Premier League 2018/19 preview: Liverpool likeliest to push Manchester City in title battle

Manchester City signalled their intentions to continue where they left off in the Community Shield victory over Chelsea, but Pep Guardiola knows a repeat of last season’s exploits will be difficult.

The Catalan failed to win any silverware in his first season in England, while the Premier League has not been retained since Manchester United in 2009, but you get the sense that he is just embarking on his work on these shores.

Competition for places has been boosted by the return to fitness of Benjamin Mendy, while Phil Foden looks ready for this level despite only just turning 18; Aymeric Laporte will be better for his first pre-season at the club, and the only area that City appear slightly light in is cover for Fernandinho at the base of midfield.

Jose Mourinho can only wish for such minor concerns. United were a distant second last season, 19 points adrift, and the Portuguese admits he is relieved a tumultuous summer is coming to an end. He has been unable to strengthen his first-team squad beyond the arrivals of Fred and Diogo Dalot, both of whom will take time to adjust to England.

Liverpool have been hailed by many as the summer’s big winners having kept hold of their star names and added four keys signings to bolster their hopes of a first league title since 1990. The 5-0 dismantling of Napoli in Dublin was further proof of their credentials, and Jurgen Klopp has identified and acted upon areas of weakness.

Tottenham head into a new era at a new stadium having committed Mauricio Pochettino and Harry Kane to long-term contracts, but a failure to bring in new faces in addition to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Toby Alderweireld means supporters are understandably concerned about whether a title challenge is possible in this transitional year.

Manchester City v Chelsea - FA Community Shield

Both Arsenal and Chelsea are under new management and face the prospect of a season dictated by Thursday-Sunday football due to their Europa League commitments; while Unai Emery can reflect upon an unbeaten pre-season within 90 minutes, Maurizio Sarri has swiftly become aware of the difficulties he faces, from choosing his preferred formation to having the right personnel to carry out his tactics.

Chelsea are likely to be without Thibaut Courtois, who has refused to return to training, while Eden Hazard has already set his heart on a move to Real Madrid. Losing both at this stage of the window would be catastrophic to the club’s chances of at least returning to the top four.

With two of the traditional top six at a stage in their cycles that is far from conducive to a title tilt, it does open the door to a possible outsider to break the status quo. Everton had been expected to do so last term, but poor investment left a lopsided squad that did well to recover eighth place. Marco Silva has been streamlining, but defensive weaknesses are yet to be fully addressed, so patience will be needed.

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West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan backed their new manager Mauricio Pellegrini by bringing in seven new recruits, spearheaded by club-record signing Felipe Anderson, while Jack Wilshere will be hoping to have more joy than Joe Hart in relaunching his career in East London. An intriguing season awaits even if the long-term absence of Manuel Lanzini comes as a major blow.

Leicester manager Claude Puel has thus far been frugal in the market since the departure of Riyad Mahrez, and while Jonny Evans’ arrival for £3.5m could prove the snip of the season, a lot rests on whether they can keep Harry Maguire away from the clutches of United. Kelechi Iheanacho has enjoyed a productive pre-season, scoring four goals in three games, and Foxes fans will hope he can fill the void in supporting Jamie Vardy.

Newcastle finished 10th last campaign, but that was largely due to a terrific spike in results after March, and with the players fighting with the club over bonuses, optimism is in short supply on Tyneside. A lot will depend on whether Rafa Benitez stays, but the Spaniard has at least secured striker Salomon Rondon, a player he rates highly and is capable of becoming a cult figure at St. James’ Park.

Another side who finished last season strongly are Crystal Palace under Roy Hodgson. The Eagles have thus far managed to keep hold of Wilfried Zaha despite interest from Chelsea and Tottenham, and the arrival of Max Meyer is somewhat of a coup, offsetting the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek to Chelsea following his loan spell. If Palace can avoid their annual poor start, a productive campaign awaits.

Crystal Palace v Toulouse - Pre-Season Friendly

Bournemouth have taken their time to quietly go about their business with David Brooks joining from Sheffield United, while Diego Rico and Jefferson Lerma have cost a combined £35m, a year after they joined Levante and Leganes respectively for less than £1m. Eddie Howe will continue to play enterprising football that will win games, and keeping hold of Lewis Cook is a major boost, but the club are yet to strengthen at centre-half having conceded 61 goals last term.

Burnley were the surprise package in 2017/18, set on day one by their 3-2 win at champions Chelsea – but they have only added Ben Gibson and Joe Hart to a squad that will be stretched to the limit if they reach the Europa League group stage. Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are one of the most underrated partnerships in the league, but clubs will be far more alert to their danger this time around. Sean Dyche will have a dilemma when all three of his goalkeepers are fit.

Watford, Brighton, Huddersfield and Southampton – four teams who ended within five points of each other last time out – will all target consolidation but the strength of two of the promoted sides means another wide-open relegation battle looms. Javi Gracia initially steadied the ship at Watford following the departure of Silva, but a poor end to the season and the sale of Richarlison points to an arduous nine months ahead.

Watford v Sampdoria - Pre-Season Friendly

Brighton have added Alireza Jahanbakhsh for a club-record fee in the region of £17m and his versatility across the forward line will take the burden off Pascal Gross. Goals could again prove hard to come by with just 34 scored last term (the fourth fewest), so Chris Hughton’s search for a central defender in the coming days takes on greater significance.

Southampton moved to appoint Mark Hughes on a permanent basis after he managed to keep the club up at the expense of Swansea City, but the 3-0 home defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach in their final pre-season game underlines fears that were heightened by Hughes’ admission the further business is unlikely to be forthcoming. Stuart Armstrong will be keen to prove a point having made the £7m switch from Celtic.

Huddersfield performed miracles in staying afloat last season, with Jonas Lossl’s heroics in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea epitomising the team ethos under David Wagner. The Terriers have a new badge while there have been eight new arrivals which have included Terence Kongolo and Florent Hadergjonaj’s loans being made permanent. The players now know what to expect, but offloading Tom Ince to Stoke for £12m could come back to haunt them given their dearth of creative options.

Such attacking flair propelled Wolves and Fulham back into the top flight, and both can be confident of avoiding a relegation scrap. Nuno Espirito Santo has become the Pied Piper of the West Midlands in coaxing big names to the Premier League newcomers; it is a project that will either catch fire or spectacularly fail, but the quality and experience of Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho means a mid-table finish should be the target.

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Fulham have enjoyed a fruitful pre-season with the surprise addition of Jean Michel Seri, while there was a surprising lack of competition in attracting Alfie Mawson and Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent deal. Slavisa Jokanovic is hopeful of adding Calum Chambers on loan from Arsenal with Southampton now reluctant to strengthen a potential rival by selling Matt Targett. A lot will depend on how Ryan Sessegnon adjusts to the step-up in class having scored 16 Championship goals last term.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock admits it would be his biggest achievement in football if he manages to keep his odds-on relegation favourites up, but with very little pressure on the Bluebirds, they will take heart from Huddersfield’s maiden Premier League season. Warnock will relish coming up against the likes of Guardiola, Mourinho and Klopp for what could his final time, so expect fireworks if nothing else.

Predicted Premier League table

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Tottenham
  4. Arsenal
  5. Manchester United
  6. Chelsea
  7. Everton
  8. West Ham
  9. Crystal Palace
  10. Leicester City
  11. Wolves
  12. Burnley
  13. Fulham
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Newcastle
  16. Brighton
  17. Southampton
  18. Watford
  19. Huddersfield
  20. Cardiff City
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Silva yet to make a signing but keeping hold of Lookman would be Everton’s shrewdest piece of summer business

The summer of 2017 was like no other in Everton’s recent history. The club had just finished seventh under Ronald Koeman, and while all the talk was of Romelu Lukaku being sold after the bombshell of him not signing a new contract, Everton were on a huge spending spree.

What followed was the creation of a bloated squad, leading to the need for new manager Marco Silva to offload players, ship out deadwood, and start again under a restructured recruitment drive. Everton want to learn from the mistakes of last summer.

Nurturing youth is at the heart of this new transfer policy. The Blues have already sold Wayne Rooney to DC United, released goalkeeper Joel Robles and offloaded Ramiro Funes Mori to Villarreal, while the future of Kevin Mirallas remains uncertain after he returned to pre-season training following his loan spell at Olympiacos.

These players have served Everton well at times, but they won’t be those who take the club onto the next level.

RB Leipzig v VfL Wolfsburg - BundesligaThere are likely to be more departures as Silva shapes the squad in his image but in rejecting RB Leipzig’s starting bid for Ademola Lookman, the Portuguese has given the first indication that he is ready to make use of the talent already at his disposal.

And Lookman has plenty of talent. Quite often under David Moyes, it was said that on leaving Everton, the only way was down. But Lookman can quite reasonably argue that his career has stalled since his £10m move from Charlton in January 2016.

His impact was immediate, coming off the bench to score in the memorable 4-0 win over Manchester City, the highlight of Koeman’s tenure, but he was subsequently mismanaged and under-appreciated at a time when fans were craving the sight of a young Englishman in the side.

Everton were in no real danger of being relegated, out of all three cup competitions, and still licking their wounds from the worst Europa League campaign from an English side ever. Giving Lookman – who had shown his undoubted ability in the 3-0 win over Apollon Limassol in December – half a season to make the left side of midfield his own was denied.

GettyImages-957652064.jpgBut, unlike those who looked elsewhere often under Moyes, the youngster chased down a Champions League berth at RB Leipzig and thrived away from what was known to be a tense environment at Finch Farm.

Silva has belatedly arrived at the club and his first port of call has been to assess his squad, but streamlining was a necessity, freeing up funds with the removal of players beyond their peak from the wage bill.

Everton plunged an inordinate sum of money courtesy of their billionaire owner Farhad Moshiri last summer on players that have yet to provide a return, barring the notable exception of Jordan Pickford.

Davy Klaassen has reiterated his determination to make a success out of his £24m move from Ajax a year ago, while the hope is that Theo Walcott and Gylfi Sigurdsson can build on promising moments last season to produce the level of consistency needed to challenge for the European spots.

Everton v West Bromwich Albion - Premier LeagueNews of Everton’s hands-off message to Leipzig over Lookman comes in the same week that the club have underlined their position on Mason Holgate’s future, with the defender seen as an important member of the first team squad.

The sale of Funes Mori and advancing years of both Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka mean that Holgate is expected to feature more in his preferred position of centre-back, but restructuring the defence is at the forefront of Silva’s plans.

Michael Keane experienced a difficult first season following his £30m move from Burnley, but Pickford’s exploits for England at the World Cup could prove a vital bargaining chip for potential defensive targets this summer.

The signs are that going forward, Everton will need the raw pace and goal threat of Lookman, whose mistreatment from Sam Allardyce was one of the early signs of distrust between fans and their old manager.

Olympique Lyon v Everton FC - UEFA Europa LeagueHis impact off the bench in the FA Cup third-round encounter with Liverpool was one of the few positives to draw from the 2-1 defeat, but after Allardyce had dismissed reports he would be loaned out last January, he insisted on being allowed to sample regular first-team football at Leipzig.

Lookman seemed to be spurred on by Allardyce’s disrespectful comments to the media on the matter, becoming an integral part of Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side that finished sixth in the Bundesliga.

Five goals and three assists in 11 league matches tells its own story, and Silva is keen to see how Lookman reacts to the reported £12m bid being rejected. He should have more opportunities under a manager who relishes attacking football.

The pathway to more minutes is being cleared. Mirallas is likely to be sold while Yannick Bolasie has been linked with a move to Turkish side Fenerbahce after a disappointing return from injury.

The winger made an encouraging start to life at Goodison Park, linking up well with former striker Lukaku, but a serious knee injury has taken away the player’s most valuable asset, and pace is what this Everton side need.

Crystal Palace v Everton - Premier LeagueThere were rumours Silva would look to prise Richarlison from Watford even before he was confirmed as the new Everton boss, but Lookman now deserves his chance to make the left side of the three behind a striker his own.

Director of football Marcel Brands has quietly gone about his work during his first month at the club, and the Dutchman has previously spoken in glowing terms about how much he values Lookman’s technical qualities.

He tried to sign him whilst as sporting director at PSV Eindhoven when Lookman was still a Charlton player. Everton are yet to make a signing under Silva but keeping hold of the 20-year-old could prove to be the shrewdest piece of business this close season.

Having taken his chance at Leipzig, Lookman must now do the same at Everton.

Who is Marvin Plattenhardt and why are Everton after him?

Everton are in talks with Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin over the signing of defender Marvin Plattenhardt, but who is he and what would he bring to the club?

The German full-back is currently preparing for the World Cup, but the Blues are keen to push through a deal before a ball is kicked in Russia.

Put simply, Everton are in desperate need of a left-back. They’ve needed one to provide Leighton Baines with competition for several years, but previous managers have opted to strengthen elsewhere.

David Moyes and Roberto Martinez both used centre-halves Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz to cover the England left-back during rare moments of his absence through injury, while Luke Garbutt convinced neither that he was an able deputy.

Ronald Koeman’s problems only really started to surface after his refusal to act on what appeared patently obvious to fans last summer when he brought in right-back Cuco Martina on a free transfer, convinced he could operate on the opposite flank.

New boss Marco Silva is keen to avoid the same pitfalls, and while talk of Baines’ departure in order to free up transfer funds has proven inaccurate, it is high time the club began preparing his successor after 11 seasons at the club.

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Bristol City’s Joe Bryan was linked with a move to Goodison Park while Sam Allardyce was in charge, but Silva has been sounding out his own targets and Plattenhardt could be his first signing since being appointed this month.

Everton’s new director of football Marcel Brands has been tracking the Hertha Berlin man for the past few seasons while in his role at PSV Eindhoven, and it has been swiftly agreed that the left-back deficiency at Finch Farm should not be fixed from within.

Antonee Robinson earned his first senior call-up with USA after an impressive season on loan in the Championship with Bolton Wanderers – playing in the 1-1 draw against France last week – but he is not yet ready to make the step up in class to Premier League level.

Plattenhardt is not someone who is overly reliable defensively, but his attacking instincts down the left would complement the runs of Seamus Coleman on the opposite flank. Everton were at their best last season when Baines returned to bring balance to their attacks, and it is what he contributes going forward that has attracted interest.

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With six caps for Germany to his name, he is battling it out with Jonas Hector to be selected as the national team’s first-choice left back at the World Cup, and as such, he represents a more experienced target than Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, another named linked with a move further south.

Everton will have scouts out in Russia to watch Joachim Low’s opening game against Mexico in Moscow on Sunday hoping that Plattenhardt gets the nod, and the 26-year-old is equally adept playing at wing-back should Low opt to play a three-man defence.

Silva’s preferred formation is 4-2-3-1, but it is the player’s willingness to get forward as well as providing a lethal free-kick delivery that has caught his eye.

Plattenhardt scored three set pieces during the 2016/17 season, contributing a team-high seven assists during that campaign as Hertha finished sixth, but the club could only muster a mid-table finish last term.

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He still managed to provide eight assists for his club, and it is this creativity that has drawn interest previously from Watford. With his contract at Berlin running until June 2023, it may take a significant fee to prise him away from the Bundesliga.

Plattenhardt remains one of the least well-known of the 23-man squad for the reigning world champions, but Silva is aware that should he become Germany’s first-choice left-back at the tournament, his price tag is only likely to rise. Everton want to strike a deal with Hertha before the tournament gets underway.

His confident manner with the German media and stylish appearance suggests he could become a cult figure on the blue half of Merseyside.

Everton improved significantly after Baines return from injury following a three-month lay-off, but Plattenhardt would not be put off by arriving at Goodison in need of fighting for his place in the team given his battle with Hector at international level.

He told Sport Bild: “If you believe what you hear and read, then Hector is set in stone and I’m his back-up. But I’ll show everything in training so my team-mates know they can rely on me.

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“Of course, I want to play. It wouldn’t be nice to head home having not played.”

Having surprised many back in Germany, but not himself, in surviving the cut from 27 players to 23, the former Nurnberg defender may relish the opportunity of becoming the long-term replacement for Baines.

Having missed 15 games with a calf injury, it’s imperative that the 33-year-old is provided with cover, and aged just seven years younger than the Everton icon, Silva may look to Plattenhardt as a ready-made replacement.

 

Pickford is the leader of the pack at England and Everton… he’s the kingpin with the world at his feet

When Jordan Pickford was unveiled as Everton’s new £30million goalkeeper 12 months ago, there were more than a few who baulked at the transfer fee for a 23-year-old with just 31 Premier League appearances under his belt.

It was a club-record deal at the time [Gylfi Sigurdsson would break it later last summer when he signed for £45m from Swansea], and remains a British record for a goalkeeper.

He is the third most expensive shot-stopper in the world, behind Ederson [Benfica to Manchester City, £34.7m] and Gianluigi Buffon [Parma to Juventus, £33m], but Pickford was unflappable, keeping his head when all about him were losing theirs during a season of turmoil at Everton.

“In football you get only one shot and I’ve always taken it,” Pickford said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley. “I don’t show any pressure on the pitch, I show I can play out from the back and I don’t feel nervous.

“There’s so many good goalkeepers in England you’ve got to be at your very best [to be selected].

“We’ve got likes of Popey, me, Butland, [Ben] Foster and [Alex] McCarthy, so there’s a lot of competition. But I can only focus on myself and as a goalkeeper you’ve got to have mental toughness – that’s something I’m good at.”

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It’s not something that can be said for every talented professional. Davy Klaassen was brought to Everton on the same day as Pickford – June 15, 2017 –for £24m from Ajax, but their careers have headed in opposite directions.

The midfielder featured three times as a substitute this year under former manager Sam Allardyce, and he missed out on the recent Holland squad for international friendlies against Slovakia and Italy while Everton are in talks with Turkish club Besiktas over an initial season-long loan move.

Pickford merely continued his ascent with performances that at times kept defeats respectable, making an early impression as he played a vital role in the club booking their place in the Europa League group stages courtesy of his penalty save in the third qualifying round second leg against Hadjuk Split.

Unsurprisingly, he cleared up at the end-of-season club awards night in Liverpool, winning a hat-trick of prizes: the Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season at a ceremony at Philharmonic Hall.

It has led to Pickford being linked with a move to Bayern Munich ahead of the World Cup, with the Bavarians reportedly seeing him as a long-term replacement for Manuel Neuer.

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A host of elite European clubs will be monitoring his performances given the now-annual speculation of a goalkeeping merry-go-round intensified by Thibaut Courtois’ likely departure from Chelsea.

New Everton manager Marco Silva stressed at his first press conference this week that he will try to attract ‘big names’ to the club this summer, but the Portuguese should not be caught out by the interest in his No 1.

The likely departure of Joel Robles after five years this summer offers the chance to bring in a deputy that can push Pickford onto the next level.

It has the potential to be problematic given the difficulty of usurping the 24-year-old as Everton first-choice keeper, but contingency plans must be put in place if the vultures begin to circle.

Pickford, who has been designated the No 1 shirt by Southgate, is still short of being world class and he will relish a greater challenge next season if Silva can find the ideal understudy, given that he has thrived with competition for his place in England’s side.

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At 25 and with seven caps to his name, Jack Butland has been on the international scene as part of England senior squads for far longer than Pickford.

He was named as one of the standby options at Euro 2012 before being called up for the tournament in Poland and Austria after John Ruddy sustained a broken finger.

He was overlooked as the third-choice option by Roy Hodgson in favour of Fraser Forster at the last World Cup and a fractured ankle ruled him out of the European Championships two years ago.

Butland is now fit and can take little blame for Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League last season, but Southgate has made his decision.

The visit of Costa Rica to Elland Road on Thursday could bring an eighth cap, but Pickford has won the battle for the No 1 spot in the opening group match in Volgograd against Tunisia.

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Joe Hart’s absence allows the Everton man to excel without the shadow of the 75-capped keeper behind him. Hart was perhaps spared the humiliation of having played throughout the qualifying campaign only to lose his place when the tournament gets underway.

But Butland has been waiting for his moment to replace him as England’s No 1. Now, he could be destined for another period as a deputy at international level, at a crossroads in his career similar to where Pickford was this time last year.

While Harry Kane has been handed the armband, Southgate has spoken of the need to be a team of leaders, and Pickford’s command of his penalty area makes him an England captain in waiting.

October 2015 was the last time Raheem Sterling scored for England, 20 games ago. Dele Alli’s international record in front of goal is little better, meaning the Three Lions look set to be reliant on two players above all in Russia.

Other than Kane’s consistency as a striker capable of scoring for club and country, it is Pickford and the question of whether he can keep the opposition at bay that will determine how far Southgate’s men progress this summer.

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In his first two international caps, the former Sunderland keeper kept shutouts against Germany and Holland – impressing with the ball at his feet and his distribution on both occasions – and he appears a man capable of taking the increasing demands in his stride.

Ten clean sheets and penalty saves against Hajduk Split and West Ham this term are further indication he is tournament-ready should England progress to the knockout stages.

Pickford has worked with Southgate before at Under-21 level; the understanding and faith in one another cannot be overstated, and he is a man confident in his own capabilities.

Having his club goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson fulfilling the same role at England will further benefit his development. Pickford has been seen working on shot-stopping drills that alternate with improving his footwork at St Georges’ Park, like he had done at Finch Farm throughout the season.

Such is the player’s self-confidence, he revealed last week his willingness to take a penalty if England face a shoot-out at the tournament.

This is England’s most inexperienced squad at a tournament since 1962, but the man from Washington, Tyne and Wear, appears ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Marco Silva and Marcel Brands welcome in new era at Everton as Wayne Rooney heads for the exit

It was all fairly low-key until Marcel Brands was asked for an update on Wayne Rooney, but the readiness with which came the response suggests that the departing ‘legend’ is already old news.

Marco Silva was here at Finch Farm to talk about the present and the future, not of his acrimonious past, the club’s on-going legal dispute with Watford, and Rooney the player – it would appear – has also been consigned to history.

“There is the possibility that he will leave. He’s talking with Washington and it’s not a secret,” Brands told the assembled media on Monday.

“Of course, we will talk with him, and if this is the move that he wants to make and the next step in his career, then I hope he will return when he’s finished there because he is still a legend at this club.

“I did so at PSV and I also hope to do so here, which is to use the legends at the club.”

Duncan Ferguson and David Unsworth have both survived recent managerial changes, and Silva added on Rooney’s expected departure: “It was something before I arrived that was already done. Not done but has already started, this deal with Washington.

“It’s something we expect in the next few days. We’ll talk with Rooney because he’s a club legend, and we need to understand everything. Of course, as Marcel said, the door is open every time for him.

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“Of course, we’ll talk with him and we’ll see what’s happened up until this moment, and then it is Wayne’s decision.”

Rooney was an 18-year-old destined for big things when he left Everton for Manchester United on transfer deadline day in 2004, but his departure this time around has left many shrugging their shoulders.

Many fans were unsure of his return just a short 12 months ago when his fiercest critics towards the end of his time at Old Trafford described him then as washed up, finished, damaged goods.

But Everton are now left with a bloated squad, marked at being 38-men deep in Brands eyes. Before transfer targets are brought in and greater competition for places created, the new double act are clear in their message of wanting to assess which players must be moved on.

Rooney is Everton’s highest earner with the club having agreed last summer to pay £10m-a-year towards his wages when he took a 50 per cent pay-cut to re-join his boyhood club.

Getting the former England captain off the books entirely will free up additional funds for potential signings that are more in keeping with the long-term vision rather than players targeted by Koeman who were expected to make an instant impact.

While Silva and Brands spoke fondly of the door ‘always being open’ to Rooney, the conversations that will take place between the player and management team in the coming days are unlikely to change anything.

Silva was reluctant to pinpoint what the priority is as he embarks on his third job in English football, but the Portuguese admitted that there are ‘a lot of things’ that need to be addressed having done his homework alongside Brands.

While he will still want to be a part of the new era, Rooney’s exit is just the start of the reboot. Even he may acknowledge the need to seeks pastures new in order for the club as a whole to move forward with a vibrant, dynamic team capable of challenging for a top six spot.

Just as with his phasing out at United, Everton want to handle Rooney’s departure in a delicate manner that appears only reserved for players of a certain status, but the greater significance is that it allows for the new era to begin with a bold statement.

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There were very few to come from a rather inauspicious opening press conference from Silva, where the club’s new insightful director of football Marcel Brands left more of an impression.

Brands is a no-nonsense Dutchman aware of the clear-up operation that has been left behind by the old regime that had left many supporters apathetic under Sam Allardyce despite the eighth-place finish.

Steve Walsh experienced abysmal returns on his £239m recruitment drive and left along with Allardyce, and the former PSV Eindhoven director of football wasted little time in appointing his successor. On Monday, he gave his reasons for choosing Silva as the man to take Everton forward.

“The reasons we chose Marco as the new manager is because he is a young, ambitious and modern coach,” added Brands, who was in attendance at Anfield to watch Brazil face Croatia at the weekend.

“He is also a coach with international and Premier League experience. This was one of the most important things to choose when considering the new manager at Everton.”

“He is a coach that is aware of the academy and he wants to give young players chances [in the first team]. That’s important for the future of Everton.

“I know what our fans expect, and I know what they want to see every time in our team: a big commitment, a big attitude and always a big motivation and big ambitions in our team as well. It is our obligation, and it’s something you have to put every day into your work.”

Everton lacked creativity under Allardyce, but it is something that Koeman pinpointed as an area in need of improvement only last summer following the sale of Romelu Lukaku and long-term absence of Ross Barkley.

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Koeman sought to address the shortage of productivity by signing three players who would all vie for the same position behind a striker, and Silva was asked about how he would seek to address a squad that had the fewest number of shots on target of any Premier league side last season.

“It’s easy to see how my teams have played in the past, and now it’s the chance to prove it again here,” said Silva, who has signed a three-year deal.

“It’s a big challenge for us, we know what we want for our team but first we will look inside and analyse what we have. Afterwards, we will be assertive, and find the right targets for us.”

Silva was unmoved when asked about potential transfer targets. Richarlison, Jamaal Lascelles and William Carvalho have all be linked with moves to Goodison Park, but Brands reaffirmed the process of assessing the current squad before any concrete bid is made.

Brands explained that both he and Silva will sign off any incoming or outgoing transfer, believing that a collective decision can be reached on each potential target.

“He is going to make the starting XI, and that’s not my job. I’ve worked with a lot of good coaches, Louis van Gaal, Ronald Koeman and Philipp Cocu and I never had one player that we both didn’t agree on, and that will be the case with Marco.”

Brands admitted that when he began his new job on Friday, he was making several phone calls regarding new players, while agents were calling him about potential departures.

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The director of football admitted that a squad of over 30 players will need to be streamlined before the August 9 deadline.

Silva, meanwhile, did well not to fall into the trap of outlining a specific target in terms of league position next season after the wave of optimism which came with spending over £150m last summer following the sale of Lukaku.

While he has developed an unwanted reputation of not sticking around at any of his previous club for too long, the former Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos boss appreciates that this will be his biggest challenge yet.

He had barely been at Watford for five minutes when he appeared to have his head turned by Everton last autumn.

He was sacked two months after his former employers rejected a £12m compensation offer, but Silva will now need to convince some that he’s in it for the long haul after his new club showed such an interest in him.

“I’m not here for one, two, three years. I’m here for something more,” he added.

“It’s a big project and big challenge for us as a technical staff. Every day over the past two years, at Hull and Watford, I heard that Everton are a club that want to take the next step.

“This is something that will take some time, but you have to get results from the first moment as well.

“We are ready to prove every day what we want. First, we want to make the fans proud of our team. We need to build a strong connection between the team and them.”

Redemption night as Everton flex their muscles to derail Arsenal’s title bid

 

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Arsenal hadn’t lost a league game since the opening day of the season. They had only lost once away this calendar year in the Premier League. They had just one defeat in 18 league games against Everton.

Few had given the hosts hope of only a second win in 12 games in all competitions after a desperately poor performance in the 3-2 loss at Watford four days ago, especially after a nervous opening 20 minutes saw them fall behind to Alexis Sanchez’s opener.

But the spirit that has now seen them claw back 11 points from losing positions  – more than any other Premier League side this season – has been somewhat disguised by the results of the past three months.

“There won’t always be games with a Cup final feel to it,” Alan Stubbs rightly pointed out in the BT Sport studio following a ferocious show of character that lifted the side back up to seventh in the table.

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Seamus Coleman typified such a never-say-die attitude, dragging the side level with a well-placed header, screaming at his team-mates down the right throughout, reminiscent of the role played by Phil Neville for many years.

Ashley Williams had quite a night. From villain of the piece to match winner. But he was not alone in needing to put right the many wrongs during a woeful run of form.

Actions speak louder than words, and after Koeman had his Wikipedia picture changed to Pat Butcher in the hours leading up to the game, this was his ‘F*** You’ to those dissenters.

Questions of mental and physical fragility asked by Koeman himself were emphatically put to bed here. There’s no need for an inquest after the final 70 minutes of blood and thunder that added this to the pantheon of great Goodison nights.

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“It was very difficult – you know the qualities of Arsenal,” the Dutchman said immediately after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Arsene Wenger’s side. “We had the sending off of Jags in the final minute and we were lucky with the last challenge in the box, but you need that in life.

“You can as a manager tell the players what needs to change, but if you start as we did today, you won’t win any games in the Premier League. We were very nervous, but if we fight for every ball and if we’re aggressive you can see the reaction of the crowd.

“We went face to face, and with a lot of aggression you can make it very difficult. We deserved the win today. We showed after 20 minutes how we need to play, the commitment and aggression was there and the crowd reacted. It’s a big result.”

Williams gestured a heart with his fingers as he looked towards the box where his family watched on as he celebrated his goal, a reminder of the ‘Together Stronger’ slogan that took Wales to the last four of Euro 2016.

Coleman called on the fans to remain with the players now after such a morale-boosting win heading into the Merseyside derby next Monday night.

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“A lot of teams would’ve given up after going a goal down, and you could sense the crowd getting a little on our back,’ he said.

“But we got the next goal and we know that if we put in a performance we can make the crowd happy and they are like a 12th man so it’s important that we get them right behind us and for them to stay with us.”

Thirty seconds into this contest, James McCarthy went in late on Granit Xhaka. More aggressive, more compact and more fight. This was the midfielder making his intentions known from the off.

Despite McCarthy’s best efforts, the first 20 minutes belonged to Arsenal. Everton sat back, looked to be compact and allowed their opponents to play in front of them. Co-commentator Steve McManaman on BT Sport called it ‘playing with fire’.

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This was quite clearly Koeman’s game plan, hoping to pick Arsenal off on the break with the speed and directness of Valencia and Lennon.

What wasn’t drilled on the training ground was the suicidal minute of madness which led to Arsenal taking the lead.

Three Everton players had the chance to clear, as Enner Valencia, Ross Barkley and Williams were guilty of sloppiness in possession. Idrissa Gueye ended up being clattered by Williams in the self-inflicted chaos on the edge of the penalty area.

Phil Jagielka was the man to eventually halt Arsenal in their tracks, taking out Sanchez, but the Chilean then ensured he did not escape with just a yellow card.

His free-kick was hit low but Williams, lacking mobility with his hands behind his back, compounded his error as he tried his best to adjust his feet, only managing to deflect the ball into the net via the hand the diving Maarten Stekelenburg after it had skidded off his shins.

The groans came back, balls that could have been crossed by both Barkley and Valencia ended back at the feet of an Arsenal player, Aaron Lennon shot when a pass was on for the Ecuadorian.

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But Everton slowly shook off the blow to an already low level of confidence as Coleman rode forward to win a corner, which was flashed over by the involved Valencia.

The crowd responded to a flurry of tackles that rattled into Xhaka and Co, Lennon being released down the left, carrying the ball into the box. But he shot over with his weaker left foot. Again no end product.

Everton were getting some joy down the left, Baines stayed on his feet as both Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin dangled then withdrew a leg. Lukaku urged his team-mates to squeeze with him from the front. The Gwladys Street roared their approval.

The fans showed further appreciation as Barkley pick-pocketed Coquelin before slipping in Lukaku down the left but he hurried his shot. Petr Cech still hadn’t had a save to make.

Arsenal had shown ruthlessness at Everton’s moment of uncertainty but Everton didn’t show such a clinical side when Nacho Monreal miscued his clearance. Lennon prodded his shot wide of the mark again after being teed up by McCarthy.

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The Wigan midfielder, in front of the watching Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, looked as though he was playing for his future, winning the ball high up, snapping into another challenge on Francis Coquelin to go into Mark Clattenburg’s book.

For all of Everton’s endeavour, Arsenal absorbed everything that had been thrown at them until they were breached in remarkably easy fashion.

Gueye picked up Barkley’s pass and again looked down the left with the always available Baines. Walcott raced across to shut down the space, but couldn’t slow down quick enough, his momentum inviting the full-back inside onto his right.

Baines produced the perfect inswinging cross for Coleman to cushion his header down low into the corner past the rooted Cech. From one full-back to another, two players criticised defensively this season showed battling qualities to drag their side back into the contest.

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Wenger wore a concerned face to go with his tailored winter coat, and the Frenchman was happy to hear the half-time whistle as the players had to be separated following a bit of afters between Coleman and the peripheral Mesut Ozil.

Even the bouncing Everton first-team coach Duncan Ferguson, still playing in his head and in his Copa Mundials, intervened to help pull the players apart as they headed down the narrow tunnel into the changing rooms. It was then you felt this would be one of those nights.

Into the second period, Everton’s press was evident again from the start, but Sanchez began to assert himself as Arsenal enjoyed an early spate of possession with the hosts sitting in and snapping when the ball broke loose on the slick surface.

Everton were guilty of again failing to clear when Jagielka had the chance, looking to play out through Gueye – Arsenal almost made them pay with Sanchez finding the onrushing Ozil who stroked his ball over when he looked set to score.

Everton were next to go close. Jagielka’s directness this time almost paid dividends, finding the chest of Lukaku whose lay-off to Barkley was flashed just wide of Cech’s left-hand post from the angle.

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But chasing the win they needed to return back to the summit, Wenger urged his players to go up the gears and frantic moments around the box saw Coquelin and Sanchez both denied by last-ditch clearances.

Koeman looked to fresh legs as Kevin Mirallas replaced Lennon, applauded off after a far better showing than in his recent starts. The Goodison crowd roared again as Lukaku won a foot race with Gabriel and Valencia ran himself into the ground to chase another lost cause.

Everton had found a second wind from somewhere but no one was on hand to run onto a loose ball inside the six-yard box after Barkley had outsmarted Sanchez. Arsenal’s defending was becoming increasingly desperate.

Coleman was next to test their resolve as his cross was snuffed out by the impressive Laurent Koscielny after another tepid ball out from the back by Arsenal had been intercepted.

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Into the final 15 minutes, could Arsenal find a way of winning ugly as Chelsea had done against West Brom? Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud but Koeman looked to youth, calling back England under-20 international Dominic Calvert-Lewin to get ready.

With the home crowd beginning to get nervous, the introduction of debutant Calvert-Lewin for the tireless Valencia received a standing ovation. Another talented local boy was thrown into the bowels of the famous bear pit.

It was a masterstroke from Koeman just at the moment the home side needed another lift to go again for the final 10 minutes as the 19-year-old took his place behind Lukaku.

Everton had to be careful not to over commit, but with the exuberance of Calvert-Lewin quickly involved, this was never likely to be a case of two sides settling for a point.

The striker took a one-two off the excellent Gueye and then won a corner from another Baines delivery. Who said Koeman didn’t look to academy players? This was precisely what the fans had been crying out for.

Everton got their heads down, harnessed the passion of the crowd and won another corner.

Barkley this time beat the first man, with the ball falling to Jagielka but Cech managed to claw the shot around the post. Any sense that the danger had been averted, however, was short-lived as Barkley had now, finally, found his range.

Redemption comes in many forms, and Barkley’s positive response to being taken out of the side was given its crowning moment from the ensuing delivery, as Williams rose unmarked to crash his header off the ground and high into the roof of the net.

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The towering Wales captain ran the length of the field, along the side of the Main Stand passing Ferguson on his way, who had done the same memorably for his first goal against Liverpool and twice against Manchester United in his prime.

Coleman eventually caught up with the impassioned centre-half, holding him down as Calvert-Lewin jumped on his back and Gueye was close behind. Lukaku jumped on board while McCarthy was there to give him the final thunderous nod of approval.

It was one huge outpouring of emotion that was mirrored by the usually composed Koeman on the sidelines, heading an imaginary ball as Williams rose before removing his hands from his pockets to celebrate it hitting the net with an almighty fist pump.

The passion in the celebrations said everything. This was Everton’s night. The fans responded with a chorus of songs, how they had suffered for this, but there were still four minutes plus stoppages to hold on.

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Stekelenburg frantically claimed a teasing ball from Sanchez before McCarthy was replaced by Ramiro Funes Mori as Koeman looked to batten down the hatches.

Barkley then exposed the space by running clear down the right but he shot when a ball was on at the far post. It was a rush of blood to the head when both Mirallas and Calvert-Lewin were on for the pass.

It may well have proved costly as after a corner down the other end wasn’t cleared, Jagielka was caught the wrong side of substitute Lucas Perez and was rightly shown a second yellow card.

The veteran ruled himself out of the home clash with Liverpool in the process, but Everton’s concerns were more immediate as with the side one player short for the final minute of stoppage time, Arsenal had a glorious chance to snatch a point.

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Twice they were thwarted by last ditch blocks in the same incredible phase of play as both Monreal and Alex Iwobi had shots blocked, first by Funes Mori and then Leighton Baines on the goal-line.

The ball broke loose, and Mirallas may well have brought down Sanchez who had come up his blind side to pinch the ball, but Clattenburg allowed play to go on.

After his role in a Merseyside derby in 2007 – a 2-1 win for Liverpool in which he awarded the Reds two penalties and failed to give one for Everton led to six years without him refereeing a game at Goodison – some would say this too was a night of redemption for him.

Everton could still have scored a third with Cech stranded up the pitch in pursuit of the equaliser, but neither Barkley nor Mirallas could get a shot away. It was a breathless end to the game as Everton held on.

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Williams slunk to the ground in exhaustion at the final whistle, brought back to his feet by Stekelenburg as Baines was lifted in the air by Coleman and Gueye, never far from anything.

The players had responded to Koeman’s comments after the hapless showing in Hertfordshire, this was him planting his flag in the sand.

Williams could reflect on an eventful night. “It’s nice to get my first goal, I’m obviously disappointed with their goal, so it’s great to get the winner in the end. I was desperate to score to make up for it. It gives us a massive confidence boost.

“It was about looking at ourselves in the mirror, and looking to put it right. We fell behind but we battled back and the fans responded as well. Next week is a massive game, and it’s great we can take this into the derby.”

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Coleman admitted after another famous night under the lights: “We’ve been nowhere near good enough, but the only place to put it right is back on the football pitch. We know that our form has not been good enough and there were some nerves.”

After some strong criticism from supporters who had already begun to question their new manager, this was a major step in the right direction for Koeman leading into the festive fixture pile up.

“Liverpool will be a total situation after tonight,” he said. “We go into it on the back of a good performance with three points in the pocket.

“We’re still unbeaten at home, and we know the importance of the Merseyside derby. If we play with the passion we showed tonight, we can have a good result.”