Everton supporters are not used to their side getting good business done early. Ronald Koeman has acted swiftly to improve his squad in the off-season as he strives to close the gap to the top four. Everton finished 15 points behind Liverpool in the Champions League places and there is clear room for improvement at Goodison Park. Koeman 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, the signing of the 23-year-old should be viewed as a real coup 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. 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 the ideal arrival for Everton.
The spending won’t stop there either, with Everton expected to secure the services of Sandro Ramirez in the near future, while the club are still being linked with moves for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Moussa Dembele and Leander Dendoncker in what promises to an exciting summer. The real question now, however, is whether the signings will be enough for the Merseysiders to make the next step in the Premier League.
Everton are in an awkward limbo in that they are the best of the rest in England’s top tier, yet 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, though it remains to be seen how he adjusts his game to being quietly brilliant after the constant practice for Sunderland.
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 Pickford will be the club’s undisputed number one immediately and also improve his international chances.
If Klaassen can transfer his fine form from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, then Everton will have gained a fine attacking performer to link the midfield and attack. 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, the better it will be for the team and with the duo expected to generate upwards of £100m, 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 succession plan is in place. Sandro netted 14 goals in La Liga last season for a Malaga side that scored just 49 goals, 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; they could do a lot worse when replacing Barkley. 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.
That being said, Everton must 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 six – a 2-1 win over Arsenal and a 4-0 trouncing of Manchester City, both at Goodison Park – but their performances against Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea must improve significantly if they are to establish themselves as challengers to the top four.
Nevertheless, Everton fans are understandably excited coming into the summer and the arrivals of Pickford and Klaassen will do plenty to satisfy the cravings for big money signings. Provided Koeman can adequately reinvest the Lukaku and Barkley fees upon their inevitable sales, Everton could have the means to trouble the Premier League’s top six and make finally make some headway in their bid to secure a Champions League place.
Ben McAleer – @BenMcAleer1