ToffeeDan looks at the new season and the players we might see on the park.
A forthright assessment of the strengths and weaknesses in the first team squad. I am writing these notes in advance of any potential arrivals or departures. Of course there’s one big, Chelsea-shaped elephant in the room called Mourinho and he’s not particularly welcome to our party (even if he is armed with a cheque for about £35M). Whilst we accept it’s the way of the world – just as mergers and acquisitions are a fact of commercial life – it is immutable that the Premier League mirrors real commercial hard facts and there will only be three or four main contenders in any one sector of the market. This does not make it any more palatable for us whilst one person in particular flashes money like Harry Enfield and labels us “smaller” and, seemingly, resorts to sending his troops out to fire his bullets in the general direction of Merseyside. If he cares to listen to me (he doesn’t!), I’d be telling Jose: “Obrigado, now push off”. I find him quite an enigma. Charming yet Gauche, Entertaining yet Ever the Villain. For someone so fortunate and self-evidently good at his job he plays the victim card far too often for my liking.
The First Team
Goalkeepers and Defenders
Tim Howard – well yeah.. good, sometimes very good but, like the girl with the curl, sometimes, lately, horrid. We probably have to accept that we aren’t in the market for a super replacement (even if that player could be found would they come our way?) – what we really need is a suitable replacement – someone capable of challenging for the number 1 spot or at the very least someone far better than Billy “out of tune” Joel Robles.
Seamus Coleman – I don’t know whether this gets universal agreement but – whilst he was a breath of fresh air compared with the tough-tackling no-nonsense cult hero Tony Hibbert – and has contributed a number of marauding runs and more than the odd goal (highly unusual for us given we have had a number of goal-free right backs over the years (think Darracott) – sometimes Seamus can be the most frustrating of players. His end product – like some other right sided persons who I would drive to Celtic Park myself – is limited. Too often lumps it into the box. So perhaps a bit of training on composure would not go amiss.
Leighton Baines – a return to old form and fitness would be a massive boost for us. Still one of the best in the business and an automatic choice. Must work on the corners though and it would be great to see him break his duck and score from a free-kick (not penalty) at Goodison for once.
Phil Jagielka. As solid as a rock – contributes goals, defends stoutly (with countless perfectly timed tackles – see his low yellow card count). A good captain and a pretty decent player.
John Stones – Bobby Moore II – here’s hoping he’s staying in Royal Blue and not swapping one Kensington* for well, Kensington High Street. Cannot praise him highly enough. Has to iron out the inevitable minor foible when dwelling on the ball but what defender doesn’t make the odd rick?
Brendan Galloway and Ty Browning look like decent prospects so there is the potential for cover across the back. Tony Hibbert, if fit, can still get stuck in (especially at Anfield) when called upon. Bryan is fit again to slot in for Leighton Baines if required – or even in midfield where he won’t let the side down. We are just a decent experienced reserve centre-half away from a full complement at the back.
James McCarthy looks like an automatic choice – as we all know he covers every blade with maximum efficiency. Now appears to have added the desire and ability to have a shot at goal which is a welcome addition to his arsenal.
Mo Besic – a little bit of an enigma. Certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, and from the fans’ point of view is a favourite, but still looks like a yellow card on two legs, makes a few poor decisions. I guess that’s down to age and lack of experience which he will need to find at this level to move up a gear.
Gareth Barry – for the most part had a stinker last season but I believe that should be partly down to not having the opportunity to take a breather. With so many around him frequently injured it invariably fell to him to fill the role in front of the defence. Would be happier I suspect with a regular partner (probably Macca) and the odd breather.
Darren Gibson – if only he was fit for a few games.
Tom Cleverley – early pre-season signs are encouraging for his prospects in Royal Blue.
Leon Osman – if only he had some strength in that right foot he’d be a top top player (to quote Fergie). As it is he’s still a grafter with a great touch and, yes, a little bit weak in the challenge but it’s a tough game and he’s one of the slightest players in the PL which brings me neatly on to
Steven Pienaar – like Leon Osman a little bit the wrong side of 30 and often so easily kicked out off the park, particularly away games when an early Reducer invariably threatens his left-sided axis with Leighton. But, still a decent little footballer with plenty to offer.
Aiden McGeady – far be it for me to criticise a player in a Royal Blue shirt but a bit more correct decision making and a few more decent, early crosses would not go amiss. Probably more effective off the bench against tiring defenders.
Gerard Deulofeu – well this lad has everything, confidence in spades, skill and pace.. just add a few more decent crosses and a bit less showmanship and bingo, he could be the player he wants to be, we want him to be, he thinks he is.. very much a good buy by Roberto at a great price. Let’s hope we see more of the 2013-14 version of Gerard in the first team.
Steven Naismith – a hustler in the Tim Cahill mould (perhaps without the heading ability though). Worth his place in the side for his ability to harass and scores a few too.
Kevin Mirallas – will we see him last a full ninety minutes or is that just down to the pace and strength required for the PL? Certainly has a lot of the right attributes for a top footballer and usually can be relied upon to offer something different – that deceptive quality which marks him out from other players. Hopefully is settled for the season and not distracted by a possible move.
Ross Barkley – he could easily be the one key midfielder we so desperately need – the one who makes all the big decisions and gets them right (think Eden Hazard for Chelsea). If only he tried less hard to be the hero every time he is in possession. Perhaps that’s just down to Youthful Exuberance and a fully fit Ross could be part of an exciting Everton team this season.
Romelu Lukaku – this pre-season has looked very sharp so possibly that’s the benefit of a full rest over the summer. This augurs well for us providing his ball control is up to the mark, he stays onside a few more times and the quality of the through ball is maintained. The key player for us this coming season.
Arouna Kone – yes, well is he going to recover his pre-Everton form and fitness or has his confidence been shot to pieces? It would be nice to be able to rely on him a bit more than has been the case for the past two seasons.
Others: Ryan Ledson and Conor McAleny could be pushing for a place in the first team this season.
In order of priority we need – a centre-half to challenge Jagielka and Stones, a keeper to offer a future beyond the next season or two aside from Tim Howard, a midfielder capable of offering a few more goals (though that could be Ross Barkley) and a striker other than Romelu.
Prospects for the season
It seems unlikely that we will repeat the success of 2013-14 but we can hope for a better season than last time. The Europa journey and the crippling injury list certainly didn’t help and whilst I support the positivity of Roberto Martinez I can only hope that mistakes and failures are duly noted if, rightly, they are kept in house. There’s no point in publicly deriding a poor performance just as much as lauding failure with some strange comments is equally unwelcome. 8th or 9th is by no means an unreasonable expectation if the squad is not decimated (that’s two out of twenty for the language pedants amongst us). A cup run would be most welcome – starting with some genuine interest in the League Cup.