Top-6 tilt could be touch-and-go as summer business falls just short

The failure to replace Kurt Zouma was frustrating because the recruitment this summer has, otherwise, been hugely encouraging, leaving Marco Silva with a more dangerous outfit going forward but thin at the back. Everton will rely on Keane and Mina forging a meaningful partnership, some luck with injuries and some help from the some of the so-called "big six" this season.

Lyndon Lloyd 09/08/2019 52comments  |  Jump to last
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2019-20 Season Preview

Marco Silva enters territory he hasn't experienced since this days at Estoril when he begins a second season as Everton manager this weekend. Since leaving the Portuguese Riviera, the 42-year-old has had spells at Sporting, Olympiacos, Hull City and Watford, none of which lasted longer than a year but all the signs are that he could go on to surpass at Goodison Park the three seasons he spent at the club where he originally made his name between 2011 and 2014.

That's down to a 2018-19 Premier League campaign that, by its conclusion, seemed to suggest that Silva was getting his arms around the Everton job after a promising start, an almost disastrous winter and then a run-in where it felt as though the foundations were being laid for a genuine crack at breaking up the hegemony of the so-called “big six” clubs.

All the while, half of the teams enjoying that perennial lock on the European places were exhibiting enough instability and inconsistency to offer hope that, with the right recruitment efforts, the Toffees could break their stranglehold on the top six places. More on Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea later but while there might yet be scope for one or more of those teams falter this coming season, it's hard not to shake the feeling that Everton have missed a big opportunity to perhaps even gatecrash the top four by falling just short in the transfer market this summer.

Big shoes to fill

There's no question that the late-season run that saw Silva's men avoid conceding at home at all from early February onwards while losing only two of their last 11 games and secure eight clean sheets along the way was underpinned by the combination of Idrissa Gueye's impressive work-rate and ability to break up opposition play in front of his back four and an increasingly formidable central-defensive pairing of Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma.

Zouma, a deadline-beating signing on loan from Chelsea a year ago, might have appeared at the time to be a late security measure from Director of Football, Marcel Brands, but the Frenchman went on to have an excellent season and would, if he were a full-time Everton player, have surely run his compatriot Lucas Digne hard for the club's Player of the Season award. It was just as well because Yerry Mina, Silva's prime centre-half target of the 2018 close season, would miss the first few weeks of the campaign with successive foot problems and succumbed to another injury in January.

That neither Gueye nor Zouma are still at Goodison Park this season means that two vital cornerstones of last term's relative improvement have been removed; one of them has not been replaced and the Senegalese's nominal replacement is a hugely promising but untried prospect. In Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Brands and Silva have acquired a versatile, mobile and potentially commanding defensive midfielder who can also cover in defence if needed but it would be a lot to expect him to fill Gueye's shoes straight away. If he can quickly find his feet and Silva is able to adjust the way the team plays away from a reliance on Gueye's dependable presence, then the loss of Everton's former No. 17 won't be felt so keenly.

It's at the back where cover feels disconcertingly thin and where there will be a weighty onus on Mina to not only stay fit but to prove he can adapt to life in England in a way that isn’t guaranteed based on his fleeting appearances last season. There is also the belief that Keane really only came into his own with Zouma alongside him, a player able to quickly cover ground and compensate for the England international's lack of pace in a way that Mina cannot.

There is an unease among many supporters, many of whom fear that what was a strong defence last season is an injury away from having to rely on Mason Holgate, a player who spent last season on loan in the Championship playing as a full-back after looking a little shaky through Everton's early fixtures last season, untried Under-23s defender Lewis Gibson or Gbamin dropping back from his favoured midfield role.

If one of Everton's key strengths last season was in that defensive unit — in the centre-halves forming a reliable barrier and Gueye breaking up opposition play allowing the forward unit to break away — then there is a danger that the team will actually be weaker in that area of the field this term, at least until January, unless Gbamin adapts quickly and Mina and Keane can stay free of injury and forge the same kind of understanding that the latter did with Zouma.

It's frustrating because the recruitment this summer has, otherwise, been solid. André Gomes, a crowd favourite on loan from Barcelona last season, was acquired on a permanent basis. Djibril Sidibe can provide much-needed cover at right-back for Seamus Coleman if he can prove his fitness after his struggles with a knee problem. Jonas Lössl offers an alternative to the ageing Maarten Stekelenburg as the back-up goalkeeper. Gbamin fits precisely the profile of what Brands and Silva have been targeting and has the potential to be a more rounded player than Gueye.

Alex Iwobi adds more creativity, greater consistency and versatility across the forward line than the arguably more rawly talented Ademola Lookman, and the promise of adding a few more goals from the flanks. And, his own injury problems aside, Fabian Delph offers vast experience and know-how in the middle of the park for a pittance in today's market.

Then there is Moise Kean, the really exciting dynamic to the coming season who represents something of a coup for Everton. Regarded as one of Europe's most up-and-coming young strikers, the Italian was captured by Brands for £25m and the promise of regular first-team football. If last season and the toothless outings in this past pre-season demonstrated anything it's that the Blues have been crying out for more firepower in the side. While Dominic Calvert-Lewin came into his own to a degree as a hard-working forward, willing to run the channels, win aerial duels and hold the ball up, it was Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison who carried the bulk of the responsibility for scoring goals, weighing in with almost half of the team's goals between them.

There will, of course, be a continuing role for Calvert-Lewin as he works on improving his strike rate but there will be feverish anticipation about Kean who, while still only 19, looks like he will provide an explosive and pacy presence up front, with no shortage of technique and, hopefully, a healthy goals return of his own to bolster that threat already posed by Sigurdsson and Richarlison.

Had Brands been able to add Wilfried Zaha to the mix and sign a centre-half, this could have been a game-changing transfer window for Everton. In hindsight, the move for Zaha was an ambitious one given the apparent lateness of the approach and Crystal Palace's wildly inflated valuation and there is no denying that the speculation around that potential deal ratcheted up expectation that wasn't fully realised on deadline day.

Nevertheless, even though the club landed Iwobi from Arsenal, a young-ish player with significant potential, it is understandable that so many Evertonians were left a little deflated following the closure of the transfer window, simply because an urgent need at centre-back went unfulfilled. There's an argument to be made that the team in aggregate isn't any stronger than it was last season and that won't sit well with the manager. There will, no doubt, have been legitimate reasons for that (financial; a lack of viable options?) but the fact that the club went into deadline day with that important position still to be addressed represents, perhaps, the first mis-step in Marcel Brands's otherwise impressive first year with the club.

The hope is that it won't deprive Everton of what feels like a rare window of opportunity to break the glass ceiling that has frustrated them ever since David Moyes guided the Toffees to fourth place in 2005.

Opportunity

Manchester City and Liverpool were far and away the two best teams in the country in 2018-19 and look to be favourites to duke it out for the title along with Tottenham this coming season, there has been plenty of upheaval at the remaining three “big six” clubs.

Manchester United went into meltdown after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's fairytale start as manager fell away and though they have done well to shore up their defence with the acquisition of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, question marks remain over the Norwegian's ability to get the best out of his squad and the personalities within it. The sale of Romelu Lukaku, United's top scorer, without signing a replacement also raises doubts that they will return to the force they were under Jose Mourinho before his tenure derailed.

At Arsenal, Unai Emery has had his own challenges getting consistency out of a team brimming with talent but the Gunners pushed the boat out this summer and strengthened considerably, breaking their club-record to sign of Nicholas Pépé while also adding Dani Ceballos and Kieran Tierney to their first team and addressing serious defensive deficiencies by replacing Laurent Koscielny with David Luiz from Chelsea. If Emery can get the most out of his squad, Arsenal will surely prove to be too strong for Everton to catch this season.

Then there's Chelsea themselves who will not only be going into the new season minus the manager who steered them to a third-place finish and a Europa League triumph last season, but without their best player in the form of the departed Eden Hazard. Thanks to a transfer embargo, new boss Frank Lampard hasn't been able to make any new signings and he could enter his first campaign as a Premier League manager with just two fit centre-halves if Antonio Rüdiger isn't passed fit despite a swift recovery from knee surgery.

Of course, one of his defenders is Zouma who Evertonians have been praying will return to Goodison all summer, but hasn't been deemed good enough for his club's first team for the past two seasons and he will need to form a new, untested partnership with Andreas Christiansen and then Rüdiger, assuming he isn't relegated to the bench once the German is fully fit.

There is no telling how Lampard will do or how Chelsea will manage without Hazard but Everton have to be looking at them as potentially vulnerable this season.

Everton aren't the only contenders looking to capitalise on any slip-ups among the big six, of course. Wolverhampton Wanderers will fancy themselves to be in the mix after finishing “best of the rest” last term, although they will have the distraction and potential detraction of the Europa League with which to contend.

Leicester City, who finished just two points behind the Toffees in May, have recruited well, particularly with the signing of Belgian midfield duo Youri Tielemans and Denis Praet and that of Ayoze Perez, but they will have to manage without Maguire at the heart of their defence.

West Ham, meanwhile, have once again emerged from the summer window feeling very pleased with themselves having brought in the likes of midfielder Pablo Fornals and striker Sebastien Haller but Manuel Pellegrini, like Javi Gracia at Watford, showed few signs last year that he was able to take the Hammers to the next level and it remains to be seen whether either will fare any better this time around.

We go with what we have

While the lack of depth at centre-half will be a source of anxiety, 2019-20 hints at being as more like Roberto Martinez's first season in charge as any since. Everton look even more dangerous going forward now than they did last season — and if there is to be an enhanced attacking role for André Gomes from the more reserved one he filled in his first season at the club, the Blues could be even stronger as an attacking force — while there could be a bit more uncertainty at the back. That is not to suggest that there will be anything like the chaos that typified the Catalan boss' second and third seasons at Goodison, but you can envisage Everton games being more exciting this term at both ends of the pitch.

It opens Silva up to different strategies and ways of playing, perhaps placing even more emphasis on getting out of the traps fast, getting in the blows in early and establishing a cushion from which to control matches. And again, with Gueye's departure could come a modified setup in central midfield; more will be expected to Gomes and Bernard in the second seasons with the club; while the likes of Sigurdsson and Iwobi might revel in the options created by Kean's running, mobility and finishing ability.

So while the collective Evertonian yearning for the club to take the next step might have been dealt a blow by the failure to recruit a top-class centre half this close season, it's clear that in making the signings they have done while further trimming the fat, Brands and Silva have continued the reconstruction of the squad they inherited in line with patient, ultimate goal of mounting a sustained assault on the Champions League places, even if that might have to be delayed by another year.

For now, there will be undue pressure on Messers Keane and Mina to not only stay fit but to strike up a meaningful partnership, while opportunity could knock for the likes of Holgate and Gibson should they be called upon in the coming months to stake their claim. It's not ideal but it need not be disastrous. Either way, we go with what we have and revisit in the New Year.

Predicted finish: 7th


Reader Comments (52)

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Jamie Crowley
1 Posted 09/08/2019 at 01:14:31
Great article.

Had Brands been able to add Wilfried Zaha to the mix and signed a centre-half, this could have been a game-changing transfer window for Everton. In hindsight, the move for Zaha was an ambitious one given the apparent lateness of the approach and Crystal Palace’s wildly inflated valuation and there is no denying that the speculation around that potential deal ratcheted up expectation that wasn’t fully realised on deadline day.

That has to be the best, most succinct explanation I've read regarding Zaha.

We've improved. I was very upset about not signing Zaha, as I thought it would propel us to nose-bleeding heights this season. But we did have a damn good window, of that I have no doubt.

We're a better team. Marcel acted responsibly and judiciously. He is, unequivocally, The Man.

Roll on season. Let's see what we can do.

John Pierce
2 Posted 09/08/2019 at 01:47:49
This feels better here. The business we’ve done I have little complaint with. I can see upgrades, I can see depth. The issue is obviously the lack of center half without pace.

The bottom line we have defenders without pace that will subconsciously drop that vital 10yards. It drags the team unit back and takes further from goal. In worse cases the team becomes separated from slower center backs and space is created in the no. 10 position and behind the full backs who are generally higher. Potentially that space is further exploited if Gbamin has to tidy up and he has less impact going forward.
Silva got the unit playing higher up the park towards the end of last season. We were much less vulnerable and turned the ball over much closer to the opponents goal.

It’s a big miss not getting a quick center back, one I think will cost us progress.

James Flynn
3 Posted 09/08/2019 at 01:56:40
We'll also find out how good a manager we have.
Kieran Kinsella
4 Posted 09/08/2019 at 02:50:11
Defence was pretty solid preseason in the absence of Gueye and Mina.
Terence Leong
5 Posted 09/08/2019 at 03:17:31
As always, an insightful read, Lyndon.
I thought that you've made a good point about the possibility of seeing new formations.
With a supposedly strengthened midfield (and weakened defence), the fluidity in formation might be what that could leverage on the strengths of the squad, while covering up the gaps.

As you've mentioned, Kean's lack of pace has been complemented by Zouma's speed, which Mina doesn't seem to have.

A 4-3-3 formation might allow us to ensure that there is sufficient solidity in defence (the defensive one amongst the trio e.g. Jean-Philippe Gbamin, to drop back and player abit deeper, to support the centrebacks), while giving that fluidity in transiting into attack, or controlling the midfield.

I am still hoping that Holgate can blossom into the centreback that he has shown promises of.

Mike Oates
6 Posted 09/08/2019 at 04:13:48
The overriding feeling I have is that we’ve come away again from a transfer window one piece short in the jigsaw. But let’s not detract from the fact that Brands has done well in acquiring players with outstanding potential and other “seasoned” pros who have seen success and will no doubt bring a winning mentality to the squad - if they stay fit, namely Delph and Sibidi.

We now need Silva to demonstrate he’s a top coach, by organising this squad into a strong defensive unit with a explosive forward line. He’s wanted pace, fluidity, upfront, which he’s now got, but can he form a midfield unit which provides the ammunition, yet also the brick wall in front of a back 4 seriously short of pace.

I think unfortunately both Wolves and Leicester have recruited as well as us, though maybe Leicester will also have defensive issues following Maquire’s departure. Wolves have kept their talented squad, turned their loanee’s into permanent players and have acquired some excellent young players from Europe.

This year is the year we all believe, that if there was a time to get into that Top 6 it’s now, with Utd still not at the races, Chelsea reeling from a transfer ban and Arsenal for all their attacking flair can’t defend for toffee.

Have we done enough in this window to propel us into the Top 6, I don’t think so, sorry you cannot start the season with just two centre halves, one of which spends more time in the medical room than on the pitch and the other one needs a partner with pace to bale him out on occasions.

Can anyone else jump into the Top 6, I believe only Wolves can seriously attempt it, us and Leicester won’t be good enough defensively.

Amit Vithlani
7 Posted 09/08/2019 at 06:00:55
I do not agree that the defensive assessment is as cut and dried.

I recall us being cut apart even with Zouma in the side.

The defensive solidity came when Silva did 2 things during the 17-day rest period:

- Fixed the problems in marking at set pieces

- Fixed how open we were through the middle on counter attacks when the two full backs pushed on and Gueye was upfield.

If Silva has learned his lessons (and looking at pre season I noticed a worrying trend that suggested otherwise) then I think defensively we will be better.

If Mina succumbs to injury, Holgate is an under-rated under study. He will be fine if the set up does not leave him exposed on counter breaks (though he does have good recovery pace) and we sort ourselves out at set pieces.

I'd conclude differently. I'd say the failure to land Zouma puts the onus on two things:

1. Silva to set us up properly
2. Mick Keane to continue where he left off.

As for mis-steps by Brands, I don't buy this, principally because we know he had to shift alot of deadwood + replace Gueye alongside finding a CB.

He had a tough challenge and its unfair to punish him if the failings defensively arise, especially given the onus on Silva.

Somethings can and should be solved by tactics and coaching.

Stephen Brown
8 Posted 09/08/2019 at 06:09:37
A left field suggestion ! I think Schniderlin could make a decent cover centre half ?
John Keating
9 Posted 09/08/2019 at 07:13:42
I think we will really struggle defensively this season without a pacy left sided centre half, especially against quick forwards like our cousins have

We also have a number of players we need to ship out

Considering we have known for ages we needed Zouma or a plan B. Getting neither in could be a killer in our attempt to improve on last seasons league position

James Hughes
10 Posted 09/08/2019 at 07:51:34
Nice article Lyndon, I can't agree with the Phil Walling style 7th place prediction (where is these days?) The places are available and I have a felling we will do well this year.

Keane and Mina will form a great partnership, Kean will score for fun. DCL will get a pair of shooting boots for his birthday. Gomes and Gbamin will kick arse.

Went back to well of hope and have filled my glass. Fingers have been crossed and lucky charms purchased. So somebody tell Silva he could be the first Everton manager to win the league cup and could he follow that up with a top four finish. Oh and could we beat Palace 6-0 tomorrow please and the away fans abuse their chairman

Christopher Timmins
11 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:07:56
Thank God the window is now closed and the big kick off is a day away. I am hoping for a points tally in excess of 65. If we achieve that then placing will take care of itself.
Richard Cusworth
12 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:21:40
Overall positive window but I can't for the life of me understand why we have undermined it with this CB situation - ultimately this will cost us the top 6 chance that was there for the taking. A couple of years ago we did the exact same with LB... as soon as you know it Baines is injured... Martina.. need I say more. We will watch every game with a feeling of anxiety now and its not if... Its how long before we are completely exposed. Football is a lot about momentum both winning streaks and losing streaks. Its no co-incidence that in recent years we have had poor poor Xmas periods that have cost us - the quality of squad depth in key areas has been exposed in this period time and time again with the hectic schedule. Going forward it's exciting... I think my hope for this season is that our younger players improve and the team shows enough potential to challenge and that we don't lose our gems if we don't make the converted top 6. We need to be patient. There is a really good squad developing.. Just so frustrating that we have gambled in a key area of the pitch A gamble where the odds are highly stacked against us... Be interested to see Silva's demeanour in the Press conf because he most of all must be scratching his head. 21 league games to the T/window. fingers crossed for some luck. Or will Mina be down with a hamstring or metatarsal after 20 mins tomorrow!!!
John Hammond
13 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:32:42
I think Gbamin will be our savour at CB if the Keane/Mina partnership is a disaster.

No one knows what goes on behind the scenes so it still may have been a possibility that we could've signed Zouma yesterday had Luiz not pushed to leave. Lampard was more than happy to let him go so if things panned out differently we coulc've convince him to jump ship.

Nick Riddle
14 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:40:31
We could still sign someone out of contract and one name stands out. Martin Skrtel! At least he knows the area.
Brian Williams
15 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:43:39
I believe we had an agreement with Chelsea for Timori on loan for a season but when David Luis' transfer came about out of the blue our agreement was scuppered.
Drew O'Neall
16 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:45:53
Daniel Sturridge available on a pay as you play?
Anthony Jones
17 Posted 09/08/2019 at 08:51:10
Nice summary as usual, Lyndon.

We should be pleased overall.

Gueye and Zouma were out of our control. We tied down our best central midfielder since Arteta. We bought an exciting striker for a remarkably low fee. We didn't get shafted by Palace. We didn't bring in Rojo.

It could have been better but great squads aren't built in just one or two transfer windows.

Enjoy the season, and give the players your support.

Stan Schofield
18 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:07:56
I don't agree that the summer business has fallen just short. Zouma back to Chelsea was always on the cards, and equivalent replacements are few and far between. We have Mina, who should by now be well bedded in and recovered from injury problems compared with this time last year.

Everton apparently value Zaha at circa £50M, and Iwobi at circa £30M, a difference of £20M, which in today's money does not represent a 'game changing' difference between these two players. Plus, Iwobi is younger and a team player.

With the new additions, provided Marco can induce some decent form similar to how we finished last season, we now have sufficient strength and quality in depth to be a force challenging the top places, with the added bonus of entertaining football.

Shaun Laycock
19 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:08:51
Good article Lyndon. Pretty much sums up my thoughts. I wasn't keen on Zaha...all show and little end product. Iwobi interests me...more in our mould l think. The lack of a CB does worry me but maybe Holgate and Gibson (or Gbamin) could fill in there. I think our recruitment is light years away from what it was. In yesteryear we would have had our pants pulled down and been saddled with an aging CB draining our resources with no resale value. At least we are buying players that may come off but if they don't, we can sell them on an make our money back. Brands has the vision, wherewithal & contacts to make things happen here...Marco now has to deliver. Prediction...best of the rest.
Steve Hewitt
20 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:20:10
A really good summary of the window bringing out the positives and negatives.

For me, we have enough to stay in touch with the top six to give us a chance of getting into it, particularly if we strengthen further in January if the right players are available.

It's no a disaster, I quite liked to last minute Iwobi signing and prefer him to Zaha, bearing in mind the money Palace were asking.

Keane, Mina and the young lads have the potential to keep the door shut, particularly with our excellent full back capability and Batman protecting them.

Can't wait to see our forwards going at teams in full flow - could be something to behold - COYB.

Sam Hoare
21 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:45:27
Great summary. 3 steps forward and 2 steps back in my eyes.

For me the failure to bring in a quality CB with pace is the first stain in Brands' copybook. I'm sure there were mitigating factors such as David Luiz' hard to predict deadline day move but that is the risk you take if you leave it that late. We needed another CB and we failed to get one. If Mina and/or Keane gets injured that puts alot of pressure on the likes of Holgate, Gibson and Gbamin; none of who have played much as CB at top level.

I'm glad we did not bring in Rojo permanently as we have done enough sacrificing the long term for short term gain but Brands and his teams should have had other viable alternatives lined up.

7th looks about right. But any serious injuries at the back could put us in a very tricky situation and January is not the easiest time to buy good, ready players.

John Audsley
22 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:46:07
I agree we really needed another CB and if we had one maybe Lyndons 7th would have become 6th. It's a real shame we didnt address that but Mina has 5 months to nail his place down and become a real leader at the back.

Kean is the the best purchase any team has made this year.

David Pearl
23 Posted 09/08/2019 at 09:47:10
Excellent summary Lyndon.

As soon as Gbamin is up to speed we will be fine at the back. If Mina stays fit great, he will continue to improve. If Holgate comes in l think he will be fine.

What worries me more is how Silva will introduce Kean and Iwobi into our front four. Does he push Kean through the middle and Richarlison on the left? In Kean we would finally have a ball over the top.

Or will we continue with DCL giving him the job of holding the ball and stretching defences. Iwobi is quite the natural replacement for Bernard and Kean can rotate with Richarlison. Of course there are quite a few permutations. I hope Silva can sort out the best way to get maximum results... as in goals.

Another formation he could try (without dropping Siggy, our most productive player), is a midfield diamond. That’s Gbamin sitting deep with Gomes and Delph (or Iwobi/Davies alongside each other with Siggy at the tip. That would then allow us 2 players up front and full backs pushing up. I don’t think he will try this for a few weeks at least but it is an option. The other option 433 would probably mean dropping Siggy. We can’t keep relying on him so perhaps Silva will be better at rotation this season. He now has options for plans B and C.

Fingers crossed.

Eddie Dunn
24 Posted 09/08/2019 at 10:12:56
A fair article Lyndon but I have a sneaking feeling that we may get into the top 6. Silva now has to assimilate the new boys into the squad and then he has to try to keep everyone happy. I doubt that we will set off at a great lick but will look pretty much like preseason until everyone gets up to speed. A draw at Palace would be a decent start.
Chris Gould
25 Posted 09/08/2019 at 10:28:39
I agree entirely with Lyndon's article, and also Sam's summary. We will suffer at some point for not bringing in a CB. It was a mistake by Brands and shouldn't have happened. Silva has said in this morning's press conference that we now only have 3 and that we needed another. He does not believe Gibson is ready and didn't appear last season to have much faith in Holgate. I bet he's fuming.
Ajay Gopal
26 Posted 09/08/2019 at 10:36:01
Nice report, but a tad on the pessimistic side :-)
You can bet that every football club supporter feels that they could have done better. If you ask a RS supporter, they will probably say that they should have strengthened and injuries to 1-2 of their key players will derail their title bid.

On the seemingly widespread view (even among Blues' supporters) that Everton failing to sign a CB is a disaster, IMO there is no need to press the panic button. Keane and Mina had formed a decent CB partnership before Mina got injured, and had a number of clean sheets between them last season. Also, Holgate has a decent amount of experience in the PL as well as on loan in the Championship.

Just a small tidbit of information:
26-November, 2017 was the lowest point for me as a supporter of Everton Football Club. We were hammered 4-1 by Southampton away and the CBs were Keane and Jagielka (that was Unsworth's 4th PL game as manager and it triggered Moshiri's decision to replace Unsworth with Sam Allardyce).
The next game - West Ham at home on 30-November was Unsworth's final game as Manager. In that game, out of sheer desperation, he changed his CB partnership to Williams and Holgate.
From 30-Nov to 19-December in 2017, we went on a little bit of an unbeaten run, which eased our relegation worries.
30-Nov Everton - West Ham (home) 4-0 CBs: Williams, Holgate
2-Dec Everton - Huddersfield (home) 2-0 CBs: Williams, Holgate
10-Dec Everton-Liverpool (away) 1-1 CBs: Williams, Holgate
14-Dec Everton-Newcastle (away) 1-0 CBs: Williams, Holgate
19-Dec Everton-Swansea (home) 3-1 CBs: Williams, Holgate

After that, Sam reverted back to Keane and Jags and although we did keep some clean sheets subsequently, we never looked solid at the back.

The point is that Holgate has performed the CB role quite admirably, what he has never had and what he needs (given his young age and relative inexperience) is a solid, commanding CB partner, which Keane might be able to provide this season. Now you can plan for 1-2 injuries, but you can never plan for both your senior CBs getting injured at the same time!

PS: The Back 4 in December 2017 read: Kenny, Holgate, Williams, Martina! Enough to send shivers down any Blues spine. But, to their credit, this much maligned quartet held their ground and gave their best and pulled us out of the relegation quagmire.

Jim Harrison
27 Posted 09/08/2019 at 10:53:52
I have to say, I disagree that we look in the same position.

Yes Gana has gone, and he was great at what he did. But I always felt we were missing more cutting edge through the middle, and although he was great at regaining possession he wasn’t at his best when actually having the ball.
Only snippets to go by so far, but the new lad looks to have a different set of skills. He also looks physically imposing, and for years I have thought we were easily bullied in the middle, particularly by teams from London who seem to be able to obtain massive midfielders!!
With a more disciplined centre mid covering the defenders more there should be less need for dramatic interventions by the centre backs

Kean is an upgrade on what we have currently. Even unproven.

We have gone from having a kid as back up for Coleman to an international from a World Cup winning squad.

Gomes isn’t a broken man coming in with an injury. He knows the score now.

Delphi is better than macca. Older, but better. His career has proven that. Not the same player but offers more. Although, he is injured nearly as much!!

Iwobi is an odd one for me, but again he brings some physical presence up front. And I haven’t given up in Walcott, he maybe more of a impact sub now, but he has pace to trouble tired defenders into mistakes. He may not be the man to capitalise on those mistakes mind!!

Paul Tran
28 Posted 09/08/2019 at 11:08:03
One of the things I've learned over the years is the benefit of walking away from bad deals (and bets!).

Rojo at £25m and Zaha at the reportedly desired £80m were both bad deals. Iwobi is better value in my book. A net spend of £28m (Silva's figure) with what we've sold and bought in our current circumstances is a good window in my book. Another CB would be better, but barring injuries, the three we have will do for me.

With the players we now have, we should have a team more suited to Silva's preferred style.

My biggest concerns are the fact that the team went missing for two rudderless months and my general antipathy to mid-table teams that have a winning end of season surge when the pressure's off.

Utd and Chelsea are vulnerable this season. If Silva can turn around the team quickly from the inevitable setbacks through the season, I'm expecting a top six finish.

Laurie Hartley
29 Posted 09/08/2019 at 12:35:00
Great article Lyndon.

I am disappointed we weren’t able to get Zouma but I haven’t forgotten how chuffed I was when we bought Mina last year. Yerry didn’t have the best start but I still reckon he is going to be a top centre half.

This Gbamin lad is also a big unit with pace so we may not be as vulnerable at the back as we fear.

The big plus for me is the options we have up front. Silva has said Iwobi plays on the left but can also play behind the striker.

I haven’t got a clue what Silva’s preferred front three will be but I am sure we are going to keep opposition defences very busy this season.

Peter Mills
30 Posted 09/08/2019 at 12:36:46
Excellent article, Lyndon.

I’m disappointed we didn’t sign Zaha, it would have been a real statement and we would have been a potent attacking threat. But every deal has a cut-off point where you have to walk away, and we can’t praise Brands for completing good deals then berate him when he decides enough is enough.

I fear the centre back situation may haunt us until January. I don’t have total confidence in Mr Silva’s defensive acumen, but he got things sorted in the last few months of the season. It would have been great to retain the same personnel, but Lampard made the Zouma situation very clear a while ago, so we should have looked elsewhere. Unless Gbamin can fill in.

Despite the impressive home displays from February onwards, Marco Silva has still got a bit to do to convince me. But he’s the man in charge, there have been some significant additions to the squad, it’s up to him to make them gel.

Pat Kelly
31 Posted 09/08/2019 at 12:56:00
It's reported that Mina may be banned for 6 games due to his stupidity in advertising betting. If true this will have a knock-on effect on his match fitness. Add in his propensity to injury and we could see him miss / be under par for a sizeable chunk of the season.

Forging a partnership with Keane will be seriously hampered. This may well cost us games or at least valuable points. Holgate will never be the answer. Hopefully, when we get the new arrivals up to speed and develop an attacking style to maximize their talents, in a month or two, we can keep the pressure off the defence. 7th would be good but lower is quite possible.

Brent Stephens
32 Posted 09/08/2019 at 13:41:01
As ever, an LL article with balance. The warts are identified but not picked at. The juices are now flowing for tomorrow (and tonight's win for Norwich). Can't wait to see Kean in action. I'll love it, just love it.
John Pierce
33 Posted 09/08/2019 at 14:10:42
The shouts for Gbamin at CB or making us not as vulnerable are way off.

Untried at CB in England and forcing him to cover what should be centre backs job when playing midfield, especially a three, would pull the shape of the system irrevocably.

It looked to me Silva wants to go 4-3-3, exciting and definitely a step forward for Everton. But asking that midfielder to do an extra job, leaves you deeper and at ‘4.5-2.5-3’ as, creating space for opponents deeper in your own half.

I’m afraid 4-3-3 is on the back burner for me, sadly, back to 4-2-3-1.

Raymond Fox
34 Posted 09/08/2019 at 14:47:37
One of your best summaries Lyndon.
For me we want top 4 status, I'm not too bothered about 5th or 6th because that entails the dreaded Europa. Ok views differ on the Europa I know, but that's my view.

To sign the elite players its the Champions League we have to be in, 5th or 6th isn't good enough.
I don't think after the window we have had we are going to be anywhere close to the top 4 and will do very well to be in the top 6.
Its the hot topic of the central defence that looks likely to be our achilles heel. I can see there being times during the season where we haven't a centre half to pick from! Other than that we have signed some quality players that should do well for us.

Tony Everan
35 Posted 09/08/2019 at 14:53:30
Lyndon, thanks for that preview, finger on the pulse as usual.

I think we are on the right path and there is much to be optimistic and even excited about, especially Moise, and that has got to be a good thing.

The centre half situation is a big balls up, no point beating around the bush. We needed some quality cover and for whatever reason we dropped the ball.

I think Man U promised us a loan, then stitched us up big time by blackmailing us into buying Rojo, as they then saw us as boxed into a corner. Bastards will probably loan him to a European club next week! or sell him for half of what we we quoted.

Proves they see us as a big threat to their league position and that we have done relatively well this window.

Our top 6 challenge will depend on the fitness of Keane and Mina, and the ability of Holgate to step in when needed. Also whether Gbamin can be reliable as a stand in CB.

Moral of the story is : don't trust a direct competitor to help you out, they wont.

Tony Hill
36 Posted 09/08/2019 at 14:57:31
We will be a force this season. We are being underrated externally, of course, but we are also underrating ourselves.

We have bought very well. The Premier League at the moment is not brilliant and we beat top teams with some ease a few months ago, with a worse side.

I believe we could threaten top 4. We will certainly do so soon.

As icing on the cake, I suspect the RS will do significantly worse than the sages lazily predict.

Stephen Brown
37 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:12:08
Isn’t Ashley williams on the free list !?

Get him back as cover!

Just a joke !!

Jerome Shields
38 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:13:10
The start of the season will be interesting. It will depend on how fit the team is and able to gel together. The new additions will take time to prepare for the first team tactics. I expect Brands to now offload a lot players on loan in the coming weeks.
Jerome Shields
39 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:13:10
The start of the season will be interesting. It will depend on how fit the team is and able to gel together. The new additions will take time to prepare for the first team tactics. I expect Brands to now offload a lot players on loan in the coming weeks.
Tom Bowers
40 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:23:05
There has to be a big improvement this season.
Silva knows it, we know it and the board knows it.
There appears to be a good mix of youth and experience now and Silva has had a season under his belt which started to show some promise late on.
There seems to be a lot more competition for places which can only be a good thing and the only question is how does Silva plan to use it and keep everyone happy.
The clubs above us last season will all be the teams going for it again but Everton need to get in the mix. They may need the first half a dozen games to get going and for the new guys to settle in but after that there are no excuses.
The RS will probably lay down the gauntlet today by thrashing Norwich.
Jay Wood
[BRZ]

41 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:33:34
I lean towards Ajay's post @ 26. A nice summation by Lyndon, but just a tad pessimistic.

Failing to land a proven centre back is the one black mark in this transfer window. Injuries and suspensions potentially expose us even further in this position.

Some express concern that Mason Holgate is not up to being 4th or 5th centre back, let alone number 3 or even a starter.

But Ajay references something I have also written about before. In Allardyce's time THE most solid back four of that accident of a season was Martins-Williams-Holgate-Kenny. All four of them much, much derided on TW.

Only at Xmas of that year in the manic month of December did Allardyce break up that back four as injured players started to return. He never paired Williams and Holgate together again. The defence was never as solid again for the remainder of that season.

Does Holgate meet the ideal centre back profile Steve Ferns suggests Silva prefers? No. But I would guess he is the fastest of our 1st team squad centre backs at present. Fleet footedness - at least from a starting position - is not something Keane or Mina have.

Holgate is still raw. At times his positioning and anticipation looks spot on. At others, he is AWOL. But he is technically sound. Solid and clean in the tackle. Has an attitude. Looks a winner.

When the chance comes, he needs to seize it.

As for Mina, I've seen a LOT of him from his time playing with Palmeiras in Brazil who won the championship with him. He was a MONSTER player at both ends of the park, aged barely 21. He and the club have benefitted from his participation in this summer's Copa America where he was back to his best. I thought in pre-season he showed evidence of what a man-mountain he is in close quarter scraps with attackers who just bounced off him, whatever their size.

My concern, as expressed by others, is that both he and Keane are slow off the mark pace wise. But in their defence, Keane showed much improvement in his recovery skills last season whilst Mina - once up to pace - can shift.

Zouma and Gana are big misses, without doubt. But given the recruitment and the squad as a whole, we will not be playing exactly the same way as last season.

It's going to be very interesting to see what Silva does tactically and how this team will be set up to play.

He has been handed the material. Let's see how he shapes it.

Mike Gaynes
42 Posted 09/08/2019 at 15:41:32
Excellent work, Lyndon. Thank you. I agree, 7th.

I also agree that the pursuit of Zaha injected a level of excitement -- and wild optimism -- that altered expectations enough to make a very good window seem disappointing.

I'm in the minority, but I don't think our failure to sign a CB represents a "failure" by Brands. I believe the Maguire signing overinflated the CB market to the point that finding a rationally priced player became temporarily impossible. I would expect rationality to return by the January window, and I consider Holgate adequate cover until then. We will perhaps struggle defensively at times because of Gana's absence and Mina's inexperience, but certainly not because we missed out on Rojo or some of the other mooted alternatives. I think Brands did his job well -- by refusing to overpay for inadequate players. Sometimes walking away is the best deal.

Pat #31, I have seen nothing in the press regarding a possible six-game ban for Mina. Where did you hear of that? That's the suspension Sturridge got, but his violation was entirely different.

Drew O'Neall
43 Posted 09/08/2019 at 19:21:01
It just occurred to me that Mina has sanctions outstanding for his involvement in a betting ad in Colombia.

If he were to receive a ban between now and January, our top six ambitions could be well and truly scuppered.

Jay Wood
[BRZ]

44 Posted 09/08/2019 at 19:49:47
Drew, here is a link to a FB page showing Yerry Mina's ad with the betting company. It's quite funny!

Link

EVERY PL club, probably every professional football club on the planet, has a 'partnership' with a betting firm these days.

The FA themselves had one with Ladbrokes up to a couple of years ago before they cancelled it with three years to run after Joey Barton - caught up in a betting charge himself - quite reasonably accused them of hypocrisy because they had the Ladbrokes deal.

The current (FA's) England captain Harry Kane continues to feature prominently in betting campaigns in poverty-stricken East Africa where kids are getting hooked into gambling aged 8-9-10, as this story shows:

Link

Gambling IS a social disease. But National and International football federations need to make a clear stand on betting firm sponsorship. Will they though when it brings so much money into the game..?

Yerry Mina and his agent made a naive mistake in agreeing to appear in a betting ad. He is not facing the more serious charge of gambling on games.

Rap his knuckles. Fine him. Warn him of his responsibilities and future conduct. But a suspension? Everton's lawyers would be all over it. Or should be, if it came to it.

Tony Hill
45 Posted 09/08/2019 at 19:51:15
Iwobi, Gbamin and Sidibe will, I have a hunch, prove much more significant and influential signings than we presently think. Clever work from Brands.
Rob Halligan
46 Posted 09/08/2019 at 19:59:22
Harry Kane had his face plastered all over a billboard in Kenya in aid of a Kenyan betting firm. Surprisingly the FA are taking no further action against him

https://www.the-star.co.ke/sports/football/2019-07-29-should-kane-be-part-of-a-campaign-to-encourage-betting-in-kenya/

Paul Burns
47 Posted 09/08/2019 at 20:04:44
Who cares about top 6, we should set out to win the Premier League every season. I always thought we could win the league even when the Red Shite were cleaning up in the '70s.

Low expectations only lead to low performance and low results. Football is a mind game and if you set off with low targets that what you will achieve as we have been proving for years.

Jay Wood
[BRZ]

48 Posted 09/08/2019 at 20:05:44
Rob, check out the link in my previous post to the 'offending' Yerry Mina ad.

At least it raises a smile. Or it did for me.

Rob Halligan
49 Posted 09/08/2019 at 20:16:12
Sorry Jay, I didn't open that link. It's typical of our spineless FA though, after all, they can't be seen for punishing their national captain.
Brian Smith
50 Posted 10/08/2019 at 04:27:17

Like all of you blues out there, I m so excited about the new season finally being upon us but, given our history, there's always that sense of not getting too far ahead of ourselves about unrealistic expectations because, as we all know, this club has a habit of breaking your heart.

In Marcel Brands, we finally seem to have found our knight in shining armour. He appears to be a man that's prepared to back himself and, while making all the right noises, is someone that for once is going to follow through with the promises and deliver. The new stadium appears to be now more than a distant dream and the way he's conducted himself through this pre-season during the pursuit and signing of new players has been magnificent.

I've been so impressed with his approach of not allowing other clubs take the piss and his ability for the most part to get the job done and bring to our great club the real quality we need in our quest to become a top four club again... which, with our history, is where we truly belong. COYB.

Thomas Lennon
51 Posted 10/08/2019 at 07:12:19
The way I see it we are well prepared for going up to the next level. There were signs of it late last year and remember those were wins against top 6 teams desperate for a win. Much better offensively (though more to do) with a continued plan of bringing in young outstanding players who have room and attitude to develop NB Iwobi assists and goals together are already better than Bernard or Wallcot.
Defensively this is a big chance for Holgate too. Much depends on those youngsters developing well - but that is how Brands works. Some will, some won't. All will get an opportunity.

We have also brought in better ball retention, so Geuye may not be missed as much as we think. When Gbamin starts surging forward we may well not miss him at all.

There are a few more winners in the team too, men who will be demanding a win this afternoon and not 'lets see how it goes'. More size, more strength in midfield.

The right side is improved and I wonder if we will see much of Wallcot. Mina is ready to show us what he is made of at both ends of the pitch. This is a balanced side with more goals in it and more depth. How good they are we will know by Christmas.

Plenty of wage capacity now for others to come in with more to leave this summer - that was a huge job well done and vital for getting us to the next level.

A good summer.

Rob Dolby
52 Posted 10/08/2019 at 11:02:45
Much like the Scottish league. How do you get excited about the English prem when you can predict the top 2 and now even the top 6 so easily.

Chelsea, UTD and Arsenal haven't addressed their own squad issues but have enough strength in depth to finish above us.

In order to trouble the top 6 we need Kean to score 20 goals. Mina and Gbamin to fill Zouma's and Gueye's boots.

To show serious intent we needed to sign a top centre back and a couple of top class goalscorers but we haven't so pretty much treading water around mid table again.

We will be fighting Wolves, Leicester and Watford for 7th.

The relegation will be fought out between the promoted teams plus maybe Palace and Newcastle.

The controversy will be caused by VAR.

Can't Wait for it all to start.

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