This is the second piece from guest author @edinh_96
This is Part 2 of my Everton save where below I will cover the results of the second half of the campaign and review my first season at the club. If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you can do so by clicking here before continuing to read this article. As a future reference, I will be making two-part articles per season with each save I write about, with a pre-season/fall and a winter/spring campaign article. Those aside, I will also be creating pieces detailing my work in other aspects of my management of the club, including tactics, staff and squad building, scouting, training, finances, youth development, and more.
When I decided to take on the job at Everton, I saw this as a long-term challenge to help the club grow and enter the bracket as one of England’s top forces while displacing one or more of the teams considered among the country’s elite. No coach though, no matter how talented or capable, can achieve such a feat on his own. That’s why it’s important to have a backroom staff that can help me reach the goals that I have as an Everton manager.
Upon my arrival to the hot seat, I didn’t feel a desire to shake up the playing staff or make any big changes instantly without giving everyone a chance to prove themselves. Looking at the backroom staff though, it was clear to me that changes were immediately necessary if I wanted to create and uphold a certain standard of quality in our work around team matters with the senior, U23, and U18 squads.
One of my first pieces of business as Everton manager was to find a quality head of youth development given my aim to develop and bring through talented young players into the first team and I brought in Huw Jennings from Fulham to replace Joe Royle. Although Jennings doesn’t quite fit my criteria as far as being someone who is young and can be a cornerstone of our staff for years to come now that he’s 58, but his attributes were too good to ignore and he’s still at an age where he can contribute plenty with his skills and experience for at least half a decade or so.
Most of my other additions to the backroom, though, are on the younger side and could be around for a very long time now as long as the quality of work is up to par with our goals and expectations. 31-year old Jack Robinson is our new goalkeeping coach, 35-year old Simon Tweddle and 45-year old Dave Billows are our new fitness coaches, and 35-year old Frenchman Nicolas Jover, who I’ve signed from Brentford, is our attacking coach. Former Manchester United player and U18 head coach Paul McGuiness, now 51, was picked up as our defensive and technical coach and lastly, 55-year old Steve Rutter is our new tactical coach. I like to have coaches at the club that specialise in a specific area of the game which allows me to give them the focus on handling team matters on that front and lessen some of the workload off me, particularly in training, which is what I mainly looked at when searching for staff members to bring in and improve our backroom.
I decided to keep Duncan Ferguson as my assistant coach for the time being, but given that his attributes aren’t the best, I’ll probably be looking to replace him sooner rather than later and find someone who can add more in the way of quality coaching, preferably on the younger side as well.
Similarly to having specialised coaches who can work with the players in a specific area of the game, I like to have a scouting team with a variety of knowledge on different countries and continents around the world. This would allow me to be able to use their knowledge to tap into most global markets and give us all the information we need on players in any part of the world that we scout that could become potential pick-ups for us in the transfer market.
For this reason, I brought in numerous scouts, all of which are able to aid us in exploring different markets and satisfy what we’re looking for from our efforts to find both ready-made and prospective players worldwide. 57-year old Derek Langley is our main man in all things England, 41-year old Argentinean duo Juan Carlos Dehollan and Pablo Budna are our experts in South America, 38-year old Vasiliki Pappa is helping us look for talent in Eastern Europe, while 36-year old Nelson Oliveira is searching in Central Europe. 37-year old Charlie Klivin and 40-year old Stuart Harvey were brought in to keep an eye on talents in Africa and the English U-18 leagues respectively, while the remaining scouts who were already here like 74-year old Jim Barron who is looking through the English U-23 leagues, 48-year old Ole Nielsen who is using his knowledge of Scandinavia to help us find players of all ages, and 60-year old chief scout Martyn Glover helps us in our match preparations by scouting our next opponents. As you can see, we’ve got all our bases covered except for in Asia, North America, and international football, but we’ll look to expand our scope into those areas as well in due time.
In data analysis, I’ve promoted the promising 31-year old Laurence Stewart to a chief data analyst role while I also brought in 26-year old Sam Hudson, 26-year old Tom Jenkinson, and 33-year old Dave Ezewele to that department. Very young group of guys and they all seem at least moderately impressive, so it’ll be interesting to see how they grow during their time here.
Finally, I’ve also added some new faces to the medical team, with 44-year old Neil Sullivan taking up 47-year old Richie Porter’s, who was promoted to head of the department, spot as physio while 26-year old Richard Kirby was signed as the head of sports science and 44-year old Grete Homstol was signed to that department as well.
I’ve also brought in staff members for the U-23 and U-18 teams as well, but I’ll touch more on those in a future piece about youth development and my work around those squads at a later point, probably after I’ve completed a few seasons with the club.
2ND HALF OF SEASON
As any English football fan already knows, December and January are the most hectic months on the calendar in any season and that was no different for us as we played as many as twelve games during this period, winning half of them and only losing two, at home to Spurs and away to Man United. We did suffer another early cup exit though, once again losing to Championship opposition at home in the form of Sheffield United. Needless to say, our domestic cup performances this year were extremely frustrating as it hurt our chances to get more of our bloated squad involved in more games but they just didn’t get the job done against winnable sides which certainly didn’t do them many favors in regards to their futures here.
Then, we suffered a surprise reverse at home to Watford before getting one over our rivals Liverpool which may well be the biggest highlight of our season. We got past Braga in the Europa League, largely thanks to our dominant showing at home in the first leg. We played with a man up for most of the return in Portugal, but ended up barely hanging on to progress.
This was followed up by a disastrous cricket score line at Emirates where Arsenal beat us 7-4, a game in which we were actually 5-0 down at the half in. Barkley managed to net a second half hat-trick to somewhat alleviate the blow, but letting in seven at any side, needless to say, is criminal. I worried that this game would bring the squad’s morale down for a couple of weeks and even more so after our loss to Burnley in the next outing, but we responded with four straight wins, including two against Marseille in the Europa last 16, where we uncharacteristically managed to actually get three clean sheets. At this point, we were exceeding all our targets as we sat in a Champions League spot with only six games to go and even made it to the quarterfinals of the Europa League.
Unfortunately, our season crumbled from there. We failed to register any wins from three consecutive home fixtures against Bournemouth, Brighton, and Stoke, which left us needing to pick up results in the final three rounds of the season. The problem? The remainder of the schedule had us going to Chelsea, Man City, and Tottenham. The first of those games was a close run thing as we were edged out 3-2 at the Bridge, but back-to-back 4-1 losses consigned us to a finish outside the European positions, despite us sitting in fourth place going into April.
We fared better in Europe and surpassed our initial expectation of reaching the last 16, but we fell short against PSG of all teams (what are they doing here anyways?) in the quarters. Cavani scored all of their goals in the tie, including a PK at Goodison and a brace in the last ten minutes in Paris. Admittedly, part of our downfall in the league has to be attributed down to me prioritizing this tie and thus playing weaker lineups in those home games we slipped up in during April. PSG eventually won the Europa League, beating….Real Madrid in the final. Yeah, what were the chances we’d win this competition anyways. Heh.
END OF SEASON REVIEW
Ultimately, we finished 7th in the league, which leaves me with a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, our primary target was to finish in the top half which we not only accomplished, but we also managed to finish ahead of our fierce city rivals Liverpool and even Tottenham for good measure. By that same token though, we were pipped to Europe by the likes of Bournemouth and Stoke City, who are playing in the Champions League next season rather than the Championship, ironically. The fact that we missed out on Europe by goal difference doubles the agony of it altogether.
The domestic cups were a disaster all round, but the European journey which saw us get to the last eight of the Europa League was definitely the highest point of the year for the club. Aside from beating and finishing ahead of Liverpool, arguably. Just such a shame that we won’t have an opportunity to play at this level again next year.
All in all, several things to be pleased about from the season despite us posting the club’s worst league defensive record since 1959/60 but I still can’t help but feel disappointed that we let Europe slip from our grasp in the way that we did with that collapse at the end of the campaign. Especially when considering who we finished ahead of and who we finished behind.
SQUAD STATISTICS AND OPINIONS
Looking at the pass completion ratios, I can’t help but feel that there’s a gap in technical quality between different areas of the team. The holding midfielders are the best passers in the squad with all four of them amassing at least an 85% in pass accuracy, but there’s a drop off when it comes to the rest of the midfield, the fullbacks, and especially the wingers. Our starting goalkeeper, Pickford, had a measly 68% in this area of his game which is hardly reassuring given that our aim is to play out of the back. And it’s not as if his understudies are any better in this department.
An improvement in the technical quality of the team will be necessary if we are to make our brand of football tick better than it did this year, but that doesn’t mean radical changes will take place. Adding a few profiles of a certain quality to the squad that’s currently missing will be our main target in the summer window, but only if we’re able to find players for reasonable sum and don’t have to overspend unless a certain position can be considerably strengthened and the right deal comes along. Otherwise, we’ll look to the youth teams and returning loaned players to fill holes in the squad if we’re unable to find what we’re looking for in the market.
Our three main forwards this season, one of which I’ll touch more on later on, all posted double digits in goals and assists in all competitions which was nice to see and Barkley managed to get into similar territory on goals at least. I was also pleased with Calvert-Lewin and Vlasic who had breakout seasons for me with a direct contribution to 16 and 19 goals respectively, outperforming veterans Mirallas and Lennon in their position overall. Holgate and Keane both had strong campaigns also and I’d go as far as saying that even though we had a tough season at the back, the best we ever looked was with those two forming a partnership in the middle even if it didn’t happen as often as I’d have liked. That will definitely be a key duo for us going into next term, especially with Williams and Jagielka not getting any younger.
If I had to choose one player’s performances to highlight this season, it cannot be anyone other than Oumar Niasse. Having started the year as my third choice striker behind Rooney and Sandro, it wasn’t long before Niasse came into his own and made that lone forward spot his and his alone. After I changed the role of my CF to be a target man (which I’ll expand more on in my next article) which allowed me to bring Niasse into the team, he flourished and recorded 25 goals and 11 assists in 39 games in all competitions and finished the Premier League season as the third top scorer. This all made him the Supporters’ Player of the Year and got him a place in the Players’ Team of the Year. He even managed to win the 2017 African Player of the Year award, fending off the previous two winners in Aubameyang and Mahrez for the honor.
Plenty of accolades for the Senegalese man as a reward for a fine year and hopefully there’s more to come from him next term, given that he’s only 28 years old and should be entering his prime years as a forward. While he may not get much better than this and there’s not much room for growth for him anymore, he was the most exciting player in my maiden campaign and I anticipate to see what more he can bring to the table in the next season.
GOING INTO NEXT SEASON
Looking ahead to 2018/19 and with no European football to contend with, one of my first assignments in the summer will be to trim the squad down from its current size and get rid of any deadwood through whatever means I see fit, whether it be a season long loan or a permanent transfer. I’ll also be looking to explore the market to bring in new signings to strengthen the areas of the squad that I didn’t feel had enough quality this season and also lure in some of the young gems that my scouting team has been notifying me about all year, all for reasonable prices though of course. This year was decent, hopefully next year is better.
Up next in this series will be a tactical analysis article where I will attempt to detail my tactical decisions in certain key games, the different systems I tried to play, and highlight in particular why we struggled so badly defensively this season, as well as what I plan to do differently in 2018/19. Watch this space.