Predicting the Potential Everton Starting Lineup for 2013-14
With the season reaching its conclusion, and Everton still very much in contention for a fourth- or fifth-place finish, Evertonians must be pretty pleased with how things have gone for them so far.
The Toffees have already obtained the same number of points after 30 games (51) as they managed over 38 last time around, and while a disappointing slump around the turn of the year saw them lose ground on the teams ahead of them, and crash out of the FA Cup, they remain on course to surpass their expectations.
Looking ahead to next season, the question of whether or not they will be able to maintain this level of progress will depend a lot on what sort of team they have by the time the new campaign comes round.
Will Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini still be there?
Will Tim Howard have genuine competition in goal?
More importantly, will David Moyes decide to sign a new contract, or will he too be tempted with a move elsewhere?
At the moment, all anyone can do is speculate.
But really, that's where the fun is.
While his performances this season haven't always met with his usual high standards, it's hard really to see anyone other than Tim Howard starting in goal for Everton next season, at least to begin with.
He's dependable, he's capable of match-winning performances, and although he might benefit from some proper competition for a starting place—an up-and-coming young keeper as opposed to a reliable veteran —he'll surely still be the No. 1 choice.
At 34, he still has a bit of time ahead of him in the game, and it would be an unnecessary risk to start looking to replace him too early.
Seamus Coleman has made the right-back position his own this season and will look to continue his development as a player going into next year.
He's featured 30 times so far this campaign, and with his strengths both defensively and going forward, he's the perfect compliment to Leighton Baines on the opposite flank.
Coleman has also started to establish himself at international level and now has 11 caps to his name with the Republic of Ireland.
Leighton Baines has been a revelation for Everton since joining from Wigan Athletic, and despite the fact that he plays in defence, he is so often the man Everton look to in order to get things going offensively.
I still fancy Baines to stay, as I feel that he'll wait another year, or at least until next January before a departure, but his future could all hinge on how Everton finish the season, and whether or not they qualify for the Champions League.
Despite having one of the best defences in the English Premier League (fifth place, behind Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal) centre-back remains something of a problem for Everton, and it might be an area they'll look to strengthen in the summer.
With John Heitinga rarely convincing, Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka remain the No. 1 partnership, but Jagielka cannot be relied upon to remain injury-free, and 35-year-old Distin is getting on a bit.
There is the feeling that both players would benefit from a younger presence, someone who's more comfortable on the ball, and more capable of linking up with the midfield.
Dejan Lovren of Lyon and Stefan de Vrij of Feyenoord are two names that have been mentioned frequently in connection with Everton, and one of those two might well end up being the missing piece that they've been looking for.
With the benefit of hindsight, we're now able to say that Steven Pienaar's move from Everton to Spurs was a mistake.
Since coming back to Goodison, though, it's almost like he never left.
Pienaar is a natural dribbler, and although his tendency to cut inside onto his stronger right foot often has the result of narrowing the game, the overlapping runs of Baines down the left-hand side allow them to maintain their width.
His short temper might sometimes get the better of him—he's been shown the red card twice already this season—and he might have hoped to score more than his six league goals, but there isn't a better player out there that Everton would readily be able to pick up.
Most of the speculation surrounding Everton at this moment in time concerns Marouane Fellaini and the possibility of him moving away from Goodison in the summer.
Fellaini excelled through the first half of the season, and even if his form since the start of the year has seen a marked decrease, it's not been enough to detract the attention of Europe's top clubs, some of whom are believed to be lining up a summer move.
Like Baines, though, it's still quite early, and I see it as more likely that the Belgian will still be an Everton player come the start of next season, with a possible move becoming more likely from January onwards.
So where will he play?
A lot will depend on what setup Moyes, or potentially, his replacement, opts for in terms of the shape and formation of the team, but Fellaini is able to exercise most control over a game from a central midfield position, and that's where he's most likely to start next season.
As for who will get the nod to play alongside him, within the current squad there are a number of options.
Darron Gibson has impressed since joining from Manchester United, and Ross Barkley's performances with the reserves and on loan spells have seen him knocking on the door of the first team, but in terms of experience, reliability and cohesion, the most likely candidate would seem to be Leon Osman.
Victor Anichebe made his name for Everton as a centre-forward, and has his best return of goals this season with seven, but often his most impressive performances have come when he's started on the right-hand side of midfield.
With Everton regularly only opting for one out-and-out striker, Anichebe's appearances in the first team have often been limited, but he's demonstrated a real proficiency as a wide midfielder, and he has the power and the pace to be a real handful for any EPL full-back.
Looking ahead to next season, I see him as Everton's best bet on the right flank.
It seems probable that Everton will be in the market for another forward as they look to strengthen their squad ahead of next season, but unless that player is of a real high standard, I wouldn't expect him to break into the first team straight away.
Nikica Jelavic might have gone off the boil slightly since an explosive start to his Goodison career, but he's still a lethal striker, and if he's provided with the right kind of service, it won't be long before he's back to his goalscoring best.
To partner him, Everton need look no further than Kevin Mirallas.
A £6 million signing from Greek side Olympiakos, Mirallas has often looked out of sorts playing as a winger, but he's excelled when employed in a role just off the main striker, exemplified in his performance against Stoke last weekend.
He seems to have found his feet after taking some time to adjust to the demands of the English game, and he has all of the requisite qualities to make him a dangerous EPL forward.
The Starting XI
So there you have it. A prediction for how Everton will line up at the start of the 2013-14 English Premier League season.
But what do you think?