Summer Transfer Wrap
The window is closed but the disappointing start to 2014/15 shouldn't detract from some impressive work in the transfer market by Roberto Martinez.
23 September 2014
Romelu Lukaku, Samuel Eto’o, Muhamed Besic, Gareth Barry, Christian Atsu
An unexpectedly sedate start to the season has taken the gloss off another smart transfer window from Roberto Martinez. In terms of objectives set back in May, the Catalan has nailed every single one: Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry were retained, Gerard Deulofeu was replaced, another reliable goal scorer was found and additional depth was brought in. Had the transfer window closed as the season began, and Everton were as they are now, this business would have been met by more widespread approval.
It must be remembered just how successful Martinez’s inaugural campaign actually was. In terms of sheer production, it was the Toffees’ best in Premier League history. The club recorded the most points (72), wins (21) and successive wins (seven) since 1987. Though another Champions League finish could not be repeated, Everton held fourth place with just five games to play. By keeping all of those responsible for that work, Martinez has a much stronger platform to build from, despite this ropey start to the season.
The marquee summer signing is obviously Lukaku. Having dramatically elevated the Toffees’ attack, the powerful Belgian simply had to be retained on a permanent basis. Martinez spent big, but given the forward’s age and capacity to improve, the gamble makes complete sense. Everton proved themselves far more potent with Lukaku leading the line, scoring 56 goals in the 31 games he featured in last season, compared to just five in the seven he missed. Sieving through previous campaigns, it’s generally the Toffees’ attacking return that separates them from the four best teams in the division. Lukaku was only the second Everton player to reach 15 league goals in the past 18 years, which underlines some of these past deficiencies.
The striker will be supported – and potentially partnered – by three-time Champions League winner, Samuel Eto’o, who is far more than just an understudy. Chelsea’s forwards were much maligned last season but Eto’o’s individual return was impressive. While he was strangely cold away from Stamford Bridge (all nine goals coming at home) his scoring frequency surpassed every Everton player: His nine goals came at a ratio of 0.62 goals per 90 minutes, compared to Lukaku’s 0.53. Including two strikes in Russia last season, the Cameroon forward is on a remarkable run of reaching double figures in his past 12 consecutive league campaigns – talk about consistency.
By signing Eto’o, Martinez has not only added an additional dose of venom in attack, but he has signed an ideal presence to influence and accelerate Lukaku’s development. It’s a hugely savvy coup and one that adds an extra layer of security to the club’s record purchase. Eto’o’s presence provides a genuine one-two punch and Martinez will already be considering ways of fitting both players into his line-up. There may well be more sightings of Lukaku in the right-sided role he’s played so successfully against Arsenal. Martinez's preference has generally been a 4-2-3-1 but there have been increasing sightings of a 4-3-3 which offers extra security for this potential scheme:
Moving further down the pitch, Barry is another vital signing based on last season’s production. If his contribution wasn’t always as obvious as Lukaku’s, it was arguably even more essential. Barry’s familiarity and comfort enforcing a pass-heavy system made the shift to Martinez’s approach appear far more seamless. After three slow, predictable draws with Norwich, West Brom and Cardiff, where Everton often appeared to pass for the sake of it, Barry’s arrival applied direction to Martinez’s methods. Everton were visibly lifted, winning the first five Premier League games the midfielder played in. Overall, Barry was the side’s leading passer in 23 of his 32 Premier League games last season, providing structure and intent to his new side’s approach.
Martinez will hope Barry can provide a similar influence on Muhamed Besic as Eto’o will with Lukaku. A schedule bloated by Europa League fixtures will be too much for Barry at 33, leaving the Bosnian in pole position to deputise in this key role. From three showings at the World Cup, his most obvious asset is how comfortable he is on the ball, a trait that marries well with both Martinez’s philosophy and Barry’s role in the team. Statistically, though from a particularly small sample size, Besic led his nation in several categories in Brazil, including passing (223) and possession won (23). He also recorded the second highest tally of tackles and interceptions (16), as well as successful dribbles (10).
Besic’s success in a midfield holding role was all the more commendable considering he played most of the previous campaign at centre-back (and occasionally right-back) for Ferencvaros. Forgetting his horror first touch against Chelsea, his game seems tailor-made for the Premier League. At 22, he should gradually see increasing action as the season unfolds, deputising for Barry in a 4-2-3-1 and potentially starting alongside him if a 4-3-3 reappears. He may even feature in the odd three-man defence.
The final new addition is Christian Atsu, who arrives to fill the void left by Deulofeu. The winger is another lesser-known quantity, most recently seen at Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands. Slight in stature, Atsu will be an additional explosive option for Martinez to toy with and presumably rotate. Statistically, he recorded a strong blanket of production last season in terms of chances created, dribbling success and shooting. His challenge now is to replicate that at a higher level. It’s likely Atsu’s experience of European leagues and brief taste of Champions League football will be heavily utilised during the Europa League campaign.
Any apathy towards Everton’s summer business is clearly influenced by some uncharacteristically poor defending during the first few games of the season. This has focused attention on the club’s experienced centre-backs, with three of the four potential starters aged 32 or over. Whether Martinez should have addressed that area at this current juncture remains to be seen, but Everton’s defensive record should not be prematurely dismissed. If the Champions League is the club’s main ambition, then the defenders have kept their end of the deal for the past three seasons, maintaining one of the four best defensive records in the country. Opting to delay a necessary injection of youth should not taint another round of savvy transactions from Martinez. For the third window under the Catalan’s guidance, Everton have once again emerged in better shape than they started – this time, recruiting their key signings for keeps.