Early indicators for Everton after their Europa League qualifying round win
Everton made it to the Europa League playoffs, but what were the key takeaways for the Premier League season?
The third round qualifier for this season's Europa League was the first opportunity to view the newly assembled Everton in competitive action. The two-legged tie against Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok did not look the most daunting of tasks for the Merseyside club, however, getting the result was of far greater importance than the performance.
With the kick off to the Premier League season little over a week away, Ronald Koeman will have observed both performances with much consideration, as despite being in relative control in both legs of the tie, performance of his players could have been better.
The role of Wayne Rooney
Rooney started both matches of the qualifier. In the first leg, he was the out and out striker, later on dropping in behind, and in the second leg he formed a two man strike force alongside new signing Sandro Ramirez. The Everton fans certainly seem be delighted with Rooney's return to Goodison Park, but in both performances, it looks evident that playing in the main striking berth will not get the best out of the former Manchester United striker.
The persistent need to drop deep and get on the ball and be involved is Rooney's game, so Koeman will certainly have to reconsider the England record holder's main role.
Obviously, playing Rooney in behind a striker would be the ideal position for the player. At 31 years old, his legs are certainly not where they used to be in terms of the pressing energy he used to bring, however, he still possesses the intelligence on the pitch, seeing passes that perhaps other players in this current Everton side might not.
Koeman could face some very challenging decisions in the coming season, especially if Everton conclude the deal for Icelandic international Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea man is another who plays his best football playing in behind a striker, though can play within a two-man central midfield. Davy Klassen would be the other alternative as he plays his best football in that number 10 role, so this is not an easy decision for Ronald Koeman. Bringing Rooney back to Goodison Park really pleased the Everton fans, and he still has a lot to offer, but the problem for Koeman is in which role
Lack of pace
In the two games -- especially the first leg at home against Ruzomberok -- the pace Everton played the game was extremely slow. It is understandable in pre-season to not be up to speed with competitive football, but there were some factors that contributed towards this.
The two holding central midfielders were very much unneeded for this tie. Idrissa Gueye looks to have carried on from his highly impressive campaign last season, his technical ability just needs some work, but his partner Morgan Schneiderlin could be a slight concern. The sluggishness in the passing of the Frenchman was extremely poor; even for this early season stage, he was slowing the game when Everton were really trying to go through the gears and his lack of movement across the pitch was so evident to see. Going from back to front was simply taking to long, there were too many touches and players like Kevin Mirallas and Sandro Ramirez were very guilty of this.
In the second leg, having Tom Davies on the pitch helped speed the play up slightly for Everton, even though he was out at right wing-back. The introduction of Calvert-Lewin was the best decision Koeman made in-play during both the qualifiers, showing that these young players at the club will play a massive role in the coming season. There does seem a lack of pace within the team, and Koeman could address this with the signing of perhaps Demarai Gray from Leicester would be a top quality signing adding to a fairly youthful group of players. The return of Bolasie will also be one that Koeman will be keeping in mind.
Davy Klaassen looks top class
When the arrival of Klaassen was announced at Goodison Park, it did come somewhat out of the blue. The interest was made clear, but negotiations were fairly discreet. This might just prove to be the best deal Koeman makes all summer, and judging by the prices the clubs are paying for other players, this looks a bargain.
The Dutchman is still only 24 and has the footballing brain of a seasoned professional. He has controlled movement all over the pitch, is an all action player but most importantly for Everton in the final third, he has the killer pass on him.
Klaassen was easily Everton 's best player in the first leg at Goodison Park. When they looked dangerous, the former Ajax captain was at the heart of it. The assist he created for the finish of young Calvert-Lewin in the reverse fixture was top class, seeing the pass in his head before the ball even arrived at his feet. Klaassen can also play in a two-man centre midfield, although it might not get the best out of the Dutchman.
Prioritise a new striker
Romelu Lukaku was always going to be hard to replace this summer for Ronald Koeman and his staff, but now it is crucial that they get someone in who can replicate the goal tallies of Lukaku during his time at the Merseyside club. Both Rooney and Sandro Ramirez played in the main striker position in both legs again Ruzomberok and neither had that natural instinct for a striker who wants to score goals.
Sandro has great movement, however, this is generally taking defenders out wide, whether he has the natural instinct in front of goal is unfair to judge too early. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, scored thirteen goals in the previous two Premier League campaigns and that is the sign of a striker looking to drop deeper.
The surprising aspect of Everton's transfer business was that despite being linked with such a vast number of players in the last few months, there does not seem to have been official moves for a goalscoring centre-forward. Koeman is known to have stated his need to bring in another striker this summer, so by the end of the transfer window, Everton should have their Lukaku replacement in place. Who will it be though, Olivier Giroud? Moussa Dembele?
During the first leg of this tie, Everton had new signing Michael Keane playing alongside Welshman Ashley Williams, and to say the backline looked vulnerable at times would be an understatement. Free agent right-back Cuco Martina did not help matters too much, but Michael Keane looked very vulnerable with his positioning and Ashley Williams has not exactly been rock solid since his move to Goodison Park last summer.
The second leg saw Koeman revert to a back three, adding Phil Jagielka to join the heart of the defence which brought more stability, though playing a back three with central defenders that lack pace would not be the answer.
Losing Ramiro Funes Mori for nine months will be a big blow to Koeman and his plans for the season. Michael Keane showed in the return fixture in Slovakia just how good a player he could be for Everton, looking more assured and accomplished on the ball, so ultimately Koeman and his team could potentially be looking for someone to partner the England defender.
Ashley Williams does not seem anywhere near the level he was playing at two seasons ago, so now could be an opportunity to get a partner in for Keane. Could Everton lure Virgil van Dijk to Goodison Park? Chris Smalling could be on the move and he could be a potential target, alongside the already linked Winston Reid and Wesley Hoedt from Lazio.
Still plenty of work for Ronald Koeman and his coaching staff to do before the team is ready for the opening game of the campaign against Stoke City. With some issues that will need to be resolving it is very early to establish whether this Everton team can reach the top four this season.