As things stand, Everton are in limbo.
Despite investing heavily in the squad, £73million according to transfermarkt, since the arrival of Ronald Koeman, it did look as though the club’s involvement in Europe next season hinged on teams above them winning domestic competitions to ensure, like last season, the team in seventh qualified for a Europa League spot.
They are out of the FA Cup, the EFL Cup and currently sit in seventh position in arguably the most competitive Premier League season to date, with six clubs all pushing for a top-four finish.
For context, the Toffees have 36 points from their 22 league games so far and find themselves nine points behind Liverpool in fourth. Whereas last season after gameweek 22, 36 points would have placed you in sixth position and just the three points off of fourth.
But the former Southampton manager seems to have a plan.
A False Start?
At the start of the season it looked as though Everton had the potential to turn the top six into a magnificent seven.
They went five games undefeated, four of which were wins, but then, inexplicably, their good run came to an abrupt halt. What followed next was one win and five defeats in their next 10 games and the pressure on Koeman, understandably, began to mount.
At his disposal the Dutchman had a talented, expensively assembled squad and he was failing to put out a team who could compete.
Ross Barkley was off the boil, Romelu Lukaku wasn’t at his destructive best, Yannick Bolasie didn’t look like a £25million player and the defence appeared to be transparent. It looked as though their season could be over for the blue half of Merseyside by December. But then their form picked up and they won five of their next seven league matches to thrust them back into contention to at least make things interesting for those at Goodison Park.
A New Dawn
The belief surrounding the club has been further fuelled as of late by the arrivals of Ademola Lookman and Morgan Schneiderlin. Both made their debuts in the 4-0 drubbing of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City with the former getting on the scoresheet in the process.
Koeman is a man with a plan.
The former Manchester United midfielder certainly improves a midfield which had become overly reliant on the soon-to-be 36-year-old Gareth Barry. Schneiderlin arrives having not featured much for Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford but his reputation precedes him. Before his move up north he was considered to be one of the best midfield destroyers in the Premier League. His partnership with Victor Wanyama was one of the reasons Southampton regularly did so well.
There’s no reason he can’t strike up a similar one with Idrissa Gueye. The Senegalese midfielder has been a revelation since his move from Aston Villa in the summer and is already a firm fan favourite.
With those two at the heart of the midfield, Everton shouldn’t be affording the opposition many goalscoring chances.
Lookman arrived from Charlton and adds an air of unpredictability to the frontline. He’s versatile enough to play anywhere in the final third and as he showed against City, give him a chance in the area and he’s clinical. He’s got explosive pace and he’s fearless. He has the potential to add another layer to an attack which is often dependent on Lukaku to fire.
On the Football Whispers Index the most likely new face through the door is Branislav Ivanovic. The Chelsea man is currently a 2.2. His experience, versatility and aerial ability makes him an ideal candidate to replace Phil Jagielka with the former Blade being slowly phased out by Koeman and linked with a potential move to Sunderland.
On top of that, French newspaper L’Equipe have claimed the club are looking to bring in yet another attacker in the form of Nicolas Pepe. The Ivory Coast forward has been at the Africa Cup of Nations, but the holders were knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday which would allow him to return to France to complete a move.
There is some credibility to the link after Koeman allowed Gerard Deulofeu to join AC Milan on loan, freeing up a position in the squad. One Pepe could fill.
Piece by piece the manager is putting together a squad he feels is capable of competing. Is it good enough to gatecrash the top six party this season? Possibly. But next season is a real probability.