Everton: Goodison or greatison?
The last team outside the ‘big four’ to qualify for Europe’s premier cup competition, Everton attempted to return by signing Andrew Johnson and Tim Howard within weeks of the season finishing, Johnson arriving for a club record £8.5million. With Duncan Ferguson’s time at Everton having come to an end, responsibility for goals would fall to the England striker for the season ahead. Highly rated defender Joleon Lescott arrived soon afterwards from Wolves and Moyes declared himself satisfied with the summers work:
We have captured Andy Johnson and Joleon, so I am happy. We are always looking, trying to see if there is a bargain going around, but we are happy with the players we have got.
Everton started the season strongly, with one eye presumably on last years dreadful opening to the campaign. Only one defeat in their opening twelve games set the scene for a far better campaign. The highlight of the opening to the season was no doubt the hammering of Liverpool by three goals to nil at Goodison Park. While that win put Everton temporarily top of the table, of more importance was a significan win over their local rivals whom Everton had failed to beat since Christmas 2004.
A league cup defeat at home to Arsenal was the catalyst for a season-long analysis in the media of Johnson’s apparent willingness to go to ground in the penalty area. Moyes claimed: Andy Johnson is worried his leg will have to be broken before he is awarded a penalty and this proved to be the first of many such incidences as pundits were divided on whether Johnson deliberately sought out penalties. In Johnson’s previous Premiership campaign with Crystal Palace he became the subject of fierce transfer speculation due to his 21 goals for the eventually relegated side. However the fact that 11 of those goals had come from the penalty spot also came to peoples attention as Moyes fiercely defended his star striker. Jose Mourinho escaped censure by the FA when he publicly accused the Everton hitman of diving, only to retract that claim with a subsequent apology.
Tim Cahill, perhaps Everton’s most influential player, picked up an injury in November which ruled him out until the middle of January. Everton’s form became patchy around Christmas without the free-scoring midfielder and they were thumped 4-1 at home by Blackburn in the FA Cup in early January. However, Everton then went on another excellent run with only one defeat in twelve games coming at Spurs. The run included wins over Blackburn, revenge for their cup defeat weeks earlier, and perhaps most satisfyingly, a 90th minute winner from Johnson beating Arsenal 1-0. Tim Cahill’s injury problems had resurfaced when he broke his foot in March ruling him out of the rest of the season, but Moyes’ claim that Everton could not be accused of being a ‘one man team’ were vindicated as their final day 1-1 draw with Chelsea left them in sixth position with a Uefa Cup place booked for next season.
David Moyes spent wisely last season and has got the foundation for an excellent squad if he can add to it again this summer. Lescott, Johnson and Howard were three of the most consistent performers last season, rightly winning plaudits for their performances on a regular basis. If Tim Cahill can stay fit this season alongside Spanish schemer Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman and Lee Carsley, Everton have a proven and high quality midfield. Up front, James Beattie is the main question mark. Top scorer the previous season, he has endured a torrid spell on Mersey side for the last twelve months and his time at Everton may be coming to an end. With just two goals all season and the highly rated Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan proving they can cut it at Premiership level, Beattie may be sacrificed this summer to raise funds to strengthen other areas.
While David Nugent has expressed an interest in playing for Everton first and foremost, David Moyes seems to be looking elsewhere, perhaps aware that he has several young talents coming through (Scott Spencer is also highly rated and will be looking to break through) and perhaps aware that the last highly rated striker to come through at Goodison was a young Wayne Rooney who proved he was capable of playing on a regular basis at the age of just sixteen. Vaughan and Anichebe plus midfielder/striker Tim Cahill can all provide support for Johnson next season
Everton’s defence may prove to be the area Moyes attempts to strengthen most this summer. While Everton’s defence proved strong for the vast majority of the season, (36 goals conceded; one more than Arsenal, 18 less than fifth placed Spurs) it is also a reasonably old defence. While Alan Stubbs and Nuno Valente have extended their deals, both have few seasons left in them. The defence will be built around Joseph Yobo and Lescott with support from Tony Hibbert who missed most of last season through injury. Gary Naysmith is likely to move on and with Phil Neville used in midfield as an anchorman, the defence still looks a little light, albeit having performed well last season.
Everton also have a lack of width. Manuel Fernandes has left following his loan while Andy van der Meyde will be sold should a suitable offer come in. The Dutchman fell out with Moyes on several occasions last year and the writing is on the wall for the winger whose spell will not be remembered too fondly by the Everton faithful. The rest of Everton’s midfielders generally favour central positions although the likes of Osman, Arteta and Cahill have the advantage of being adept at floating between positions. Still, a move for Stewart Downing has unsurprisingly been mooted in the press and proves that this is another area Moyes is seeking to strengthen.
(1): Wingers. Moyes has already made a move for Downing apparently, a swap deal with James Beattie could be a possibility there but ‘Boro are unlikely to let their England starlet leave. Michael Kightly has signed a new deal at Wolves having been linked with the toffees. Other targets could include Morten Gamst Pedersen of Blackburn who is seeking a new challenge while Zoltan Gera of West Brom has also been linked with Everton in previous seasons. Jason Koumas has reportedly interested Everton as another attacking midfielder who could be asked to fill a wider position.
(2): Defenders: Sheffield United’s Phil Jagielka looks like being Moyes primary transfer target this summer and he fits the bil perfectly. A tough, classy defender who can also fill a defensive midfield position with Lee Carsley having little competition as the ‘hard man’ in Everton’s midfield. Jagielka’s versatility is matched only by Phil Neville’s and thus Moyes would have two options as cover for most positions in defence or midfield.
More of the same from Moyes we reckon. The manager will need to make the right signings because competition for Uefa Cup places will never be tougher than next season. With most Premiership clubs in a position to spend, the question will be who can bring in the real talent as opposed to gambling on the wrong player. Spurs are already stepping up their recruitment drive and will be Everton’s main rivals to challenge for a Champions League spot. However, the likes of Portsmouth, Blackburn, Aston Villa and even West Ham will be expecting to improve on last season and all four have money to spend to see that they climb the table. As always, the start will be crucial, and expect Everton to qualify for the Uefa Cup again next season, possibly through one of the domestic cups, which Moyes must surely be paying greated attention to as league success gets harder and harder. The distraction of the Uefa Cup will please the fans, but Moyes’ primary task next season is ensuring his team fare better than the last time they took on Europe and ended up finishing eleventh in the league……