Preview: Everton invest but top six will be tough to crack
By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Everton have invested heavily in new talent as they bid to break into the Premier League's elite, but they will need to find a way to compensate for the loss of striker Romelu Lukaku.
Ronald Koeman's side finished seventh last year, a significant improvement on consecutive 11th place finishes, and Lukaku's 25 goals were central to their success.
But the Belgian striker's move to Manchester United, in a reported 75 million-pound ($99 million) move, has left a hole in the attack at Goodison Park that will be tough to fill.
Wayne Rooney has moved in the opposite direction to Lukaku, returning to the club he supports and where he made his name as a teenager. But the 31-year-old is no longer an out-and-out striker and is more likely to contribute from deeper or wider positions.
Spain Under-21 international forward Sandro Ramirez has been recruited from Malaga. The former Barcelona striker looks a smart acquisition, but it remains to be seen if he can deliver the quantity of goals that will be needed if Everton are to achieve their aim of breaking into the top six.
Koeman may well look to bring in a more classic target-man striker before the transfer deadline. But the Goodison Park faithful can take encouragement from the new arrivals in other positions.
Davy Klaassen has arrived from Ajax. The 24-year-old Dutch international should bring some crisp passing and creativity to the midfield.
The impending departure of midfielder Ross Barkley may sadden fans who enjoyed watching a local talent. But with Kevin Mirallas, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies, Koeman has plenty of good options in midfield,
England centre-half Michael Keane showed at Burnley last season that he can take care of the best strikers in the league and should create a solid partnership with Ashley Williams at the back.
The goalkeeper position has been a troubled one for Everton of late, and the fee of 25 million pounds, rising to 30 million, spent on 23-year-old Jordan Pickford from Sunderland, while a British record for a keeper, may prove to be a wise investment.
All in all, Everton look to have a stronger squad than last season. But they aren't the only club that has, on paper at least, strengthened their squad.
"Everyone is trying to get the best players," Koeman said recently.
"The big six in the Premier League will spend money as well, but it is a good signal to everybody that we are on board and will try to give them that competition that we didn't last season," Koeman said recently.
"Everybody knows that there was one really big reason for me to sign one year ago for Everton. It was all about this project, and I think the club is showing that ambition that everybody likes to have and they are really great, exciting times for Everton Football Club."
"Now it is up to the players, the management, the technical staff, everybody to show we are really strong and fight for it."
($1 = 0.7572 pounds)
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Larry King)