Everton's Biggest Summer Transfer Needs to Boost Toffees into Top 4 next Season
Despite finishing sixth in the Premier League and remaining relevant in the race for fourth well into March, Everton's squad requires a fair amount of surgery in order to gatecrash next year's Champions League places.
For fans to feel confident about their prospects, at least two, possibly three, starting positions will need some serious attention over the summer. Everton's first XI is also one of the oldest lineups in the division, and the club could certainly do with infusing some youth into their starting personnel.
Of course, David Moyes will no longer be leading the Toffees' quest, meaning it is likely there will be even more changes than Evertonians have been used to this coming summer.
Currently seven points off the pace, here's a look at what must to be done to get the Toffees closer to next season's top four.
via EPL Index
Using Everton's familiar formation, the three biggest holes are in attack, central midfield and central defence—basically the spine of the team.
Admittedly, this selection is done on the basis that Marouane Fellaini moves on from the Toffees this summer, as many, including the Daily Mail, expect him to do so.
If the Belgian does stay, then central midfield is less of an urgent need, although there is an argument that his sale would benefit the Toffees and allow a new manager additional freedom to work the transfer market. Also Everton's new manager may prefer him in Leon Osman's position in this lineup.
In terms of guaranteed starters, it's unlikely anyone will come in and dislodge Tim Howard in goal, who has improved after a slightly sloppy start to the season.
Everton have two excellent options at full-back in Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman—who must be kept at all costs—and they also have fine depth in reserve. Tony Hibbert and John Stones are at the opposite ends of their careers, but both can perform at right-back while Bryan Oviedo provides a sufficient backup at left-back.
Phil Jagielka is captain of the side and a certain starter in defence. Many may consider not describing Sylvain Distin as a guaranteed selection alongside him to be harsh, but the logic behind that will be revealed.
Further forward, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman have been solid performers this season, and the Toffees boast strong options out wide in Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas.
Find a Reliable Source of Goals
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Possible Options: Wilfried Bony (Vitesse Arnhem), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Andreas Cornelius (Copenhagen), Tomer Hemed (Real Mallorca), Roberto Soldado (Valencia), Loic Remy (QPR), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea).
Up front is the club's major need and primary issue for the new manager to solve.
Having initially suggested he could be the solution, Nikica Jelavic has endured a disappointing campaign leading the Toffees' line, scoring just eight goals in over 40 appearances.
Victor Anichebe has been committed in reserve but doesn't possess the necessary assets to be a regular starter at a Champions League-chasing club.
Everton's main glitch here has been an inability to convert dominant passages of play into goals, which has too often seen them hanging onto a slender lead.
Compared to every other side in the Premier League's top seven, the Toffees have managed at least 10 goals fewer than each of those opponents, which highlights their frailty here. Their top scorer is Fellaini, with 11 goals, yet every other top-seven squad has a player on at least 14 league strikes or more.
Clearly the priority for Everton's new manager is to identify that illusive predator the club have been craving for so long. Without one, it's hard to imagine the Toffees making the leap to the Champions League.
Add Some Energy in the Middle
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Further back, the second position needing attention is central midfield. As mentioned, Marouane Fellaini can be devastating in this berth, should he to stay at the club, but it seems more likely he will move on.
He has also been playing further forward, which is another reason why Everton need additional help in the middle, regardless of his future.
With the Belgian upfield, Everton's core has lost an element of resilience when not in possession. Darron Gibson and Leon Osman have been consistent performers, adding guile and industry on the ball, but they are not a suitable combination in midfield for a Champions League side.
Osman has been especially targeted by opposition attackers, dribbled past 58 times this season, the second highest tally in the Premier League. Both players have the attributes that makes a more physical, energetic presence the suitable fit alongside them.
For this reason, Everton ideally need Osman to shuffle forward, as he is on the first slide, with Gibson partnered by this more dynamic, physical option, who can break up play in the style of Fellaini.
Recruit an Imposing Centre-Back
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Some may legitimately question the early slide that claimed Everton need a solution at centre-back, but defence has undoubtedly been an issue for long periods this season. It has to be remembered the starting lineup needs improving to make the top four as this season's efforts have fallen short of that target.
Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines have been consistent throughout while Seamus Coleman and Sylvain Distin have improved after patchy starts, helping the Toffees to their current run of seven clean sheets in nine.
However, before that, Everton went on an unbelievable run of 18 games (in all competitions) without a shutout, stretching from September to January. That agonising period saw the Toffees literally shelling points as a series of late lapses ultimately cost them dearly.
The goals did not come in periods the team dominated, and the defence were left unable to hold onto one-goal leads, leaving far too many matches drawn. Seven in nine at one stage.
Distin has certainly shown his reliability in recent weeks, but, approaching 36, it's unlikely he will be as consistent for a whole season next year. John Heitinga has been the Toffees other option, and the Dutchman has been horribly out of form, far below his standards of last season that saw him named Fans' Player of the Season.
As a whole, the team have struggled with physical front men, with several burly strikers bullying them. Everton have conceded 39 percent of their goals from headers this season, a staggering 11 percent more than any other side, with Heitinga proving particularly fallible in this area.
To be formidable enough for the top four, the Toffees need an imposing presence to partner Jagielka at the back. Distin can provide reliable cover in reserve, while it's perhaps best Heitinga seeks a change of scenery.
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Tim Howard has been far more consistent in recent weeks, with a run of clean sheets, but there was an early stretch of the season when the American was far from his reliable self.
While he doesn't necessarily need replacing, he undoubtedly needs better cover from the bench. During that inconsistent spell, there was nobody on the sidelines putting any form of pressure of the American to start.
Jan Mucha played in a handful of games and impressed many against Manchester City; however, he's not of the calibre to compete for a starting place. The Toffees need a younger model, who can eventually develop into a potential starter, to keep Howard on his toes.
Possible Options: Scott Sinclair (Manchester City), Callum McManaman (Wigan), Junior Hoilett (QPR), Adem Ljajic (Fiorentina), Christian Atsu (Porto).
Finally, while Everton have Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar on the flanks, there is a significant lack of depth behind them.
The Toffees have shown impressive recent form when Osman has partnered these two, interchanging in the three positions behind the striker. To advance and evolve this fluid system, the squad would benefit from another similar attacking player who can be brought in to compete here.
It's certainly not an essential fit, but for Everton to make the Champions League, they will need more variety and more of an X-factor in attack, which Mirallas has begun to provide more frequently.
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With Everton under new direction next season, led by a new manager at the helm, he will have his own views and opinions on the Toffees' current personnel.
If he especially dislikes any current starters, or perhaps sees more worth in their sale, then there could be some rather unpredictable moves this summer.
However, if these highlighted areas can be filled with quality, especially the forward berth, then there's no reason to dismiss this current squad's Champions League credentials.
With a few savvy additions, Everton can certainly prolong their top-four challenge, and, with a bit of luck, potential even make that lucrative leap.