Alex Keble continues his Premier League club previews by discussing how potential big signings could transform Everton into European hopefuls in 2020/21...
"James could add the maverick creativity the club have lacked for some time (Gylfi Sigurdsson has not justified his price tag), while Allan is the metronomic midfield presence Everton are badly lacking."
Everton's disappointing end to the season, which saw them winn just one of their final six, has taken the gloss off of some solid work by Carlo Ancelotti since his appointment in December - and highlighted the extent of the rebuild job needed at Goodison Park.
Years of erratic transfer activity and a damaging turnover of managers has left Everton in a mess, with a big wage bill and bloated squad that reflects the wildly different tactical styles deployed by Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, and Marco Silva over the last four years.
Fortunately, despite the financial implications of Covid-19, Ancelotti appears to have been given the funds needed to get them into shape.
State of play
Everton are on the up. Ancelotti's hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 was implanted quickly and efficiently last season, and on a good day they operated with an intelligence and sophistication that got the best out of key players Richarlison, Lucas Digne, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. It might only take a couple of new players to make them a more consistent outfit ready to move back up to seventh.
And it doesn't get much more exciting for Everton fans than the prospect of James Rodriguez and Allan arriving from Real Madrid and Napoli respectively. James could add the maverick creativity the club have lacked for some time (Gylfi Sigurdsson has not justified his price tag), while Allan is the metronomic midfield presence Everton are badly lacking.
Both have played under Ancelotti before, suggesting there is less risk than first appears in signing older players on big contracts. If James and Allan arrive before the season starts, then all of a sudden Everton will fancy their chances of a fresh assault on the 'Big Six'.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Central midfield is undoubtedly the biggest problem area for Everton. They are consistently porous in the middle and the issue has only been exacerbated by Ancelotti's switch from a three to a two in the middle; Tom Davies, Andre Gomes, and Fabien Delph all lack the tenacity or defensive clout needed for a possession-based team, while Jean-Phillipe Gbamin, signed to replace Idrissa Gueye, only played twice before picking up a six-month injury in May.
Allan won't solve the problem entirely, although together with Abdoulaye Doucoure - rumoured to be joining from Watford - Ancelotti would come close to fixing that hole. Everton are also weak at centre-back, where they made far too many unforced errors last season.
However, there is a pleasing tactical consistency in Ancelotti's approach and it has yielded some fruitful relationships so far, most notably Calvert-Lewin's and Richarlison's partnership up front. They are supported very effectively by Digne, while Alex Iwobi has - in flashes - shown why he has the intelligence to function as the central midfielder and wide forward in the hybrid formation.
It isn't all about Allan and James, even if signing either will rightly be headline Premier League news. Everton must find a new centre-back with a firmer footing, which is easier said than done after their main target Gabriel Magalhaes signed for Arsenal.
Everton also need cover in the full-back positions following Leighton Baines' retirement and Djibril Sidibe's return to AS Monaco.
The Toffees need to get rid of several fringe players to avoid an uncomfortable couple of years dealing with FFP, but given they have an ageing squad it is unlikely the club will rake in big transfer fees to offset the spending on Allan, James, and Doucoure.
What supporters expect
Everton have finished in the top eight in 12 of the last 15 Premier League seasons. Their 12th-place finish in 2019/20 was their lowest since flirting with relegation in 2003/04, when Wayne Rooney was their top goalscorer. It is entirely reasonable, then, that with one of the world's most decorated managers at the helm, Toffees fans should expect to finish at least eighth this year.
The strength of Wolves and Leicester City, coupled with the rapid consolidation of power taking place among the Premier League's 'Big Six', means it will be a tough challenge for Ancelotti. A more important target is tangible progress on the pitch; if Everton finally find some consistent form and avoid those emotionally unstable periods of decline, 2020/21 will be considered a good season.
Look out for...
Kean making a mark: Moise Kean was one of the most highly-rated teenagers in world football when Everton pulled of a major coup last summer. He endured a nightmare first season in England, before ending the campaign with an excellent performance - and a first goal for the club - against Bournemouth on the final day. Perhaps that will be the catalyst.
Difficult Christmas: The December schedule is even more packed than usual thanks to the Premier League's September start, and as legs tire in winter Everton may find their form falls off a cliff. Over a 28 day period they play seven games, including Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), Leicester City (a), Arsenal (h), Sheff Utd (a) and Man City (h).