and at 32, that will be sooner rather than later. He has been playing well offensively this season and he is one of the few men in Everton’s team that gives 100% no matter how the side is performing.
Prior to the 2013/14 season, he had played 2900 minutes or more every season for 4 seasons, yet in the last four he has played progressively less. In 2015/16, injury limited Baines to just 16 starts, and the former England left-back began to look tired and in desperate need of rotation. On top of all of that, he cannot be exonerated of blame for the Toffee’s defensive frailties. The left back has never had a tackle success rate lower than this years, which is 47% compared to 70% last year. Everton need to purchase a player he can take under his wing for the next couple of years, but also is good enough in his own right to step into the side when Baines needs a rest.
Luke Shaw is unlikely to fancy the hardship that comes with a relegation battle and Danny Rose has set his sites on replacing Shaw at Manchester United. Left-backs are a highly valued commodity in the Premier League at the minute, so perhaps their solution would be to take a leaf out of their rivals book. Joe Gomez was signed from Charlton and despite a season out injured, his success in Liverpool’s side has earned him an England debut already this year.
A similar left-back rated as the next star is Fulham starlet Ryan Sessegnon, linked with Tottenham recently following his hat-trick against Sheffield United. Spurs took a long time to bring in players like Kieran Tripper and Kyle Walker-Peters into the first team and I’m not sure they will purchase someone who they would prefer to bring through the ranks slowly. If The Lilywhites opt to bring in a player with less risk to their Champions League bid, it will open the door for Everton to sign the 17 year old.
3. Sign a Striker: Optimistic
The next three points are all in the same pattern, Everton need goals! Oumar Niasse sits top of the Everton goalscorer list for this season, a player previously exiled from the club, and surely someone the Everton hierarchy cannot have faith in to replace the chasm that remains following Romelu Lukaku’s departure to Manchester United.
Everton scored 62 goals in the league last season, 25 of which were provided by the Red Devils’ forward. Without him, that leaves their total at 37, a total that only Hull, Sunderland and Middlesborough were equal or worse than, all three of those sides now reside in the Championship. This was a problem Everton were well aware and should have sorted but we are well past that stage and they must begin to look forward. Everton need a striker that will get them 15 goals a season at least, if not 20 if they hope to reach the heights of last season. So first the signing that Everton fans would probably give their right arm to complete is an optimistic one to say the least.
Alexis Sanchez’s contract expires at the end of the season and plenty of top clubs have been sniffing around the Arsenal camp, hoping to pick up the player on a free transfer at the end of the season. The only way I can see the Chilean forward leaving is if someone empties their pockets for him, possibly tempting Wenger to cash in and look elsewhere. Everyone is well aware that figure will be a large one, but a possible cash and player deal including Ross Barkley may be enough to snare the striker. The threat of their North London rivals picking up the Everton player may tempt Arsenal to deal ahead of the season’s end. He battled for the ‘Golden Boot’ with Harry Kane and Lukaku and ended up third with 24 goals, but his 10 assists outshone his rivals, Kane with 7 and Lukaku with 6. We are all aware of his ability, but Everton will need a large stroke of fortune to pull off this signing.
4. Sign a Striker: Risk
Jamie Vardy, 2015/16 Premier League Champion and England Striker, started in the depths of non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels. If Everton want to take a gamble like Leicester did then there are definitely targets out there for them. Danny Newton could definitely be one of those risks, having progressed from National League side Tamworth to Stevenage in League Two. He was also a part of Vardy’s V9 Academy, so the Leicester striker clearly thinks he has the talent to follow in his footsteps.
Newton was picked up by Stevenage after he scored 28 goals last season for Tamworth, a figure that screams talent, and he went on to score 3 goals in his first five games for his new side. He now has 7 in 18 game but he isn’t the top risk Everton should take, just an option.
Omar Bogle may not have not played many minutes for Cardiff, but the 25 year old shapes like he is ready for a chance with a top side. His three years with Solihull Moors saw him bag goal totals of 15, 18 and 29 in the 14/15 season alone. That earned him a move to Grimsby, seeing the club fight to a return to the Football League as champions, and netting 16 times in the process. After finding the net 19 times in 27 games for Grimsby the season after, Wigan bought him in January, and he impress so much that Cardiff purchased him just six months later. The Bluebirds are second in the Championship and Bogle has scored twice in his first five appearances.
5. Sign a Striker: Realistic
Originally it was thought Olivier Giroud would be the solution to Everton’s striker troubles but he still appears to be in Wenger’s plans. Giroud may also favour a return to France over the pressure of carrying a struggling Everton side to safety, fans will definitely all look to him for a large goal tally, and that won’t be an easy task in a league that looks tougher than last years. The more likely solution also sits on the south coast along with Steve Cook, despite Bournemouth also struggling for goals this season. When the Cherries signed Jermaine Defoe in the summer no-one expected them to have only found the net 11 times in 13 games, Defoe only contributing one of those.
Teammate Joshua King may have also struggled this season, netting just once, but the 25 year old Norway striker had no such problems last year. He found the net 16 times last season, which saw him finish joint eighth with Eden Hazard in the Premier League. By comparison, Swedish icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored just one more with 17, and Manchester City talisman Sergio Agüero scored just four more. That is an impressive tally for a striker who was warming benches in Blackburn just three years ago.