The football world gawped at the transfer of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United last month. The Red Devil’s parted with £75 million to secure the services of the prolific Belgian – who has become an instant hit with the United faithful.
While all the attention has rightfully been on Lukaku and his new team’s early season form – very little analysis has been given to where Everton have been left in his absence and judging by their early season performances, they are arguably in a better position.
Everton have notoriously been a selling club over the years and without Champions League football, that’s an inevitability of world football. But their recruitment in the last three transfer windows looks to have taken the Toffees to the next level.
Bringing in Ronald Koeman from Southampton in the summer of 15/16 was exactly what the Merseyside faithful were crying out for following Roberto Martinez’s frustrating tenure. Koeman has seemingly identified key targets from other clubs at attainable prices as well as nurturing young talent from the club’s Finch Farm training ground.
Tom Davies and Mason Holgate have become integral members of the first team squad while Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have been recruited from lower league football (Charlton and Sheffield United respectively) and become instant hits in the Premier League.
Lukaku’s biggest void is potentially yet to be filled, with the Belgian contributing 25 league goals last term, he will inevitably be very hard to replace. But Koeman, a forward thinker and a product and exponent of the Dutch ‘total football’ ideology, has seemingly identified different ways to look to score goals this term.
Three of his summer acquisitions Gylfi Sigurdsson (from Swansea), Davy Klaassen (from Ajax) and Wayne Rooney (brought back from Manchester United to the delight of the adorning Blues faithful) offer creativity in front of opposing defences as well as behind them.
Lukaku was arguably a little one-dimensional and seemed to thrive off aerial challenges and ‘balls into feet’, Koeman’s new men are very comfortable in possession, can shoot from a distance and will be looking to assist others and get on the scoresheet themselves.
Koeman’s other main focus during his stay at Goodison so far has been the defence as well as providing energy in midfield. Ross Barkley has been deemed unsuitable for Koeman and has been told he can leave the club while Gareth Barry couldn’t be guaranteed first team football so he left for West Brom.
In their place are two of the Premier League’s most industrious midfielders – Idrissa Gueye who draws parallels with N’golo Kante due to his all action style of play and Morgan Schneiderlin who arrived from Manchester United in January and is proven at Premier League level. Besides, Koeman brought in Ashley Williams from Swansea last summer – and he has continued to sure things up by signing two of the hottest properties in the Premier League.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland and defender Michael Keane from Burnley had a host of suitors – including some of the bigger names in the league – but both were enthused enough by the project Everton were undertaking and seem to be enticed by the guarantee of first team football, particularly in a World Cup year.
This philosophy of shrewd recruiting and promotion of youth served Koeman particularly well at Southampton – where he arguably proved his worth as a top Premier League manager – and he will be hoping to implement it with the same success on Merseyside.
With Europa League football now secure this season for the Blues, if they can build on their solid start in the Premier League too, Koeman and his admirers will have long forgotten about Romelu Lukaku.