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Last season, Everton underachieved significantly.
Despite being a bright spark going forward, the Toffees defensive vulnerability cost them dearly, resulting is a highly disappointing finish of 11th and manager Roberto Martinez losing his job.
However, where there is a new season, a new manager and new signings, there is hope.
Everton is a club that possesses attacking talent that many other clubs would dream for. With the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Yannick Bolasie, Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas, the club will always score goals.
Yet the balance between attacking flair and solidity at the back is something that has been missing at Goodison Park for several years and is perhaps the reason why the club have not reached the next level.
New manager Ronald Koeman has set out to right this wrong.
The signing of Ashley Williams has added vital experience in the centre of defence after the high-profile departure of John Stones. Yet it is the cheapest addition of the summer, Idrissa Gueye, who is having the most impact.
The Senegal international, a £7.1 million capture from Aston Villa, was outstanding in the recent wins against Sunderland and Middlesborough and is producing the sort of numbers that last season’s sensation N’Golo Kante would be proud of.
Against the Black Cats, Gueye was the most superior player on the pitch in terms of assists (1), passes (106) and touches (120).
In addition, Gueye was second in terms of tackles (5) and third at distance covered (10.9km). He controlled the middle of the pitch for his team and snuffed out anything Sunderland threw at him offensively, leading to a rather comfortable night for his centre-halves Williams and Jagielka.
It is proving the difference for Everton.
High-quality holding midfielder
Every top team needs a defensive midfielder of high quality.
The Premier League’s last two winners Leicester and Chelsea had Kante and Nemanja Matic respectively and whilst it is the centre-back pairing that usually receives most of the credit during a title triumph, the holding midfielder is the one that provides protection and leaves them less exposed.
It is something Everton have been crying out for throughout the last several campaigns, and they look to have now found the perfect man for the job in Gueye.
Gueye’s ability on the ball has also been a key part of Everton’s successful early season form.
“Gueye has been Everton’s best player in almost every game he has played so far”, said Sky pundit Jamie Carragher after the win at the Stadium of Light. “I think I have underestimated how good this lad is on the ball. His passes tonight (vs Sunderland) was fantastic. He doesn’t just pass the ball and go back into position, he passes it and follows it in. I think Everton have got a real player.”
Villa’s only bright spark
The Senegalese’s excellent form has not just started since Everton signed him, however.
During Aston Villa’s dismal showing throughout last season, Gueye was the only bright spark, with him being second only to Kante in average tackles (4.1) and interceptions per game (4).
Gueye was quite possibly the reason why Villa wasn’t embarrassed further last season.
So considering the crazy prices in football these days, the fact that Everton paid only £7.1 million for Gueye means they may well have the coup of the summer.
His manager certainly thinks so.
“He’s a player with a lot of energy,” added Koeman. “Although on the ball he is quiet, he takes up good positions and he’s really that key player in the midfield that you need. It’s a great signing for us”.
Gueye already tops the list for average tackles per match in the league this season with 5.7 and has a passing success rate of 89.9%.
And as a result, despite the defeat at Bournemouth on Saturday, Everton’s form is improving, conceding just four league goals so far – the second least in the top flight this season.
The new found solidarity found in defence and midfield, combined with the attacking talent that they already have at their disposal are pointing to Everton being a potentially dangerous side this season.
Contenders for a top four place?
While no one has talked about the Toffees being serious contenders for a top four place, Koeman and his men will keep going quietly about their business.
And in doing so, could lead their side to a very successful campaign.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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