Rafael Benitez is now hard at work evaluating his squad as Everton look to dip into the summer transfer market.
The Spaniard was a controversial appointment by the Toffees after his long history with Merseyside rivals Liverpool, which included once calling Everton a “small club”. To say there has been an uproar over his appointment would be understating it.
But Benitez insists he’s fully focused on the job at hand, telling reporters he’ll be giving his “best in every single game”. Of course, to do that he’ll need to strengthen a squad that could only manage a 10th-place finish under Carlo Ancelotti last season, especially given a couple of Everton’s biggest stars are linked with moves away from Goodison Park.
So, how could the Toffees line up in 2021/22 under Benitez? Here are the dream, realistic and wildcard options based on their reported targets.
As is always the case with any Premier League side, Everton are being linked with all manner of players right now. So, without getting too ahead of ourselves and tipping the Toffees to persuade Lionel Messi to reject Barcelona’s new contract offer, what would be their dream line-up next season?
After winning the Golden Glove and enjoying a fine Euro 2020 with England, Jordan Pickford has certainly done enough to get another chance between the sticks — the former Sunderland man actually rallied and produced some excellent form toward the end of last season.
Denzel Dumfries was another to impress at the Euros, scoring twice for the Netherlands in the group stage to help them into the round-of-16. The 25-year-old has been heavily linked with a move to Everton in recent months and his arrival from PSV now appears imminent. Dumfries — priced at 8/11 to join Everton by Sky Bet — would be a great candidate to step in at right-back, allowing Benitez to manage the minutes of ageing captain Seamus Coleman.
Kalidou Koulibaly is a reported target for Everton right now and given Benitez was the one to bring him to Napoli back in 2013, it’s little surprise to see the Toffees priced as 4/1 favourites to bring the centre-back to Goodison Park by Sky Bet. Now 30, Koulibaly has immense experience in Serie A and in the Champions League and has long been regarded as one of Europe’s best centre-backs — a position where Everton have a lot of numbers, but a distinct lack of top-class quality.
The thought of Koulibaly — thought to be available at a cut-price £35m — marshalling the Everton defence and helping impart wisdom on the extremely promising Ben Godfrey should be a seriously exciting one to supporters. Lucas Digne, meanwhile, is the undisputed first-choice at left-back.
There were rumours linking Allan with a move to join Ancelotti at Real Madrid but given Los Blancos already have Casemiro to anchor the midfield, it’s hard to see them wasting their budget in that area. If the Brazilian does remain at Goodison Park, he and Abdoulaye Doucoure will form a double-pivot full of industry, while both are incredibly tough players to dispossess.
James Rodriguez is priced at 2/5 to join AC Milan by Sky Bet. But in the dream scenario, Everton keep hold of the mercurial Colombian, who could play ahead of Allan and Doucoure in something of a free role, dropping deep to link play, drifting wide or running beyond Dominic Calvert-Lewin — who will start up-front — as he likes.
Either side of Rodriguez, Everton will hope to keep Richarlison from the clutches of Real Madrid, while reports are now suggesting Benitez could raid former club Newcastle for Allan Saint-Maximin. The two wingers both have immense speed, with the former providing direct running at goal while the latter is an unpredictable maverick capable of magical moments.
Everton already have four centre-backs and given the premium placed on that position nowadays, there’s every chance Napoli could hike up the price on Koulibaly to deter any potential suitors. What’s more, the Partenopei have Europa League football to look forward to this season, while Everton failed to qualify for continental competition full-stop.
So, being a little more realistic, Godfrey would partner Yerry Mina at centre-back, with Michael Keane and Mason Holgate also rotated in and out of the side throughout the season. But even being realistic on the side of pessimism, it looks like Dumfries will still be wearing royal blue next season.
There were myriad problems plaguing Everton during the latter half of Ancelotti’s short time in charge but one of the most glaringly obvious was their inability to build through midfield — especially when Doucoure was injured. But a double-pivot of Allan and Doucoure is a very strong and multi-faceted one when fully fit, while Jean-Philippe Gbamin is nearing a return to fitness and would feel like a new signing himself given he’s only played for the club three times in two seasons. But it’ll take a lot to get Gbamin match-fit quickly and the Toffees have recently been linked with Sporting CP midfielder Matheus Nunes, who would reportedly be available for just over £15m after helping the Lions win the title last season. If they’re unable to prize him away from the Portuguse champions expect Tom Davies to be heavily involved.
According to reports, there has been contact between Ancelotti and Richarlison in regards to a move to Real Madrid. But transfer expert Fabrizio Romano recently told CBS Sports that Benitez intends to speak to the Brazil international to convince him to stay at Everton. He is a vital cog in this Everton attack and it’s hard to see the Toffees letting him go without a substantial fee being paid.
But on the right, James Rodriguez is less likely to stick around. If the Toffees don’t move for someone like Saint-Maximin to fill that void, Alex Iwobi could get another chance to show Evertonians what he’s capable of after disappointing since his £35m move from Arsenal in 2019.
What if Benitez decides to let both Rodriguez and Richarlison go, freeing up funds to completely overhaul this Everton side?
Well, you can still expect Dumfries to come in at right-back, while Koulibaly would be a tantalising option in the middle. But Ben White is another centre-back linked with Everton, who are priced at 6/1 to sign the England international by Sky Bet. Sure, Arsenal are 1/8 favourites but it’s thought that the Toffees are “playing a waiting game” to see if the Gunners table a bid. If not, White would be a wonderful option to further bolster Everton’s backline, allowing them to move some of their subpar options on in the process.
Once again, Allan and Doucoure will man the midfield, but Benitez is still going to need more quality in that position to realistically challenge further up the table. Wantaway Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey is a reported target for Everton, as well as West Ham and Arsenal, and a 9/1 bet to move to Goodison Park according to Sky Bet. Though the Wales international has fitness concerns, he is immensely experienced and would undoubtedly offer Everton’s midfield the attacking thrust and goal threat it so desperately needs.
Calvert-Lewin would remain through the middle, while Everton will be in the market for a right-winger regardless of what happens to James Rodriguez, so Saint-Maximin remains a favourable option. But with the money raised by the Richarlison sale, could the Toffees finally move for their long-time target, Wilfried Zaha?
The Ivorian looked set to move to Goodison Park in 2019 before the transfer fell through and Everton ultimately settled for Iwobi. Everton are still thought to be interested in the forward, while former Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose has suggested the Eagles could sell the 28-year-old for £50m this summer. Ex-Everton forward Marcus Bent believes signing Zaha would be a real step in the right direction for Benitez in the early stages of his reign.
“Of course it would [excite the fans],” he said. “There’s a question mark on his age, but he’s a big name, humble guy and it would be a big move for him and a massive buy for Everton. So, it would be amazing if they were to get him.”