Connect in the back of the net

Compared to the summers of disruption Ronald Koeman endured at Southampton, his first transfer window in charge of Everton has been relatively tranquil.

Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Callum Chambers were all sold in his first few months on the south coast, spawning that memorable empty training ground tweet, while Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne departed a year later.

So far on Merseyside however Koeman has seen only John Stones leave, to Manchester City for the princely sum of £47.5 million.

There is still some way to go until the summer window closes but it seems unlikely that Everton’s other headliners Romelu Lukaku, linked to Chelsea for astronomical fees throughout the off season, and Ross Barkley will leave.

 

The Moshiri factor

Armed with Farhad Moshiri’s billions, Koeman will be grateful that he is not facing a summer of mass-rebuilding he became accustomed to at Southampton.

Perhaps prioritised with finding a site for a new stadium, Everton have been slow to spend Moshiri’s riches on revamping an imbalanced squad left behind by Roberto Martinez.

The renovation got underway with the astute £7.2 million capture of Idrissa Gueye from Aston Villa, following a low-money deal to bring Martin Stekelenburg from Fulham to add competition to Joel Robles in goal.

Given the optimism generated by Moshiri’s acquisition of a 49.9% share and the decisive appointment of Koeman following his excellent work at Southampton, the arrivals door hasn’t been occupied too often.

But still, the Dutchman will be pleased he hasn’t had to contend with another player exodus and will head into the opening game against Spurs with a settled squad, albeit one that limped to eleventh place finishes in both of its last two seasons.

 

Stones’ departure the catalyst

The sale of Stones seems to have jolted Everton into action with addressing a defence that is desperately requiring a makeover after conceding 55 goals last season, the highest total outside of the bottom 5.

The backline often rendered a shambolic mess under Martinez to the extent that the vast potential that made Stones so appealing to Pep Guardiola has largely been forgotten.

Koeman, who became one of the best defenders in Europe during his playing days and forged one of the league’s tightest rear-guard units in his time at Southampton, will be prioritised with restoring some order to a defence that shipped 12 goals from set-pieces last term.

The sale of Stones jilted Everton into the quick purchase of Ashley Williams from Swansea and the 31 year old’s experience and leadership will be crucial if Koeman is to make the Toffees sturdier at the back.

 

A consistent and reliable acquisition

Williams will not possess the pace of Stones who is 9 years his junior, but will immediately fit into Koeman’s demands of playing out from the back and has the organisational skills that were missing from Martinez’s team.

For £11 million Everton will be getting at least three years of consistently reliable service and a player who rarely misses matches; since Swansea earned promotion from League One back in 2008, their captain was absent for just 728 minutes of play.

Williams, whose desire to move to Merseyside to learn under a Champions League-winning centre-half in Koeman was behind Swansea’s eventual decision to grant his move, was also integral to Wales’ superb run to the semi-finals of the summer’s European Championships and he will immediately stamp Everton’s back-line with a mark of authority.

It was something that was alarmingly absent in Martinez’s first-choice defensive pairing of Stones and Ramiro Funes-Mori last term and Koeman has sought to address it immediately.

“He’s an experienced defender and the kind of player we need in the team” said Koeman. “He’s a leader. He showed this at Swansea and he has shown it for his country and he’s looking forward to his new challenge here at Everton.”

Williams won an impressive 73 of 126 headers last season and his addition will improve, in both boxes, a physically-wanting side that, in Martinez’s final campaign in charge, won the least amount of aerial battles in the entire league.

Missing just one league game for Swansea last season, the Welsh captain made more tackles, more clearances, more interceptions and more blocks than any of Everton’s defenders.

A committed 43 shots blocked was bettered only by Crystal Palace’s Scott Dann.

His 314 clearances however was a league high and suggests that, unlike Stones who was repeatedly pilloried for his insistence on casually playing out from the back every single time, he knows when a simple foot through the ball to get it away would suffice.

He can also move it out economically too, completing 1426 passes out of defence last term, a figure only bettered by Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld.

 

Competition and a possible role model

Koeman’s attentions will now move to Sunderland’s Lamine Kone who was excellent in helping to keep the north east club since moving from Lorient in January.

The 27 year old will compete with Funes-Mori for a spot alongside Williams while Phil Jagielka will provide experienced cover from the bench to a back-line that, with Koeman’s guidance, is already beginning to look stronger than it was under Martinez.

The presence of Gueye, whom only the much vaunted N’Golo Kante, as he won the title with Leicester City, made more interceptions than last term, will be crucial in screening the back-line from midfield.

The Dutchman will also hope that Williams’s professionalism and knowledge of the game will rub off on the young defenders he inherits on the fringe of the squad, such as Matthew Pennington, Tyias Browning and Mason Holgate.

For a fraction of the fee collected for Stones’s exit and while not exactly the headline signing many are expecting Everton to make since Moshiri took control of the club, Williams could prove to be a very wise investment indeed.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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