Everton still short of numbers and quality as the new season kicks off

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: James Garner of Everton in action with Sasa Lukic of Fulham during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Fulham FC at Goodison Park on April 15, 2023 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: James Garner of Everton in action with Sasa Lukic of Fulham during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Fulham FC at Goodison Park on April 15, 2023 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

Well, here we go again as another Premier League campaign starts on Saturday with Everton hosting Fulham in their opening fixture.

I have to admit I am really not looking forward to this season, one that has come round quicker than ever before because the last one didn’t finish until early June due to the World Cup break in November and December.

Everton of course, only survived due to their third last day drama in the Premier League era with that nervous, nail-biting one goal victory over Bournemouth keeping the Toffees in English football’s top flight for a seventieth straight season.

As the dust settled on another traumatic campaign which had so nearly ended in disaster, a huge transfer window loomed with the Blues needing to make solid progress sorting out a team that was clearly inadequate for any improvement to be made on the pitch.

However, as the opening day looms again, Everton have a squad even more depleted in numbers than last time after a raft of departures, and have only added one more forward, a loan signing who failed to make any impression playing for Spurs last season.

This is despite the fact that obviously bringing in more forwards was the number one priority for the club this summer, again.

And  on top of that there is the usual injury jinx to hinder and hurt the latest manager to oversee a season start, Sean Dyche, and his plans for the new campaign.

Last season’s top scorer Dwight McNeil and the side’s most creative attacking player, is injured and out for an unspecified time, probably weeks at least.

Meanwhile suprise, surprise, it looks increasingly likely Dominic Calvert-Lewin won’t be in Dyche’s first-eleven this weekend, even though he has been featuring in pre-season and seemed to come through ok.

Calvert-Lewin’s endless problems with fitness is a constant theme of the Toffees struggles season after season and as we’ve said countless times, the Blues have to get in at least two move forwards to provide enough cover and depth up front.

There are still plenty of rumours floating about regarding this player or that and Portuguese striker Youssef Chermiti is supposed to be coming through the door any time now, but we are still waiting for confirmation of that.

So, all that surely means new signing Arnaut Danjuma will have to start up front, assuming he has fully recovered from the knock he got in training recently!

We mention it all the time but I’m going to say it again: this club’s bad luck with injury is simply incredible and really is hard to believe or comprehend.

The one piece of good news on the injury front is that centre-back James Tarkowski will be available to take to the pitch against the Cottagers after he limped off in pre-season.

Who else then will be featuring for Everton as Dyche contemplates the team he will pick?

Clearly Jordan Pickford starts in goal and assuming he certainly is fit, Tarkowski in central defence too. Alongside him I would go with Jarrad Branthwaite.

I know he is still relatively inexperienced but the January 2020 signing from Carlise has made very significant progress after a successful loan spell in Holland with PSV last season. He has also impressed in pre-season as well.

I haven’t got much faith in Micheal Keane and would like to see Branthwaite get a chance again. However, I doubt Dyche will do this and I fully expect Keane to line up alongside Tarkowski.

At full-back my choices would be Nathan Patterson at right-back and the other summer signing Ashley Young on the left, who could also provide some experienced support for Branthwaite were the youngster to start.

Even with the absence of McNeil, I think Dyche will still be cautious and go with a five-man midfield again as he generally did when he succeded Frank Lampard in January.

That would mean a central three presumably of Andoulaye Doucoure, Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana with perhaps James Garner and Alex Iwobi on the flanks, or possibly Demarai Gray if he is available given the rumours swirling around about his future.

As I have previously advocated, if Dyche continues with this formation, Doucoure in particular could and should be pushed forward as much as possible to provide some direct support for whoever is the main striker.

There is though a worryingly familiar feel to this prospective team and once again the central issue is where are the creativity and goals going to come from?

Everton desperately need to start the campaign well, but that looks a tall order without Calvert-Lewin to lead the line and no other proven Premier League goalscorer to replace him.

Although I want to feel hopeful and optimistic, I fear we are all in for another long, hard and difficult season to watch, unless there is dramatic movement on the transfer front. Everton, Saturday is the time to start proving me wrong!

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