Everton have established themselves in the upper echelons of the Premier League during recent years, first under David Moyes and then in Roberto Martinez’s first season at Goodison Park. The ever present Premier League club have been battling for Europe during the majority of campaigns and will hope to return to those heights after a blip last season.
Story of Last Season
The 2014-15 campaign was a disappointing one for The Toffees with the club almost being dragged into a relegation battle after a post-Christmas slump. The Goodison outfit suffered the curse of the Europa League as their good form in Europe was in stark contrast to their poor league form. Despite challenging for the Champions League places in his debut season, many disgruntled fans called for Matinez’s head, suggesting that his inconsistent form with Wigan was going to be the same at Everton. Eventually, Everton’s form picked up but an 11th placed finish was their first outside the top 8 since 2005-06.
The club have made three signings during the transfer window to date, the most notable being the return of Gerard Deulofeu after a loan spell during the 2013-14 season. The Spaniard showed flashes of brilliance during his previous spell with The Toffees but was too inconsistent for many fans’ liking. After spending last season on loan an Sevilla, Evertonians will be hoping he has matured as a player and will now settle down with a permanent deal instead of the loans he has been used to in recent years.
Tom Cleverley has been brought in on a free following the conclusion of his contract at Manchester United and a loan spell at Aston Villa last season. Cleverley was often used as a scapegoat for United’s midfield struggles but with over 100 Premier League appearances will increase the options available to Martinez in his midfield. The Toffees have also brought in David Henen from Olympiakos on a permanent deal after being on loan last season but not making any appearances for the first team. The 19 year old striker adds to the current Belgian cohort at the club but will be viewed as one for the future and continue his development with the U21 side rather than the senior side.
Romelu Lukaku – After impressing at West Brom and during his first season at Goodison, Lukaku struggled to find his best form last season and Everton found things difficult as a result. If the big Belgian can start finding the net regularly again, Everton will have one of the hottest prospects in the league back on form and firing them up the league. If Lukaku endures another tough season though, goals could be hard to come by for Everton and the struggles of last year could return.
Seamus Coleman – The Irishman is arguably the best right-back in the Premier League and his absence through injury last year was a big factor in Everton’s slump. Coleman loves to bomb forward, always giving his teammates an attacking outlet but also has the defensive qualities to match. With Tony Hibbert now very much in the later years of his career and John Stones more suited to central defence, an injury or loss of form for Coleman could have catastrophic consequences for Everton’s season.
John Stones – Despite only having 44 Premier League appearances under his belt, Stones is already an England international and being chased by Manchester United and Chelsea. However, with Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz leaving during the summer, Everton look short of options at centre-back so Stones will have a key role to play alongside Phil Jagielka. With England still undecided on their best central-defensive partnership, the 21 year old has the opportunity to put himself in contention for a Euro 2016 place, something the Toffees faithful will be hoping brings out the best in him. If the youngster fails to live up to his potential, Martinez could find himself with a big headache at the back.
Martinez seems set to stick to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with only like for like replacements likely. The ever reliable Leon Osman should see plenty of game time this season, as will new signing Tom Cleverley and one of last season’s best performers, Steven Naismith. Muhamed Besic impressed last season so Martinez has four quality options in the centre of midfield.
Roberto Martinez is used to taking the rough with the smooth having suffered relegation with Wigan days after winning the FA Cup. His first two seasons at Goodison have provided more Jekyll and Hyde performances with the club threatening Champions League qualification during his first season before being nearer to relegation than Europe in his second. The swashbuckling performances of 2013-14 were replaced by lacklustre displays last season and a growing number of fans became disillusioned with his style. The upcoming campaign will be key for Martinez’s future and the Spaniard will be hoping for the 2013-14 Everton rather than the 2014-15. With no European fixtures to worry about, the club can focus solely on domestic issues with a clear run at the league and cups. Everton haven’t won a trophy since the 1995 FA Cup, so a league or FA Cup success would surely make Evertonians warm to Martinez and his footballing philosophies, whilst Europa League qualification must be the aim this season, even with the headaches it provides.
First Six Fixtures
Martinez’s cause won’t be helped by Everton’s start the season with an extremely tricky opening six fixtures facing his side. Newly promoted Watford visit Goodison Park on the opening day of the season before fixtures against Southampton, Manchester City, Spurs, Chelsea and Swansea. Whilst many would expect the Toffees to pick up maximum points against the Hornets, the visits of City and Chelsea could see Everton go empty handed from their next two home games. Southampton, Spurs and Swansea are all likely to be around Everton in the final Premier League table, so away visits to all three within the opening two months of the season will be a major test of Everton’s credentials. Seven points from the opening six games along with good performances would represent a satisfying opening to the season for Everton, but anything as low as three; a distinct possibility with the fixtures, could see Martinez’s job come under scrutiny as early as September.
Final Standing Prediction – 8th
Whilst Everton face a tough opening spell, the squad at their disposal should see a drastic improvement on last season. It is hard to see Everton challenging for the Champions League places like in Martinez’s first season but a scrap for the Europa League should definitely be the aim and see the club return to the Premier League’s top 10. The squad is better than most in the league but still lagging behind the top 6. Anything higher than 7th would be a fantastic achievement for the Toffees, but another bottom half finish would be a huge disappointment.[separator type=”thin”]
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It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert
The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.
There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.
Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.
The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.
The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.
The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.
Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.
The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.
Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.
At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.
There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.
Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.
Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.
Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.
The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.
However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.
The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.
Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.
However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.
In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.
This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.
However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.
It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.
Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).
Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.
Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.
Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.
Will They Survive?
Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.
The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.
There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.
It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.
Paul Dummett’s Wales snub will please Newcastle United fans
The Welshman turned down an international call-up this week.
Paul Dummett has been one of the standout players for Newcastle United this season and his performances haven’t passed Ryan Giggs by.
The new Wales National Team manager has admitted that he has spoken to the left-back with a view to a return to the squad. The Chronicle reported the following quotes:
“I had a conversation with Paul Dummett, because he hasn’t been in the last few squads, and he just felt that it wasn’t the right time to come back.
“He wanted to concentrate on his Newcastle career which I have to respect, and we move on.
“He (Dummett) said that he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle’s relegation fight so I have to respect that at the moment. In the future we will wait and see.”
That will be music to the ears of Newcastle supporters and Rafa Benitez, as Dummett has emerged as a key player for the team since his return from injury.
This season in the Premier League, the Magpies have conceded only 13 times in the 12 matches that the 26-year-old has started.
That underlines how effective he has been and his importance to the team’s chances of staying in the top-flight.
Although he may not be the most exciting player to watch, Dummett is very good at carrying out a role for the team and it is no surprise that he has become one of Benitez’s most trusted lieutenants.
The Spanish manager enjoys to coach players that listen and carry out his instructions to the letter and his left-back certainly fits under that description.
A quick look at the stats shows how rounded Dummett is as a defender.
He averages 2.83 ball recoveries, 0.78 blocks and 6.85 clearances per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he is very good in the air as shown by his aerial duels win rate of 57.41%.
He was once a scapegoat for Newcastle supporters and the focus of anger when things weren’t going well. The reason for that was his lack of technical skill, which would make him stand out on the pitch.
However, that side of his game has developed and he is now serviceable in possession. Dummett isn’t going to be cutting sides open with his attacking threat down the left, but he understands his own limitations and that has seen him improve as a player.
The 26-year-old has been part of Wales squads in the past, but he has only played once for his country and his lack of game-time may be a reason why he stepped away from the international arena.
Last summer, Newcastle issued a statement to explain why Dummett withdrew from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Serbia, which featured the following quote:
“After a gruelling campaign with the Magpies, in which he played through the pain barrier on several occasions, 25-year-old Dummett is keen to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family and friends in order to ensure he is at peak form and fitness for his hometown team’s return to the Premier League and what promises to be a big campaign for both him and the club.
“He has been supported in his decision by Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez.
“However, Dummett – who has represented his country from youth level all the way to the senior team – has not closed the door on his international career and hopes to represent the Dragons again in the future.”
It is clear that Newcastle is the priority for Dummett, but it is interesting that he refused to close the door on Wales last summer.
A managerial change since then may lead to further opportunities for the left-back and it is easy to see why Giggs has already reached out to him.
The Newcastle full-back has developed into a Premier League calibre player under Benitez and he will offer an upgrade on the options currently in the Wales squad.
For him, as a player, it may be beneficial to play international football and gain experience at the highest level. Although he didn’t agree to come back at this time, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t return to the fold in the near future. Both parties would benefit from that.
Salif Sane is the centre-back Everton must sign in the summer
The Senegal defender has been in fine form for Hannover 96 this season.
Salif Sane may not be a player well known to many fans in England, but this season he has emerged as a superstar in German football.
The 27-year-old has been in incredible form for Hannover 96 this season. According to the stats aggregator, WhoScored, Sane is rated as the second-best player in the Bundesliga, with only Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez ahead of him.
His form should surely have caught the eye of Everton.
The Toffees have had a torrid time defensively this season.
Ashley Williams has been in awful form and has lost the backing of fans with his recent red card versus Burnley.
Michael Keane has struggled to replicate his Burnley form at Goodison Park.
Phil Jagielka’s age is catching up with him whilst Mason Holgate has been erratic.
The less said about loan signing Eliaquim Mangala the better. With Ramiro Funes Mori sidelined for most of the campaign, Everton have leaked goals.
Sane could be the perfect plug.
The Senegal defender, who came through the ranks at Bordeaux and later Nancy, is exactly what Everton need.
Sane is a no-nonsense defender whose main aim is to keep out goals. Defending is his first priority.
One area of his game where he is imperious is in the air. Not many players beat the 6ft 5 ins powerhouse in an aerial battle.
This season has been a breakthrough campaign for Sane.
This summer he will be in the Senegal squad at the World Cup in Russia, with plenty expected of a side containing the likes of Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao.
Sane would join his international colleague Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton and would arrive more than capable of finally steadying the ship in Everton’s woefully inept defensive unit.
If not Sane, then someone else, but it is fair to say not many players in Everton’s price-range would be able to have the impact the Senegal defender might if given the chance.
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