Ronald Koeman has made a string of impressive early signings in the transfer market – but the question of who replaces Romelu Lukaku remains an important unanswered question to Eveton.
The Premier League’s busiest side this summer has arguably been Everton. Toffees boss Ronald Koeman has acted swiftly to improve his squad in the off-season as he strives to close the gap between themselves and the top-4. Everton finished 15 points behind Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the Champions League places and there is clear room for improvement at Goodison Park. Koeman, though, has ample funds to improve his squad and he has quickly gone about bolstering his side.
The arrival of Jordan Pickford was to be expected, but was an astute capture no less. Granted, the uncapped goalkeeper has come at a cost – Everton may end up paying Sunderland £30m for his services – but Koeman could have started Maarten Stekelenburg and Joel Robles together in goal and you’d still feel safer with just Pickford between the sticks. Given the vast inflation in transfer fees in recent years, coupled with the English premium, and the signing of the 23-year-old could be viewed as a real coup for years to come given his age and scope to improve.
Everton quickly followed up Pickford’s signing with the confirmation of Davy Klaassen’s capture, with the Netherlands international a top target of Koeman’s in recent weeks. The Ajax captain enjoyed a commendable final season at the Amsterdam ArenA as he netted 14 goals and registered a further nine assists. No midfielder was directly involved in more goals than the 24-year-old in the Eredivisie last season and after bemoaning a lack of attacking talent from midfield, Klaassen is seen as the ideal arrival for Everton as Koeman aims to take the Toffees to the next level.
The spending won’t stop there either, with Everton expected to secure the services of Sandro Ramirez in the coming weeks, while the club are still being linked with moves for Gyfli Sigurdsson, Moussa Dembele and Leander Dendoncker in what promises to an exciting summer for the Toffees. The real question now, however, is whether the signings will be enough for the Merseysiders to keep pace and strive to overhaul their rivals and make the next step in the Premier League.
Everton are in an awkward limbo at present in that they are the best of the rest in England’s top tier, yet are now doing all they can to break through the ceiling and reach the next level. In a summer where every Premier League side is expected to spend big, the Toffees know they need to heavily invest in order to continue to improve under Koeman. The signing of Pickford was a necessity considering the underwhelming form of Stekelenburg and Robles between the sticks, though it remains to be seen how he adjusts his game to being quietly brilliant after being on the end of countless pepperings for the Black Cats.
Indeed, Pickford made more saves per game (4.7) than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League last season. By contrast, Robles made 2.7 and Stekelenburg 2.2 saves per league match, with Everton a far stronger side, defensively, than Sunderland. If he can become accustomed to being under less pressure and maintain his concentration levels, then the young shotstopper will be the club’s undisputed number one for the next decade, providing he can remain injury free.
If Klaassen meanwhile can transfer his fine form from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, then Everton will have on their hands a fine attacking performer to link the midfield and attack. Of course, the elephants in the room remain the futures of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, but even then, Koeman is looking invest in their replacements in Sandro, Dembele and Sigurdsson. The sooner Everton can cash in on the pair, the better it will be for the team and with the duo expected to rise upwards of £100m in fees, there is ample cash to spend to bolster the squad.
While Koeman would prefer to keep both players and for good reason – Lukaku scored 25 league goals last season, while Barkley was on hand to make 84 key passes – that Everton are aiming to secure their replacements sooner rather than later shows that a clear plan is in place. Sandro netted 14 goals in La Liga last season for a Malaga side that hit the back of the net on just 49 occasions and if reports that he will sign for just £5.2m are to be believed, then there is further proof that there is value for money in the current market.
On top of that, Sigurdsson registered 13 assists – the third most in the Premier League last season – and created 80 goalscoring chances for Swansea and – as far as Barkley replacements are concerned – they could do a lot worse. With Yannick Bolasie still to return from injury and January arrival Morgan Schneiderlin set to come into the new campaign on the back of a full pre-season with Everton – not to mention the continued development of Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate – and there is reason for excitement ahead of the coming campaign, even with Lukaku and Barkley’s futures up in the air.
That being said, they need to better their fortunes against those above them in the Premier League if they are to take the next step. They won only two of their 12 top-flight meetings against last season’s top-6 – a 2-1 win over Arsenal and a 4-0 trouncing of Manchester City, both at Goodison Park – and it’s their performances against the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea that need to improve in order to establish themselves as consistent top-4 regulars.
Nevertheless, Everton fans are understandably excited coming into the summer and the arrivals of Pickford and Klaassen will do little to satisfy the cravings for big money signings. Provided Koeman can adequately reinvest the Lukaku and Barkley fees upon their inevitable sales, then Everton could have the means to trouble the Premier League’s now traditional top-6 and make headway in their bid to secure a regular Champions League placing.
Ben McAleer – @BenMcAleer1