The Blog FC are previewing every English Premier League side ahead of the 2015-16 season. Who’s arrived? Who’s departed? What do they need this coming season? Who will be the key man? All of that, and more, is answered below, as Joey Ratcliffe previews Everton’s season ahead.
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Captain: Phil Jagielka
Ins: Gerard Deulofeu (FC Barcelona), David Henen (Olympiacos), Tom Cleverley (Free Transfer).
Outs: Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth), Antolin Alcaraz (Free Transfer), Luke Garbutt (Fulham, Loan).
Last Season: 11th
2014-15 was… A thumping return to Earth after an outstanding debut season for Roberto Martinez in 2013-14. Having just missed out on fourth place that year, many expected the same form and consistency, especially with the permanent acquisition of Romelu Lukaku and the addition of world-class striker Samuel Eto’o. However, the Blues carried their poor pre-season into the season proper, throwing away leads against Leicester and Arsenal. In their first seven games, the Toffees had the lone solitary win and were looking more likely to battle relegation than contest for the Champions League slots.
The Blues steadied the ship, but from November to March the club went through one of its worst patches of domestic form in recent memory. The club won only two of 18 games across the Premier League and FA Cup, and one of those wins came at home against QPR, who were notoriously awful on the road in 2014-15.
Some pride was restored late in the season, winning six of their last ten, including a memorable 3-0 victory at home over Manchester United. But even that wasn’t enough to save Everton from their worst season since 2005-06, when they narrowly escaped relegation.
Many of the club’s problems stemmed from what made them so successful in the season prior – patient build-up play from defence. Second year syndrome was the cliché that came back to bite Martinez as clubs figured that Everton would attempt their regular passing game with a distinctly out of form defensive line. Right from the first 45 minutes of the season, Leicester closed down the likes of Phil Jagielka and disrupted the Toffee’s style. Yet, Martinez was stubborn in his refusal to adapt and suffocated Lukaku’s potential by continually playing him with his back to goal, even with the striker’s obvious limitations playing that style.
Player power overcame management later in the season as Martinez was rumoured to agree to a more expansive style craved by the players and the Goodison faithful.
2015-16 will be… Much of the same unless Martinez can mature as a manager. No key players have been sold yet, but with big clubs sniffing around young guns like John Stones and James McCarthy, it would be a surprise to not see the club have to desperately replace someone on deadline day.
As always, squad depth will be a problem for Everton compared to the deep pockets of their local rivals and the Manchester and top London clubs. But for the Everton support, the School of Science is simple – play expansive, attacking football. With the permanent transfer of Gerard Deulofeu – who was previously at the club during Martinez’s first season – to complement the likes of Kevin Mirallas in attack, the opportunities are there for the Spanish manager.
It looks more than likely, however, that Martinez will fall into the same trap that Moyes fell into over his decade-long tenure. Instead of having the bravery to attack games, Martinez will spend 2015-16 working out how not to lose; only in different style to the Scot.
Key Player: Romelu Lukaku. He is the club’s record signing for a reason, but in 2014-15 the goals dried up and it’s no surprise the Blues ended up further down the ladder without their big Belgian firing. The success of the club also depends on the creativity of Ross Barkley, set-piece play of Leighton Baines and the wing-play of Deulofeu. However, the combined powers of those attacking assets mean nothing without an end product.
If Lukaku is given the freedom to take on players, play higher up the pitch and get the ball played into him early, the service from Baines, Barkley and Deulofeu will see the Belgian rack up the goals again.
What, or whom, do Everton need? Another centre-back. The club is down on those stocks after releasing Antolin Alcaraz and only two natural centrebacks remain in Phil Jagielka and John Stones – against Stoke in Singapore, full-back Tyias Browning was paired with Jagielka.
With the potential departure of Stones to Chelsea, Everton may be staring down the possibility of having to sign two quality centre-back replacements before deadline day. Rumours of signing Johnny Evans and Nemanja Vidic have surfaced, but a confirmed bid for a position they desperately need to fill is yet to transpire. If Stones does go, the Toffees are likely to be heavily compensated meaning replacements of the required quality should be attainable. But even if he does stay, there’s no doubt that Martinez needs to dip his toes into the transfer market before the transfer window closes.
The Blog FC Predicted Finish: 8th