Everton 2016/17 Season Preview: Toffees can look forward to the start of a new era under Ronald Koeman

Following a disappointing 2015/16 season which resulted in Roberto Martinez being sacked, the Toffees are looking forward to the start of a new era with a new manager and new investment.

Everton 2016/17 Season Preview: Toffees can look forward to the start of a new era under Ronald Koeman
(Image: VAVEL)

Following a disappointing 2015/16 season which resulted in Roberto Martinez being sacked, Everton are looking forward to the start of a new era with a new manger and new investment.

In luring Ronald Koeman from Southampton, the Blues could not have made a more forceful statement. It is now down to Koeman and his players to prove that Everton cannot only compete with the major clubs in the transfer market, but also on the pitch.

An overview of 2015/16 - a season of underachievement

After a season plagued by defensive frailties and woeful home form, Roberto Martinez was sacked by Everton ahead of the final weekend after Sunderland claimed revenge for the 6-2 thrashing in November with a 3-0 victory over the Blues in May.

Everton approached the season strong in ambition, but failed to deliver. The Toffees ended the season with 11 wins, 14 draws and 13 losses and for a second successive season finished the season in 11th place with a total of 47 points.

11th place was simply not good enough for a team and manager that promised so much, especially with Chelsea and Liverpool finishing outside the European spots and the Manchester clubs underperforming.

Cup competitions looked the best way for Martinez to try and save his job, but promising runs to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Capital One Cup ended in disappointment, losing to both Manchester clubs and eventual winners both times.

In luring Ronald Koeman from Southampton, the Blues could not have made a more forceful statement. | Photo: Everton
In luring Ronald Koeman from Southampton, the Blues could not have made a more forceful statement. | Photo: Everton

What can we expect to see from Everton this season?

Everton will certainly be hoping for a better season than last season. On the pitch and in the dugout there was a distinct lack of progressive ideas or individuals determined to seize on the potential lurking within the club, while Martinez's unwillingness to be flexible and adapt when things were not going Everton's way ultimately cost him his job.

Koeman will be clear on the cause of the Blues' underachievement last season and how he wants his team to play. Already in pre-season, Koeman has put his own stamp on the team and the style of play: an aggressive, high tempo, pressing game. Everton's defensive record under Martinez was a particular area of weakness and something that Koeman will be looking to improve and as a former defender he understandably favours defensive solidity. 

In terms of tactics, Everton are likely to set-up in a similar formation as under Martinez. Koeman opted for 4-2-3-1 at Southampton and given his relative success with the system and the Everton players' familiarity with it, Koeman will likely stick with his preferred formation. The 4-2-3-1 formation can be adapted to more of a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 in defence or when protecting a lead, or an attacking 4-3-3 with the wingers pushing high up the pitch.

Koeman did deploy a 3-5-2 formation in Wayne Rooney's testimonial, with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman utilised as wing-backs; a formation that he utilised at PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Southampton. The formation does offer more structure and stability than what the Toffees endured last season, while Italy and Wales were huge beneficiaries of playing the 3-5-2 formation at Euro 2016.

Wind of change on and off pitch this summer

Change was always going to follow after Farhad Moshiri acquired an initial 49.9% stake in the club in February and this summer has provided the first test of the British-Iranian billionaire’s intentions for Everton.

The club's statement signing has so far been confined to the manager's chair. Moshiri immediately identified Koeman as the man to return Everton to European contention and lead the Merseyside club into a golden era. In luring Koeman from Southampton, Everton could not have made a more forceful statement and the outcome of the managerial chase has shown that Moshiri can restore Everton's appeal.

Another sign of intent was appointing Leicester City's joint assistant manager and head of recruitment Steve Walsh as Everton's first director of football in a reshaped management structure. The 61-year-old is credited with bringing Jamie Vardy, N'Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez to the Premier League champions. One of the main problems Everton have faced in recent years has been competing with fellow Premier League clubs in the transfer market, but Moshiri's fortunes and the expertise of Walsh was always likely to see a summer of change on the pitch.

The summer started slowly - no doubt due to the delay in appointing Koeman and then securing the services of Walsh - with the signing of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg from Fulham. With Everton's main goalkeeping target of the summer Kasper Schmeichel committing to a new five-year deal this week, it could even be that Stekelenburg stays number one until January or beyond.

Idrissa Gueye was second only to N'Golo Kante in terms of the number of combined interceptions and tackles made across Europe's top five leagues. | Photo: Everton
Idrissa Gueye was second only to N'Golo Kante in terms of the number of combined interceptions and tackles made across Europe's top five leagues. | Photo: Everton

The rebuilding job was finally started last week with the £7.1million signing of defensive midfielder Idrissa Gueye from Aston Villa. He may not have been the marquee signing that many Evertonians hoped for, but his transfer to Everton has the potential to be a bargain. The 23-year-old was second only to N'Golo Kante in terms of the number of combined interceptions and tackles made across Europe's top five leagues.

Expect more signings to follow over the next month as Koeman looks to strengthen his squad and the signing of Gueye could signal the start of Everton's major transfer business, with the Toffees having a bid rejected for Swansea City captain Ashley Williams last week. In terms of departures and arguably Koeman's biggest and most obvious task this summer was to keep hold of the clubs star names and, although he has so far kept hold of star striker Romelu Lukaku, defender John Stones has joined Manchester City for £47.5million.

Other notable exits include club legends Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert, who the club feel no longer offer enough to reignite the club's ambition for silverware, along with Steven Pienaar. While goalkeeper Tim Howard brought his 10-year stay at the club to an end by returning to the United States of America to play for MLS side Colorado Rapids.

Pre-season

Everton began their pre-season schedule with a comfortable 3-0 victory over newly promoted Championship side Barnsley at Oakwell. Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley all found the back of the net as the Blues enjoyed a well-contested run-out and Ronald Koeman could begin to reflect on a comfortable win to kick-off his reign in the Everton hotseat.

Deulofeu and Barkley were back amongst the goals three days later as the Toffees defeated League One side MK Dons 3-1 in their pre-season outing, with Muhamed Besic scoring a rare goal for the Blues. Koeman's side then travelled to Germany to compete in the Dresden Cup, but a sublime free-kick from Deulofeu was not enough to prevent Everton slipping to a 2-1 defeat in their opening game against hosts Dynamo Dresden.

Their Dresden Cup participation ended in defeat on penalties after a 1-1 draw in normal time with La Liga outfit Real Betis. The Blues took an early lead when Betis defender Aissa Mandi put the ball into his own net, only for Betis to equalise before half-time. No further goals meant the contest went to a penalty shootout, with the Spaniards prevailing 4-3.

Twenty-one Everton players got more pre-season under their belts in Wayne Rooney's testimonial fixture at Old Trafford. The two sides could not be separated on a night dedicated to the distinguished career of the Blues academy graduate. Everton were suffered an injury blow when Muhamed Besic limped off just minutes after entering the fray as a second-half substitute. It was later revealed that the Bosnian midfielder will be out for six months.

Finally, Everton ended their pre-season with a 1-0 home defeat to La Liga side Espanyol at Goodison Park. The match itself was a tale of two first-half penalties, one scored and one saved. Leonardo Baptistao scored from the spot to give the visitors an early lead, before Ross Barkley saw his penalty saved by Roberto Jimenez.

Which players should you keep an eye on this season?

Ronald Koeman will be hoping to get the best out of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku this season. | Photo: Getty Images
Ronald Koeman will be hoping to get the best out of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku this season. | Photo: Getty Images

Ronald Koeman is renowned for getting the most out of the players he has at his disposal, and, as seen last season, Roberto Martinez failed to get the most out of his squad, which included the talent of Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku. The Dutchman's main task will be getting the most of the talent within the Everton squad.

Ross Barkley scored eight goals and assisted as many in 38 appearances for the Blues last season and the 22-year-old is likely to be Koeman's main creative force and play a pivotal role in Everton's season. His new boss wants to add other elements to the midfielder's obvious skillset. His creativity and ability to drive forward were stifled towards the end of last season and the attacking midfielder is still young and needs a good start to get the season up and running.

Romelu Lukaku has been linked with a move away from Goodison Park this summer, but his performances again this season will be key if Everton are going to improve on last season. The Belgian became the Blues' highest ever scorer in a single Premier League season; his 18 goals eclipsed totals previously set by Tony Cottee (in 1993/94) and Andrei Kanchelskis (in 1995/96).

Where do Everton's strengths and weaknesses lie?

Going forward, Everton are extremely dangerous; the Toffees' 59 goals last season were bettered by only six teams last season. Of Everton's 59 Premier League goals, 60 per cent came from open play - highlighting the Toffees' threat when they have the ball in their possession. They have the players, such as Gerard Deulofeu, who can quickly turn the ball from defence into an attacking opportunity.

It was at the other end of the pitch where Everton's biggest problem lay, conceding 55 goals in 38 league games (only the bottom five clubs conceded more goals than the Blues last season). Koeman will be looking to improve and as a former defender he understandably favours defensive solidity. With the departure of John Stones, Koeman's first task will be signing a replacement and the Dutchman looks to be looking to replace the young defender with the experience of Ashley Williams.

Which youngster could make the step up this season?

Tom Davies produced a man-of-the-match display against Norwich City on the last day of last season. | Photo: Getty Images
Tom Davies produced a man-of-the-match display against Norwich City on the last day of last season. | Photo: Getty Images

Everton supporters got their first glimpse of exciting prospect Tom Davies in April 2016 when he was one of five academy graduates to be handed their first-team debut under Roberto Martinez last season.

The 18-year-old made his Premier League debut from the bench in the 1-1 draw against Southampton and his first start followed a month later when David Unsworth and Joe Royle took temporary charge for the final-day fixture against Norwich City.

Davies produced a man-of-the-match display against the Canaries and, from his assured and tenacious display, he may not just play a role this season but he could be the future of Everton's centre midfield for years to come.

He featured prominently in pre-season and impressed as he showed his versatility playing both at right-back and in his favoured midfield role during the friendly fixtures. He was rewarded with a new five-year deal earlier this month and he will certainly be one to watch during the 2016/17 season.

Final prediction - 8th

After a second successive season of underachievement and disappointment last season, the pressure is on Ronald Koeman to at least guide Everton to a top-half finish. Everton supporters will be hoping for more as this is the season that they hope will be the start of a new and successful era at the club under the leadership of Koeman.

The Blues have the talent in their squad to push for a place in the Europa League and maybe even challenge for a spot in the top-four. However, the Premier League is arguably more competitive than ever. All four of last season's north-west clubs now have different managers than a year ago and the standard is exceptionally high, while Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester are all likely to be challenging, meaning the Blues may just fall short of continental football.