Having secured 7th place in the Premier League, Everton’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on the final day of the 2016/17 season may not have been entirely unexpected.
The Toffees are winless away at Arsenal since 1996 and with no chance of finishing anywhere else but seventh, Evertonians travelled down to the capital in loyalty rather than expectation (or even faint hope) of victory.
But widening our retrospective gaze to take in the entire 38 game season, Blues can be pleased that in Ronald Koeman’s first campaign in charge, they significantly improved on last season’s 11th place finish and qualified for the Europa League. However disappointing the end was, they got the job done.
Positively wretched end to a positive season
Everton amassed a paltry 47 points in each of Roberto Martinez’s final two seasons as manager, finishing 11th in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
So it only takes a glance at the league table to see that progress has been made at Goodison Park this year, and most fans will agree that seventh place accurately reflects the current state of Everton Football Club: a squad of good players, mixed with with youthful promise and outgoing veterans; a new manger with a track record of top 7 finishes (over the past two seasons); and a new billionaire majority shareholder 12 months into a project aimed at reawakening a sleeping giant.
The season hasn’t been without its disappointments of course. An awful away record (Martinez lost 5 away last season, Koeman lost 9), double derby defeat, and a general ‘be-arsed’ attitude once 7th place and European qualification was secured.
But at home The Toffees have been excellent. Only Liverpool and Chelsea have left Goodison Park in the league with all three points and the 13 games won by Koeman is more than double that which Martinez managed in his last campaign (5). You have to go back to 1989/90 for the last time Everton won more games at home (14).
Off the pitch, Blues are striking the right note
Rediscovering that winning formula on home turf has been a delight but it’s also pleasing to see things moving in the right direction off it.
Last summer Farhad Moshiri recruited his number one managerial target and added one of the most sought after scouts in the Premier League to his new look backroom team. Steve Walsh has been appointed the club’s first ever director of football and on the whole Everton’s player recruitment has been good (Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin, Yannick Bolasie and arguably Ashley Williams were all improvements on what had gone before).
USM has been plastered all over Finch Farm, making The Toffees £27m better off, and while the exact value of Everton’s new main shirt deal with SportPesa is yet to be confirmed, Robert Elstone revealed at the AGM that it will represent a “three-fold increase” on the current Chang deal (worth £16m over the last three years).
And of course the proposed stadium move to Bramley-Moore dock is at it’s early yet exciting first stages after the club agreed to buy the land, as well as confirming the backing of Liverpool City Council as guarantor.
Squad could look very different in three months time
After a summer of carefully considered ‘patching up’ in 2016, are Everton in need of major surgery in the 2017 window?
John Stones left a not-too sizeable gap to fill when he left for Manchester City (a hole plugged in the short-term by Williams) but other than that Everton managed to keep hold of their prized assets in Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley. On the whole it was a window of reinforcing what Koeman inherited, despite the belief among fans and media that an overhaul was due.
But now that Koeman has had 12 months of closer inspection, might we see him wield the proverbial axe? Are some players’ numbers up? And can we hold off the attentions of ‘so called’ bigger clubs courting our ‘so called’ bigger stars?
Most fans would agree that only a handful of players have done enough to convince Koeman that they deserve a future (excluding young/academy players and Bolasie):
None of us would be surprised (nor would be too disappointed) if the remainder of the senior squad found themselves surplus to requirements. It underlines the potential for change at Goodison this summer. Almost every position needs to be strengthened, and even for those listed above, their starting berths should not be taken for granted.
Will he, won’t he?
I’ve included Barkley’s name as one that should have done enough to secure their future at the club, but the ongoing contract showdown between club/Koeman and player has cast that into doubt.
There seems to have developed a love-hate relationship between Evertonians and Barkley, and I can see why the fan-base is split. He will leave mouths agape in wonder one moment and have them spitting venom in frustration the next. And the stand-off over him signing a new contract has now led to indifference too. Quite simply, we’re bored of the whole situation and couldn’t much care whether he stays or goes.
For what it’s worth I want him to stay. He topped Everton’s top assist charts for the season (8) and ended the year as the highest ranked Englishman in the league in this area. He also chipped in with five goals. But we expect more, and after four full seasons in the Premier League, is it unreasonable to expect him in the top five for assists? His visible talents suggest he should be.
Holgate deserves real shot at central role
I want to see him in a blue shirt next season, but 21 non-attackers (midfielders and defenders) scored more goals in the Premier League than Barkley this season (60th overall). Seamus Coleman only scored one less. He’s not irreplaceable.
Tom Davies was one of the positives to come out of Everton’s first full season under the good ship Moshiri. He took his chance when it came along, scored twice and assisted three times in 18 starts, and in doing so kept his place in the team on merit, playing the majority of Everton’s games in 2017.
While fans certainly expect to see much of Davies next season in central midfield, Evertonians will be equally look forward to Mason Holgate’s future. A lot of his 16 starts this season have come at right back, as a stand in for the impressive Coleman, and while his efforts can’t be questioned it’s becoming clear that his full-back career should be a short-lived one.
Koeman has abandoned three-at-the-back since Coleman’s injury, playing it safe with a 4-4-2; understandably so considering the squad’s lack of a like-for-like wing-back replacement. As such Holgate has done a steady job at right back, but at times the youngster has looked exposed, making errors as a result.
But we all know his preferred position is centre-half and he’s looked just as classy as Stones ever did in a three-man defence. Hopefully he’ll get his chance to stake a claim for a centre back spot in pre-seaosn, with Williams and Phil Jagielka showing us that 32 and 34 year olds don’t make for successful centre back pairings against the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane. Holgate has shown promise at centre half, and his speed and composure will prove useful next season.