After having already completed the signings of Jordan Pickford from Sunderland and Davy Klaassen from Ajax, Everton are showing they aim to get their business sorted early this summer.
And despite those two early signings, it also appears that the Toffees aren’t content to stop there with the early business: there have been recent reports linking Gylfi Sigurdsson and M’Baye Niang to the club, too.
But when signings of those sorts of magnitude and quantity arrive, it’s natural to assume that players will go the other way. Romelu Lukaku – who is still expected to leave this summer – and Ross Barkley would appear to be the most likely candidates to depart.
Before the arrival of Klaassen – when the deal was still at the rumour stage – the Ajax attacking midfielder was being touted as a replacement for Barkley. And given the young England man’s contract situation, it seems natural to conclude that he’ll leave.
Interestingly, though, this might be a chance for Ronald Koeman to tone down his side’s directness and speed on the counter-attack in favour of a more considered approach. After taking over from Roberto Martinez, the Dutch manager inherited a team with a shaky defence and some ageing legs, and it’s no surprise that the first priority was to shore Everton up at the back, preserving the likes of Barkley and Lukaku who can often be so devastating on the counter.
When you put Barkley and Klaassen side by side, you see that although they play in similar roles and take up similar positions, they have some very striking differences. And perhaps the most obvious difference is the direct style of Barkley compared to the Dutchman.
We know, for example, that Barkley loves a shot from distance, and last season, he took three times as many shots from outside the box as the Dutch midfielder, and took the game to his opponents with four times the number of dribbles. So although Klaassen could be seen as a potential replacement for the wantaway star, he certainly brings a different proposition to Barkley.
What’s interesting, though, is that although Barkley takes more long shots, makes more key passes and seems, generally, to be a more direct player, it’s Klaassen who scored more goals and provided more assists last season.
That’s a stat to take with a pinch of salt, however. The Dutch league certainly isn’t of the same standard as the Premier League, and goals in the Netherlands don’t always translate into goals in the Premier League – most recently, Vincent Janssen has failed to convert his Dutch form into English form, but he’s far from the only example. Indeed, when it comes to handing out the European golden shoe – the award for the top goalscorer in Europe – goals in the Eredivisie count for less than they do in the continent’s top leagues.
But it’s not just goals and assists where Klaassen proves more valuable than Barkley – he makes double the tackles, too.
All in all, then, replacing Barkley with Klaassen isn’t as like-for-like as it would seem, and given the differing qualities of the players, it doesn’t even rule out a new deal for the England man – both could possibly play in the same team if Koeman could find the right system.
But if, as is expected, Barkley does leave this summer, it hints that Everton could use a less direct approach to games next season. Either way, though, Koeman seems decisive, and so early in the summer, that’s no bad thing.