COMMENT By Matt Farr
Ronald Koeman was a very busy man in January. The Dutchman somehow managed to find time outside the club’s gruelling schedule to negotiate a complete overhaul of the first-team squad.
Everton saw as many as six players head for the exit door at Goodison Park, including fringe duo Bryan Oviedo and Darron Gibson, who both joined Sunderland, as well as striker Oumar Niasse, who was loaned to Hull.
Meanwhile, Koeman tapped into the club’s spending power to bring in Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United in a £24million deal, and highly-rated youngster Ademola Lookman for £11million.
The club’s form in the first-half of their Premier League campaign pressed Koeman urgently to remove the deadweight from his squad, and in doing so, he has put together arguably Everton’s strongest squad for quite some time.
Roberto Martinez made similar claims during his time as Everton boss during the 2015-16 season, but under Koeman they really do look the real deal. And a pretty thrilling deal, too.
Their defensive game has grown from strength to strength, particularly since Koeman has come into the club, which is probably testament to the input he has been able to draw from his own playing career, where he has been regarded as one of the best central defenders of all-time.
In the final third, meanwhile, he’s got a top-class goalscorer at his disposal in Romelu Lukaku, and some ripened talent with Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas, and more recently in Lookman.
The balance Koeman has been able to strike between fresh young talent and experienced performers across the whole Everton squad, not just the defence, is arguably his biggest achievement with the club to date.
At the back, you have the likes of Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and Phil Jagielka as the club’s loyal, most-experienced servants. Then you’ve got defensive talent coming through the ranks such as Mason Holgate, who has already established a footing in the first-team setup.
Throw Maarten Stekelenburg, Gareth Barry and Aaron Lennon into the pot, and Koeman has a hardened first-team core.
Swapping out midfield outcast Tom Cleverley for Morgan Schneiderlin will no doubt prove to be a genius move by the Everton boss.
Cleverley simply hasn’t been able to establish himself as a regular first-team player, and when the midfield was short of ideas, the England international offered little.
However, in Schneiderlin, Koeman has a player he trusts – following a previous relationship at Southampton – and one that has already proven he can do the business in the Premier League.
The acquisition of Idrissa Gueye back in the summer, meanwhile, was very much an underrated transfer. The Senegal international is one of the most prolific ball-winning midfielders in the top-flight, and provides a healthy new approach to their midfield game.
Tom Davies and James McCarthy complete one of the best central-midfield rosters Everton have had in well over a decade.
There are still areas that Everton can improve. A decent backup goalscoring option is needed for Lukaku, an area where the club have often tried and failed to improve.
Niasse, Leandro Rodriguez and Arouna Kone have all been tried and tested in recent seasons, but none have proven good enough for the first-team at Goodison Park.
Meanwhile, perhaps Everton’s ageing defence could do with one more young centre-back. Jagielka has already lost his place in the side to the younger, more agile Ramiro Funes Mori; but Ashley Williams and Baines are both also over the age of 30.
They’ve lost their Tim Cahill’s and their Mikel Arteta’s over the years, but they have their successors, and the next generation blood waiting in the wings to make their mark for the club.
There’s really little else to fault in Everton’s current squad, and it’s now a matter of reaping the rewards in some form of domestic success.
David Moyes led his Everton side to a fourth-place Premier League finish in the 2004/05 season, while Martinez’s success in his debut season will also live long in the memory.
However, Koeman possesses both the knowhow and the resources to make real history with this current Everton squad, and it will be only a matter of time before the Dutchman’s name gets etched in the history books.
They are more than the sum of their parts.
In other Everton news, Martin Keown has tipped Everton to maintain their good run against Middlesbrough on Saturday.