The old adage goes, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’; in the case of the 2016/17 edition of Everton, you could finish it off with ‘and then sprinkle it with a little old.’
Everton have of course been prominent on the back pages in the past week following the record-breaking transfer of John Stones to Manchester City. Naturally, with such a large sum of money changing hands, the vast majority of column inches will focus on the young English defender, though it is no less relevant what it signifies for the Everton defence, and perhaps more importantly the style of football that new man in charge Ronald Koeman is looking to bring to Goodison Park.
The day of the long-term manager is seemingly grinding to a halt, with Everton foremost amongst clubs feeling the consequences of this; following the eleven-year rein of David Moyes, they are now on their second manager in three years following the Roberto Martinez experiment. In Martinez Everton not only changed their manager, but they also looked to change the stylistic philosophy of the club, seeking the attractive brand of football seen by the legions of blues in the 1980s. As we well know now though, the flamboyant Spaniard lacked the defensive nous to consistently challenge the best of the Premier League, and their stunning early season form in the 2013 season was largely built upon the fundamentals laid down by the much-maligned Moyes. It is now up to Koeman therefore to restore the defensive stability needed to take Everton to where they dream.
Returning to John Stones then, and the state of the defence at Everton, Koeman will be quietly pleased with the acquisition of Ashley Williams, alongside the £30m or so differential between the two players. To look briefly at the regular back four deployed by the previous two coaches if injuries played no part, it is notably different in a single aspect
Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Baines
Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines
John Stones then was the new addition from a defence that conceded at a rate of 1.03 goals per game in Moyes’s last season, compared to 1.45 in Martinez’s. Don’t get me wrong, other factors such as injuries and loss of form played a part in this regression, though it would be naïve to suggest Stones’ style of play often contributed.
Koeman will no doubt agree that Stones is arguably the most talented of those defenders listed, and certainly the most accomplished bringing the ball out of defence, yet maybe not what Everton need right now. In replacing him with a player of the caliber and style of Ashley Williams, the Dutchman has ensured Everton will go back to being one of the very hardest teams to beat in the Premier League as they were under Moyes, and will allow the considerable attacking talent developed by Roberto Martinez to thrive without the fear of conceding needless goals.
In employing Ronald Koeman then, Everton are looking to join the realms of ‘total football’, originating from Netherlands, then Barcelona, and gradually being adapted by the likes of Luis Enrique, and of course recently arrived in the Premier League. Guardiola incidentally spent his primitive years with the first team squad in La Liga learning from Koeman. The Dutchman was a stalwart for both Barcelona and Holland in the early nineties, and his graceful abilities as a sweeper are still spoke about with reverence in the halls of La Masia. The influence which Koeman had on upon the young Guardiola is something relayed by the Dutchman himself when he said in an interview back in 2011 that he was asked by compatriot Cruyff to take the young defensive midfielder under his wing, and teach him the ways of the Dutch School of Football. He even claimed for a period of time he spent more time with his young protégé then his own wife. Don’t be surprised to see more written on the healthy relationship between the two as the season goes on.
The team built by Koeman whilst at Southampton can certainly give the blue side of Merseyside optimism over what he is about to build, and it all was built around stability at the back, with the spine of Forster, Fonte and in later times Vam Dijk providing the stability Everton have not seen since Moyes. This defensive solidarity was then compounded by including the likes of Wanyama and Reed in his sides, who would never back down from a physical confrontation. Up front though, his side were not afraid to play attractive football, with accomplished ball players such as Tadic and Ward-Prowse combining with the match winning talents of Mané to ensure that entertainment was never far away when visiting Saint Mary’s. Add in the poachers instincts of Pellé and Charlie Austin, and the Saints also were never short of a Plan B should the need arise.
Move this then on to Everton, and it is easy to understand why Koeman made the decision to jump ship from the South Coast side, a move that many would state is a step-down considering league positions in the last couple of years. This is not a statement to be made lightly however, and considering Everton have become the most recent club to be bank-rolled by foreign influence, Koeman will recognize the likelihood of the financial backing to imprint his blueprint on the side. Truth be told though, the fundamentals are in place for his side, with only minor tweaks needed.
In goal though, Everton have had an issue for the past 12 months, knowing that Tim Howard was past his best, whilst anyone but Roberto Martinez is able to recognize that Robles is not good enough for a top six challenge. Maarten Stekelenburg has been brought in, though initially as a number two. With recent events in Manchester, Koeman would be naïve not to try and convince Hart to come to Everton, offering him the chance to not only play regularly again, but also ensure he is not far away from the England squad considerations. Should Hart come in, Everton would not only have the shot stopping capabilities of Tim Howard in his prime once again, but also the defensive leader that Koeman loves in a side, and supplied by Fraser Forster in his Southampton days. Further forward Koeman has wasted no time, and Williams will be a fantastic buy for his new side. Whilst being 31 years old, the Welsh captain has plenty to offer going forward, not least the fight needed in the Premier League, and the leadership the Toffees need at the back.
The midfield and attacking areas though are where Everton fans should be getting really excited, and the work of Martinez should not be discounted as you admire the wealth of attacking talent available. Much has been written on the combined abilities of Barkley, Deulofeu and Lukaku, and should they keep the latter they have a trio that will match any in the league on their day. Of course the future of the Belgian is in doubt, though as the days go by it looks increasingly likely Everton will keep their prolific number nine, and Koeman will know he will be key. Add into the mix the recently signed Bolaise, as well as the inconsistent yet at times brilliant Miralles, and the Goodison Park faithful will know they are in for a feast of entertainment.
Midfield is perhaps the one area where Ronald Koeman will want to continue developing in the coming transfer windows, as he is unlikely to be convinced the aging Gareth Barry is the man to take them on. In Gueye he has a player who will provide the energy and defensive cover he enjoys from a central player, and his debut against Tottenham at the weekend displayed plenty of positives. This will not be the area of immediate concern however for Koeman, as he knows the defensive area is key if he is to develop this side in the short term.
The sale of John Stones then remains the defining feature of the Everton summer therefore, and yet the team will not be worried. It has only been three years since Moyes departed, leaving a team that with a few minor tweaks from Roberto Martinez in the attacking department nearly qualified for the Champions League. Koeman will know if he is able to utilise the attacking trident left by the Spaniard, and enhance it further with the likes of Bolaise and his own offensive ideas, he can take this Everton side right back up there.
In Ronald Koeman, Everton finally have the man to provide the necessary defensive stability, alongside the attacking play the fans yearn for each week.