Three things Everton still need to fix before the start of the season
There is a sense of optimism around Everton but key questions still need to be answered
How will Lukaku and Barkley’s output be replaced?
For all the excitement around Goodison Park this summer, it has been easily forgotten that Everton have lost the player who scored more than a third of their goals last season.
To say Ronald Koeman’s side relied on Romelu Lukaku and his final tally of 26 is something of an understatement. The next highest scorer managed just six and worse still, that man Ross Barkley is close to following Lukaku out the door.
The hope is that new attacking additions Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney - plus the potential signing of Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson for an exorbitant fee - will more than make up for the loss of the club’s most influential players. Sigurdsson, Klaassen, maybe even Rooney could each fill the void left by Barkley but Lukaku will be far harder to replace.
It is not just the Belgian’s goal haul that will be missed, either. His ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play allowed Everton to make the most out of Koeman’s fairly direct style and Lukaku ended the season with a creditable seven assists.
Nobody in the current squad is capable of offering the same presence in the final third, meaning either a target man must be found soon or a new, as-yet-unclear style of play is employed instead.
Where does Rooney fit in?
Rooney’s return to Goodison Park was characterised as a romantic move by many but Koeman is nothing if not a pragmatist.
The Dutchman will not have been swayed by chairman Bill Kenwright’s longing for ‘our Wayne’ unless the signing made sense for him and his team. Where Rooney fits in, though, is still not quite clear.
Is he a striker, a second striker, an inside forward or a central midfielder? On his ‘second debut’ in the Europa League qualifier against Ruzomberok, he started as Everton’s focal point but was shifted out to the flank after a rather uneventful first hour. It was the same story in the second leg, when he flitted around the pitch after being named up front alongside Sandro.
This debate always seemed inevitable and it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Maybe answers will only come when Rooney is played in a single position for three to five games and assessed from there. Otherwise, accusations of ‘accommodating’ the 31-year-old will come sooner rather than later and the signing will seem as sentimental as first feared.
Who steps in for Coleman?
Seamus Coleman is still sidelined after the horrific leg break suffered while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland back in March and he remains some way off a return to regular first-team action. In the meantime, Koeman must decide who will fill in for a player who is integral to Everton’s attacking and defensive play.
Cuco Martina, signed following his release from Koeman’s former club Southampton, appears most likely, but is he really up to the required standard after two unspectacular years on the south coast?
Mason Holgate, who replaced Coleman in the role for the tail end of last season, does not offer the offensive qualities required and Tom Davies did not look like a natural fit during the away leg at Ruzomberok.
The one remaining option is Jonjoe Kenny, a Under-20s World Cup winner with England this summer, who has caught the eye in pre-season when given the chance to impress.
It would be a bold move on Koeman’s part to start the Kirkdale-born youngster against Stoke City on the opening weekend, but Kenny might just be the best option.