Merseyside is known for its quirky and idiosyncratic nature and this season, in particular, both of the region’s Premier League teams seem determined to live up to that reputation. ‘Hot and cold’ would probably be the best way to describe both Everton and Liverpool’s first full seasons under their new managers. Capable of outstanding performances, but struggling to maintain momentum. It is Everton, however, who are on fire of late and while Liverpool have recorded just one league win in 2017, the Toffees have lost just once since the turn of the year.
Not only have Ronald Koeman’s men made progress, David Unsworth’s Everton Under 23s top the Premier League 2, the highest level of youth football in the country. The Blues’ youngsters look likely to beat big-spending Manchester City Under 23’s to the title, showing the talent at Unsworth’s disposal. Everton’s recent reputation for bringing through some of the best in young English talent could hint at an era of success for their full side. Their fans may sing of being a ‘Grand Old Team’ but they are actually turning into a very promising young one.
Despite the understandable optimism, there are a few questions for Everton to answer before they can become genuine challengers for the top four. As with any young side, they struggle to maintain a high level of performance. Currently about as consistent as a rural Wi-Fi connection; the Toffees will need to avoid the type of sticky patch they suffered last autumn if they are to progress next season.
A steely 2-1 win against Arsenal at the Emirates and 4-0 evisceration of a frankly outclassed Manchester City showed that Everton have the quality to put the big boys to the sword. But these two highly impressive performances only garnered six points. Far fewer than they missed out on during a run of nine games, beginning in September, which saw them win just once. Defeats against Bournemouth, Burnley, and Watford suggested a side not clinical enough; perhaps not yet mature enough to truly compete at the top end of the table.
It may be for this reason (along with the attraction of a bit of razzle dazzle) that Everton reportedly enquired about a certain Wayne Rooney during the January transfer window. Indeed, speculation suggests Koeman still hopes to add Rooney to the list of unwanted Red Devils brought, for a cut-price fee, to Goodison Park.
However, it would be a mistake to add the Manchester United captain to the hallowed roll call of ‘Tim Howard’, ‘Phil Neville’, ‘Louis Saha’, ‘Tom Cleverley’, and ‘Morgan Schneiderlin’. While Everton do need reinforcements if they are to mount a top four charge, they do not need an old war horse like Rooney. A top quality goalkeeper; an improvement on Ramiro Funes Mori; and an energetic striking alternative should be at the top of a shopping list which does not contain the name ‘Wayne Rooney’.
At their best, Everton are a dynamic and exciting young team and Koeman must be careful to nurture these qualities, rather than side-line them. Rooney does still have much to offer at the top level, but a return to his beginnings makes sense for neither player nor club.
Before David Moyes’s (unsuccessful) return to Goodison last week, he claimed that Everton still had some way to go before Koeman tops his own achievements at the club. In some ways, Koeman seems to be following the Moyes blueprint pretty well. The Scotsman was praised for scouring the lower leagues for talent, and Koeman will hope the mercurial Ademola Lookman can have the same impact as Tim ‘Socceroo’ Cahill. The current boss will be delighted with the form of Ashley Williams, who has offered the experience and defensive nous that Phil Neville once provided.
Where the two managers differ, however, is their own experience. Whereas Moyes spent his career in Scotland and the lower leagues, Koeman spent it lifting trophies. With four consecutive La Liga titles, a European Cup, and (back in the day, at least) a decent free kick on him, the Dutchman could provide the elite know-how that Everton have been lacking. Who needs Wayne Rooney?
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