Everton re-establish themselves as Koeman shows promise in first season
A no-nonsense approach has seen manager Ronald Koeman restore belief, repair home form and return Everton to Europe. A promising first season has set the stage for continued progress ahead of an intriguing summer.
Rating out of 10: 7
Even supporters as redoubtable and loyal as Evertonians found home matches a chore before this season. Wins were in short supply as goodwill eroded and fans lost patience.
Koeman has overcome this obstacle in impressive fashion, fixing home form to such an extent that Everton recorded their highest home points total since 1989-90. Home matches are once again an enjoyable prospect for supporters.
A 4-0 demolition of Manchester City in January stood as the high point en route to re-establishing Goodison Park as a daunting prospect for visiting teams. Many of the positives evident this season surfaced in a convincing win offering the clearest glimpse to date of Koeman's long-term vision for this team.
While there had been other cameos and appearances before then, the four-goal victory over City felt like the moment 18-year-old Tom Davies signalled his first-team credentials and announced himself to the rest of the Premier League.
Davies scored a fine goal, his first for the club, while substitute Ademola Lookman capped the result with a goal in his debut. Two young players headlining the result signified the increasing faith in youth Koeman exhibited this term. This trust in youth, in part, helped Everton recover from a difficult spell between October and December.
Cup competitions are an area to improve after third-round exits in both domestic trophies, but the main area of concern is away form. Results on the road contributed to Everton finishing in a league of their own, adrift of the top six but comfortably above the teams below them.
While the Blues end the season fourth on both home points and home goals scored, a paltry 18 points and 20 goals scored in 19 away games pinpoints the need for drastic improvement in this area. Four away wins all season and none in the last eight away games shows the gulf between results at home and elsewhere.
Additional quality throughout the squad and an increase in players with conviction and self-belief is vital to Everton boosting their away record, especially against the top teams in the division.
Koeman must recruit more imposing players, leaders capable of affecting a match regardless of its location. At present, too many play their part in overpowering teams at home but become one-dimensional or undetectable away from the comforts of Goodison.
In the opening weeks, Gareth Barry was the standout performer, demonstrating his class as Everton began with four wins in their first five matches. When a flagging European push reignited between January and March, top scorer Romelu Lukaku and main creative threat Ross Barkley featured prominently. However, the pair finished weakly, echoing the rest of the team in going through the motions as matches ran out.
For overall consistency and impact on this new-look side, the award goes to Idrissa Gueye. Despite missing a month due to African Nations Cup involvement, the Senegal midfielder has emerged from relegation with Aston Villa to become the top tackler in the division within one season.
Growing in confidence over the season, Gueye has mixed ferocious defensive attributes with a willingness to feature prominently when Everton are in possession.
Alongside Morgan Schneiderlin, who has excelled since his January transfer, Gueye has become the beating heart of Koeman's Everton, a team with central midfield as their undoubted strength.
James McCarthy seemed to spend more time embroiled in a club vs. country row than he did on the pitch. Injuries again restricted his involvement, while the sight of Gerard Deulofeu impressing in Serie A for Milan only added to the frustration felt at McCarthy's inability to impress Koeman.
Of those to feature prominently, though, perhaps the one player to damage his first-team prospects through performances alone was centre-back Ramiro Funes Mori. A mixture of awkwardness and panic, the Argentine centre-back has not progressed. Prior to injury curtailing his season, a string of unconvincing showings saw him lose his place in the team. An uncertain future lies ahead, with Everton expected to strengthen in his position before next season.
Irrespective of Europa League obligations and doubts over the futures of key players like Barkley, additional creativity and attacking quality are imperative. An injection of youth and quality in both the goalkeeping and centre-back positions would be astute business. Aside from central midfield, most areas of the squad require some form of fine-tuning.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.