Lifelong Evertonian Michael Davies runs his own YouTube channel NetworkMichaelD where he passionately discusses everything that happens on the Blue half of Merseyside. At a time when Everton players have been largely off the radar for Fantasy Football Managers FPL Draft Boss spoke to Mike to get his take on the end of the Ronald Koeman era, summer signings and what the future holds for his Club.
A £150M summer spending spree offered so much hope to a loyal fan base impatiently waiting for a first major trophy since 1995. Now Everton have recorded just 2 wins in their opening 9 Premier League matches as well as enduring the worst start to a Europa League campaign by any English team in history.
Manager Ronald Koeman has paid the price for this poor form and Mike for one won’t miss the Dutchman “I don’t think he ever really understood Everton. It’s quite funny actually, some of the lads that I work with have said, ‘You never gave him chance at Everton.’ Because I never thought he bought into it. Right from the start when we made him that first offer, which I believe was around £5 million a year, and he turned it down saying he was staying at Southampton. Then a week later we go in with improved wages plus bonuses and he agreed to it. He said he was excited by the project but essentially it was all down to money.”
A similar allegation could never be made about the man who has been placed in temporary charge, David Unsworth. “Rhino” as he is affectionately known by supporters made over 300 appearances for the Club across 2 spells as a player and was part of the Toffee’s FA Cup winning team from 22 years ago. Himself a graduate of Everton’s youth set up he has been manager of their U23 side since 2014. Last season saw his youngsters crowned Premier League Champions for the age group.
“He’s got Everton in his blood” enthuses Mike, “Right from his first press conference he touched on so many key points that the fans wanted to hear. He spoke about the honour, passion & fight that he wants out of everyone. He even mentioned Barkley and how he wants him to stay.”
Ross Barkley is another whose blood runs Blue but the boyhood Evertonian almost left the Club in the summer after refusing to sign a new contract. His current deal expires at the end of the 2017/18 season. Mike sees him as one of several players who didn’t take well to Koeman’s approach to man management. “Roberto Martinez had put Barkley on a pedestal telling everyone he was one of the best young players in England. Koeman rightly or wrongly gave him a public reality check. Koeman never hit me as the type of person who you could go to and say, ‘Boss, I’m really sorry about this game. Can we sit down? Can we talk about it? Can we see what I can do to improve?’ Because I think he would just shut the door on you and tell you to fix yourself. He just hasn’t got the personality to put his arm around somebody”
With Unsworth stating Barkley is currently “3-4 weeks away” from first team contention the two may not get the opportunity to work together before Everton appoint a new full time manager. A Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea was Unsworth’s first match as interim boss and he handed starts to some players who have been on the fringes of the first team. Injury troubled Irishman James McCarthy and youth team star Beni Baningime lined up in midfield whilst on the wings Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon, who have played just 27 and 7 minutes of Premier League action respectively this season, were handed rare chances to impress. The presence of 2 wide men hinted at a potential shift in tactics for Everton in a lineup that had Wayne Rooney up front and nobody playing the number 10 role.
Another who may be set to benefit from Unsworth’s tenure is Academy product Tom Davies. It was ‘Rhino’ who handed the then 17 year old Midfielder his full debut for Everton during his single game spell as caretaker manager following the departure of Roberto Martinez in 2016. Although Davies has played some part in every Premier League match this season he averages only 38 minutes per appearance and is yet to complete a full 90. In Unsworth’s first game against Chelsea he was on the pitch from start to finish.
“I really like Tom Davies.” says Mike. “One of the things that disappointed me with Koeman was his continued use of Morgan Schneiderlin, who has been poor this season, instead of Tom Davies. I’d rather see Idrissa Gana Gueye slightly behind with Davies in midfield pushing forward and getting in the box. He’s a clever player and he hasn’t played as much as he should have.”
A factor going against Davies is that Everton signed 9 new players in the summer and are yet to figure out their best XI. Koeman never found the right formula despite trying 7 different formations this season and using 21 different players. Having previously been built around Romelu Lukaku this years team has struggled for an identity and the Belgian’s goals have been sorely missed.
It’s no surprise that during Koeman’s 16 month long tenure Lukaku was Everton’s highest League goalscorer with 28 strikes, but worryingly the next highest on the list is Ross Barkley with just 5. Only Wayne Rooney and the until recently exiled Oumar Niasse have scored League goals for the Club this season.
“Rooney’s a finisher and will get you some goals as he showed against Arsenal. He has such passion for the Club and tries to take charge and drag the team forwards. But when he drops deep that’s where Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a hindrance to him. They haven’t worked well together at all.”
How does Mike assess Everton’s other striking options? “Niasse is fairly quick and tenacious. He’s not really a good footballer but he works hard and he’s dedicated to Everton even though he’s been put through the mill. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has the chance to improve but I think it’s unfair to have the pressure of the Club on his shoulders. . Sandro is a young lad still trying to adapt to this country. We need someone with a proven track record and I think we will try and sign a striker in January.”
Midfielder Davy Klaassen arrived from Ajax with a proven record of his own, having played 181 times for the Dutch giants for whom he was named captain at the age of just 22. Despite this it’s fair to say Mike hasn’t been impressed so far. “He’s been very poor to be honest. He’s clearly low on confidence but it looks like the English game’s too quick for him. Technically he’s a good player but he’s in a similar position to Rooney and Sigurdsson and they’re on each other’s toes the way Koeman plays. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went back home next summer because he looks out of his depth.”
As if Everton’s attacking midfield options weren’t crowded enough already Croatia U21 international Nikola Vlašić was brought in after impressing for Hadjuk Split against the Blues in a Europa League tie. The brother of 2 time Women’s World High Jump Champion Blanka Vlašić was signed for a fee in the region of £10M and started each of the final 4 games of Koeman’s reign. Mike sees potential. “Vlašić is a good player with quick feet who can beat people for fun. He’s another best suited through the middle because he’s not the quickest but has the ability to pick it up and drive it forward, a bit like Ross Barkley.” With Barkley’s long term future uncertain the solution to Everton’s midfield situation remains unclear.
The difficulty in predicting Everton’s starting XI extends beyond midfield to other areas of the pitch. With Republic Of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman recovering from a horrific leg break his right back role has been shared between young centre half Mason Holgate, free transfer signing Cuco Martina and U23 right back Jonjoe Kenny. The latter was one of 5 Everton players in England’s victorious U20 World Cup squad this summer. Coleman is still several months away from a return and Mike hopes the time can be spent blooding the youngsters at the position. “I’m all for Jonjoe Kenny getting some minutes with the first team. He gets up the wing and can cross the ball but defensively you can see he’s still a young lad. Holgate has a bit more experience and he’s physically stronger than Kenny but for me it should be either of them at right back instead of Martina.”
Everton kept 13 clean sheets in the Premier League last term, the 5th highest total in the division. That defensive unit appeared to be strengthened further in July with 2 young English talents signed for decent sums. Jordan Pickford’s arrival from Sunderland is widely regarded as a sizeable upgrade between the sticks and a further £25M was spent on Burnley centre half Michael Keane. From the outside both deals looked like excellent business but through the first 9 League games of this season Everton have only managed one clean sheet, a 1-0 victory over Stoke City on the opening weekend.
Where does Mike place the blame for the Toffee’s defensive fragility? “I’ve never known Everton be as bad as they have been recently under Koeman. We struggled to score and we couldn’t defend. Teams that happens to normally get relegated. Jordan Pickford has probably been our standout signing of the summer. He’s been caught out a few times but we are so undisciplined in defence any mistakes get amplified. Michael Keane is a good player now and he has the potential to be a really good player in the future. He needs to get his confidence back and that comes by playing in a solid defence. Ashley Williams is letting players run off him left, right and centre so Keane has to pick up so much work. He’s used to a tight defensive structure at Burnley and Koeman’s Everton havent been capable of that.”
His former boss at Burnley Sean Dyche has been mentioned with regards to taking over at Goodison Park but it’s a rumour that seems to have gained more popularity with the media than with the Everton fans. Majority owner Farhad Moshiri has expressed his ambition for the Club and has previously spoken of having a big name manager to compete with the major powerhouses of the North West; Guardiola, Mourinho and Klopp. Some supporters have called for the likes of Carlo Ancelotti but Everton’s current position in the Premier League and potential early exit from Europe will make them a less than attractive proposition to a man whose managerial CV reads like a checklist of the world elite.
“We can definitely pay Ancelotti enough to come to Everton.” says Mike. “Whether we can convince him to come is another thing. Everton are still mid building process. I see us similar to where Spurs were a few years ago and Sean Dyche isn’t going to attract new players of the calibre that we need. Can you imagine him talking to a £35M Midfielder from La Liga? They wouldn’t know who he is. He’s got a decent workmanlike team at Burnley but I’d love a big name. Someone to recruit players, someone recognisable. But saying that David Unsworth is probably the perfect man for right now. He’s got the fans onside early and he’s got the passion for the Club. He always played a brand of good attacking football with the U23’s. If he gets 3 or 4 matches in charge and we play well I hope he gets the job.”
The key to playing well will be getting the best out of the unbalanced squad he has inherited and helping the talented youngsters at Everton reach their obvious potential. If he can show signs of doing that in just a few games then Unsworth may become full time manager of some quality players, and part time fantasy managers like us will have to seriously consider Everton players once again.
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