The 2013/14 Premier League season was a bitter sweet one of sorts for the “Toffees”. Sweet because the club finished with their highest point total in 27 years (72), finished fifth in the table, and qualified for the Europa League. Bitter because the club seemingly had a stranglehold on fourth place, but stumbled near the finish line and missed out on the coveted fourth and final Champion’s League position. Overall it was an exciting year for the blue side of Merseyside (although not quite as exciting as the one their crosstown rivals had), and with second year manager Roberto Martinez at the helm, the club is brimming with confidence. And for good reason, too, as they have a bevy of talented players and a manager who knows how to get the best out of them.
As usual, we’ll begin in the back; with the man between the posts. There Everton, fortunately enough, have one of the best. In fact, going by last season’s fantasy totals, they have the best. Tim Howard enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his long career in 2013/14, racking up 160 fantasy points that included 15 clean sheets, 114 saves, and even an assist. We’ll speak more on his exploits and what he can bring to a fantasy team in a moment, but if you don’t mind a quick spoiler alert, he’s good…real good.
Part of what makes Howard so good, is the defense in front of him. As a team last year, Everton, in terms of goals allowed, were the third best in the league with their 39 goals surrendered, finishing behind Chelsea (27) and Manchester City (37). The defensive group is highlighted by a marauding fullback paring of long-time stud Leighton Baines and the more recently crowned stud, Seamus Coleman (both of whom we’ll discuss in more detail in just a moment).
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In between them is an underrated yet very fantasy-worthy pair of centre backs in Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka. Due to the attacking nature of which Baines and Coleman play, Distin and Jagielka are left covering large amounts of space to ensure the team isn’t left in the lurch come a counter attack. As such, neither get forward enough to be much of a threat on offense except for an odd goal off of a set piece. Instead, their fantasy value lies almost solely in their ability to secure a clean sheet. And, due to their talent and the talent that surrounds them (including the aforementioned players and a couple stout defensive midfielders in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy), clean sheets should abound for both as long as they remain healthy.
However, both are over 30 now and staying healthy for a full season has become harder to accomplish. Both missed some time last year (namely Jagielka who missed over a month with a pesky hamstring), and the club was forced to rely on a then-19 year old John Stones. Stones proved to be a Godsend, however, and the club didn’t miss a beat with the youngster in the lineup. Because of his strong play and the fact the club has reportedly turned down offers on the prized young centre back, Stones has likely earned quite a bit of playing time regardless of wether or not Distin and Jagielka stay healthy.
The fun doesn’t stop their, either, as we move into the midfield and find several fantasy relevant players. The group is highlighted by whom many are calling the greatest Everton player since a young Wayne Rooney roamed the grounds of Goodison Park, in 20 year old Ross Barkley (again, more on him in a minute).
Running alongside Barkley is Belgian international, Kevin Mirallas. In just his second tour of Premier League duty, Mirallas topped his first year goal and assist numbers (six/five) by finding the back of the net nine times, while providing seven assists. He also led the team with 61 created chances, and, given the fact that the team is returning all of the players who made the previous year such a success, one has to think that this trend of strong play will only continue from Mirallas. He likely just lands into the second tier of fantasy midfielders, but he’s definitely worth dropping an early round pick on.
The remaining midfield options aren’t quite as sexy, but Leon Osman, Barry, and McCarthy (although a move to Manchester United is still possible) still make great options as you fill out the back end of your roster. Osman often plays in a more advanced role, so goals and assists are more likely, while Barry and McCarthy thrive in their holding roles and are clean sheet-dependent.
Continuing the assault, we finally arrive up front at the very tip top of the Toffee attack. And really, only one name need’s mentioning, and that’s none other than last year’s star loanee now-turned permanent signee, Romelu Lukaku. But, as you’ve probably already guessed, he deserves more time in the sun so I’ll be covering him more in depth shortly.
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If you haven’t already guessed, there’s several names worthy of finding themselves in this section. And, as much as I’d like to gloat about all of them (and I could – Everton is my team), I will do my best to limit it to just a few.
Starting with ol’ Timmy Howard, I already laid out what he accomplished statistically last year and I expect more of the same for the 2014/15 campaign. If you watched the World Cup, you can clearly tell that even at 35 Howard really hasn’t lost a step. No, he’s not Manuel Neuer, Petr Chech, or even Joe Hart, but he remains one of the best shot stoppers in the bizz. Few can match his reflexes, and it’s in this regard where he brings a large part of his fantasy value. While he’ll keep his fair share of clean sheets, he’s unlikely to keep as many as Hart or Chech (or Courtois if he wins the Chelsea number one), but what he will have is more opportunities for saves. He’s saved over 100 shots in five of the past eight seasons, and he’s shown nothing to make me think he’s not capable of doing it yet again. An argument can be made for him being the first keeper selected in fantasy drafts.
Defenders Baines and Coleman qualify as the other “studs”, and make no mistake about it, both are elite fantasy options when talking defense (in 2013/14 Coleman finished first in scoring, while Baines finished third). Both figure heavily into the team’s attack, as Martinez loves to send them flying down the wings to play balls into the box and go on overlapping runs to stretch the opposing defense.
Baines earns his elite fantasy status largely due in part to being the team’s primary penalty and free kick taker. Last season he bagged five goals, with three of them coming from the spot and the other two being scored off – if I must say – gorgeous free kicks. Because of his magic left foot, you can almost pencil in another three or four goals to go along with the assists he’ll provide as he’s finding teammates from out on the left flank. Had it not been for an injury that caused him to miss six games last season, we likely would be talking about him being the top scoring defender last season.
Speaking of the top scoring defender, that title went to Coleman who scored a whopping (well, for a defender at least) six goals – all from open play. Now, he’s unlikely to duplicate that performance, but one has to like his odds of notching a few, especially considering his impressive 57% shot accuracy. He, too, like Baines, is an excellent passer (88% pass accuracy in 2013/14), and should have no trouble of providing an assist or two as well.
Key New Signing
No disrespect to Barry and newly-signed Muhammed Besic, but…
— GrandOldTeam.com (@grandoldteam) July 30, 2014
@GrandOldTeam.com nailed it there, with what likely was every Blues’ fan’s reaction to the news that the team had reached a five year agreement with Lukaku.
Fantasy owners should rejoice, too, as it really was the best place for him. He’s blossomed under Martinez, and after just his second full Premier League season has become one of the most feared strikers in the league, if not the world. Last season he pummeled the opposition’s goal with 45 shots on target in 72 attempts (63% accuracy), and found the back of the net with 15 of those. But it’s not all about the goals for the big Belgian, as he’s also dished out a combined 16 assists over the past two seasons as well. Now that he’s settled down with a team (though Everton was always his likely destination), he’s a sure fire first round pick.
Much similar to the “Stud” category, there’s a handful of names I could write down here, but only two should be on your fantasy radar: Ross Barkley and John Stones.
Beginning with Barkley, it’s no exaggeration to believe he may be (perhaps along with Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling) the face of English football within the next couple of years. He’s still extremely raw and definitely has areas where he needs to improve (keeping possession is one), but there have been times when he’s been on the ball where his power, pace, and touch have caused many-a-jaw to hit the floor (this goal against Manchester City, and this goal against Newcastle come to mind). He scored a mere six goals and provided just four assists in his first full year of Premier League action in just over 2,200 minutes. Provided he stays fit, those numbers are bound to at least double, as he figures to be a chief figure in the Toffee attack. If you snagged him in the fourth round or later, you may very well end up with one of the steals of your draft.
On the other hand we have defender John Stones, who went above and beyond the call of duty filling in when Jagielka went down with an injury. He did so good, in fact, that Martinez now has a slight problem (albeit a good one) on his hands, as Stones might just be emerging as the team’s best centre back on a team that already boasts two top shelf one’s. His accolades from his 21 league appearances last season include leading the team in pass accuracy (90%), along with averageing six defensive actions per game (block, interception, or clearance). Like Barkley, there is some refining needed to be done as he still needs to work on his positioning (led the team with four errors), but his poise under fire as well as his ability to be an accurate passer out of the back (especially at just 20 years of age) have to give the team – and fantasy owners – great hope for even his near future with the club.
While they may not quite be on the same level talent-wise as a Manchester City, Chelsea, or even (/cringes) Liverpool, Everton still have an embarrassment of riches in the fantasy department. With talented players (some of them elite) at every level, they provide you, the fantasy owner, with a cornucopia of options when it comes time to draft.