Everton 2015/16 Season Preview
In his maiden season in charge, Roberto Martinez led Everton to a record points tally in the Premier League era (72 points).
But the Spanish manager endured a tough season last term as the Toffees finished in the bottom-half of the table below Stoke City, Swansea and Crystal Palace.
That spectacular decline was due to a number of reasons: demanding Europa League commitments, critical individual errors, tactical issues and a strange tendency to lose from good positions in the second-half of games. Everton could have finished fifth if the game was played for only the first-half.
Provided John Stones stays, Martinez will have one of the best back-fours in the Premier League with Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines at full-back positions, plus the experienced Phil Jagielka complementing Stones at the heart of defence.
They still need cover at central defence given that Antolin Alcaraz (released) and Sylvain Distin (AFC Bournemouth) both left the club.
Gareth Barry is likely to continue as the main defensive midfielder, drawing on his experience as he shields the back-four. His powers are on the wane though and Martinez will need players like Muhamed Besic and Tom Cleverley to step up. James McCarthy should still be the midfield general with more freedom to frequently push forward.
Everton need a quick player to complement the current attacking midfield options. Players like Leon Osman, Steven Naismith and Steven Pienaar are good at cutting inside, working between the lines and linking up with full-backs but the Toffees need a quick player who can help Romelu Lukaku in stretching play.
Aaron Lennon added that threat in the second-half of last season when he signed on loan from Tottenham. Kevin Mirallas and the new recruit, Gerard Deulofeu, can to some extent offer a threat during quick transitional plays but a player like Lennon is still needed.
The Toffees also need a better deputy for Lukaku. Arouna Kone offered very little over the last few seasons and there is nothing much to suggest that trend will change.
Lukaku remains the key player for Everton. He was among the league’s top goalscorers with 17 goals during his time at West Brom. After that spell Lukaku then moved on loan from Chelsea to Everton, where he netted 15 times in the league before signing a permanent deal.
His league return was disappointing last season but he still reached the 20 goal mark in all competitions.
Lukaku needs to work on the back-to-goal aspect of his game. He frequently loses possession when trying to help the team build attacks. If Lukaku works on his game and the Toffees exploit his physical presence by getting the ball early to the striker then the Belgian can very well surpass a 30 goal target.
Young player to watch
Ross Barkley is still the most exciting young player at Everton. His ability has always been obvious but this season will be less about his talent and more about his mental strength.
Barkley had a remarkable season during Martinez’s first year in charge after which the young midfielder was linked with a £50m move away from Goodison Park. Last season was the exact opposite as he admitted to losing confidence midway through the season. His goal return dropped, he lost the ball too often and was consequently dropped for the England Under-21s.
After a good summer break, this will hopefully be season we get to see the Barkley we have all been waiting for.
Martinez is a believer in possession-based attacking football. He prefers to have his troops pin the opponent back in the offensive half with both full-backs bombing on down the flanks and attacking midfielders floating between the lines.
That was not very effective last season. His side looked stronger when they adopted a more direct approach and some players even implored the Spanish manager to adopt a more direct game-plan.
Everton may end up with a system that amalgamates both aspects of the game. Coleman and Baines can both provide excellent deliveries into the box and they will remain integral to Everton’s offensive plans, though having both of those full-backs very high up the pitch could leave the central defenders exposed to the threat of counter-attacks.
Everton should perform much better than they did last season, partly because they will not have to deal with some of the problems that affected their campaign last season. The Toffees will have no midweek obligations due to the Europa League, so they should be in better physical condition compared to last season and Martinez will be wiser to the tactical needs of his players.
That should be enough to see Everton challenge for top four places but finishing in the top four may just be too much for the Merseyside club.