2013-2014 Season Summary
If you predicted that Everton would finish in a Europa League spot last season, your telepathic abilities have been confirmed. How they got there last season though definitely raised a few eyebrows and their campaign has to viewed as very successful.
Everton didn't just coast into a Europa League spot by taking care of the bottom-sided clubs in the table and getting the occasional result against the elite...for stretches of the season, they WERE the elite. After hovering in their usual upper mid-table position for most of the season, they went on a tear beginning in March where they won seven straight matches, and by the 12th of April, they were sitting 4th in the table, and having serious thoughts about Champions League.
Two major figures new to the Toffees led to their highly successful campaign -- Roberto Martinez and Romelu Lukaku. It is hard to imagine that just a year ago, the entire Premier League was focused on David Moyes' appointment at Old Trafford and how he would fare replacing the living legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson. Meanwhile, somewhat quietly, Everton needed to find a replacement and they recruited Martinez from Wigan Athletic, a move that would prove to be genius and further the reputation of Everton as a strong football club from upper-level management all the way down. With very little time to make roster moves to create a side that he would prefer, Martinez took what he had and made the most of it. What he had was a solid starting group, but very little depth. Martinez began the framework for a new Everton by bringing in some of his former Wigan players, Arouna Kone, Antolin Alcaraz and Joel Robles.
He then acquired Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Barcelona, but it was the move on the final day of the summer transfer window that would be the keystone to assembling a very talented bunch. He acquired Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea on loan, who had just completed a loan spell with West Brom the previous season and was a force to be reckoned with then. For whatever reason, Chelsea felt Lukaku was a surplus to their needs and made the deal, though in hindsight, the trio of Demba Ba, Samuel Eto'o and Fernando Torres could not nearly match the level of play Lukaku showed throughout the season. You have to think Chelsea were beginning to feel a bit naive with that move by April when Everton climbed into fourth position, nipping at their heels, based in large part to the exploits of their own talent.
Eventually though for the Toffees, reality set in and they could not maintain the pace that saw them fighting for Champions League but they wound up a very respectable fifth place and the appointment of Martinez was considered a smash hit, all the more fruitful when compared to the disaster that was David Moyes' tenure with Manchester United, who finished with their worst season in a very, very long time.
So now lets look at what is in store for the coming season, and any fantasy fallout that may be connected with it -
Roberto Martinez inked a five year deal after season's end and unless he wants to climb the club ranks as a result of his success, he looks to be a mainstay at Goodison Park for a very long time in a league where managers are chewed up and spat out on a regular basis. It is one of the reasons Everton are consistent. Say what you will about David Moyes' trainwreck at Old Trafford, he was a fine manager for a long time at Everton and it looks like ownership and fans alike are comfortable with the idea of having a manager that is going to stick around for a while. Martinez further impressed the global football community as an analyst during the World Cup, where any fan of the sport could listen to him talk for hours on end. He has a brilliant mind and Everton are very lucky to have him.
Speaking of reliable mainstays, it is setting up for another year of Tim Howard between the sticks, as he signed a contract extension that will see him remain with the club until 2018. Howard had a fine campaign last season, racking up 15 clean sheets, just one off of co-leaders Peter Cech and Wojciech Szczesny. He also managed to sneak in an assist. Saves were an improvement as well for him, racking up 114 of them, the most he has accomplished since the 08/09 season. And of course, if you happened to have caught Howard's exploits in the World Cup, then you know of his folk hero like performances which included the all time World Cup record for saves made. His reputation and club will likely keep his price tag above average in fantasy this season, but he is still a consideration for home games against lower-level competition even with an inflated cost. Joel Robles will remain the backup, and other than the occasional domestic cup run out, it should be the Tim Howard Show all season as long as he stays healthy.
Everton have not been making any major moves during the summer, but seem more focused on locking up the talent they already have -- again, another sign of consistency, stability and chemistry that keeps the Toffees a strong club while working with only a fraction of the revenue that the clubs above them enjoy. This point was emphasized in defense, as their attacking-minded fullbacks, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman both re-upped with the club after brief speculation that one or both may be heading for an exit. Thankfully, in the Yahoo fantasy game this season, Coleman has been accurately assigned as a defender instead of a midfielder which will surely see a spike in his investment this time around, especially when you consider he was a decent play even out-of-position last year at times. On the subject of fullbacks, should Baines miss any time or if Martinez has a need on the left farther up the pitch, don't forget the name Bryan Oviedo, who was a fantasy darling during his run in the team. He is coming off a broken leg and it will be some time before he hits the pitch again, but he is certainly a name to store in the back of your head should he ever enter the XI. At center back, veterans Phil Jagielka ad Sylvain Distin make their returns, though the latter may be fighting for a place with the impressive youngster John Stones, who normally plays as a fullback, was pressed into action due to multiple injuries in the back. He was given an opportunity to display his talents and he did exactly that. Distin begins the season priced 3m more than Stones. If you are looking for a budget option in Everton's defense and you can't afford the expensive attacking fullbacks at their disposal, then I think Stones may wind up in many a manager's XI throughout the coming season.
Seamus Coleman's switch to defense in the fantasy game isn't the only one of its kind. Kevin Mirallas, who was overlooked for much of last season in fantasy because of his forward classification, is now listed as a midfielder, and like Coleman, should see a boost in investment because of it. Mirallas finished second in goals for the team last season with eight and led the team with eight assists. When in form, he is lethal, very difficult to defend. The knock on him though is his inability to obtain match fitness that will keep him on the pitch for a full game...at least once in a while. Typically, you will get maybe 70 minutes or so from him in a given match. When he performs, you can live that, but it is extremely frustrating to bring him into your fantasy team and watch him have a poor opening hour knowing he won't have a chance to make good because the inevitable substitution is just moments away. The key figure that will determine the success for Everton coming from midfield is Ross Barkley. Barkley stormed his way into the first team and at times last term looked like a seasoned veteran who's legs never seemed to tire. The question is, has Barkley hit the limits of his potential at an early age or is he still growing and possibly becoming an even greater threat. He was frustrating to play at times last season because ownership was high due to his cheap price tag, but Martinez would periodically drop Barkley from the XI and the guessing game led to many low or non-scores. Still, with the shape of the team as it is now, he is their best central attacking midfield option and should see more regular playing time compared to last year. Outside of that, in fantasy terms, there isn't too much to get excited about. A pair of deeper lying central midfielders playing behind Barkley will consist of a combination of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, and Darron Gibson, the latter of whom is lining up to return in time to begin this season coming off a major injury. None are a source for goals, but depending on pricing or double gameweek strategies, one of these three may enter a fantasy manager's thinking in special situations. That leaves whoever may play wide opposite Mirallas, which will probably be Steven Pienaar's place more often than not to begin the season, but age is creeping up on him and he did very little in the time he spent on the pitch, scoring just once in over 1600 minutes of pitch time. Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith could occupy those roles but *if Lukaku stays*, then this may be the next area Everton decide to address.
Yes, I said "If Lukaku stays" with an asterisk on either side because, let's face it, Everton's success this term hinges greatly on whether or not they can retain his services, whether it be a loan deal or a permanent move. Otherwise, no one on their current senior team can come close to matching what Lukaku can offer, a physical presence with world class finishing skills. I cannot in good faith make a prediction on where Lukaku winds up this year, but should he not come back to Goodison, you can bet Martinez is looking at other options. Lacina Traore, who had an injury plagued loan spell after joining the club in January, is still in the manager's thinking and may get another shot with the Toffees. He is not as polished as Lukaku but he certainly has the build to develop into a dangerous weapon. In fantasy terms, there could wind up being a bargain up top should Lukaku not return because basically every other foward currently in Everton's fantasy queue is bargain material. A guy like Arouna Kone could make a decent third forward should managers find themselves spending cash elsewhere.
Everton should once again be a solid side that offers plenty of fantasy assets. While they are lacking in depth with established players, they showed last year that they are developing solid young talent and if need be, can be called upon as a stop gap, or perhaps even an eventual regular. Even if Lukaku returns, it will be tough to envision a Champions League push, especially now that Manchester United look return to the top four once again under Louis van Gaal. With their current roster, I think the players to focus on in fantasy are Coleman and Mirallas, who are now classified at more advantageous positions.