Everton ended what has been a hugely disappointing Premier League season in eighth position despite a 3-1 defeat against West Ham United at the London Stadium, and it was a match that highlighted one of their main issues this term.
With Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori out with long-term injuries and Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams past their best, it was clear that the Toffees needed to strengthen their backline last summer, but the only additions to the squad were Michael Keane and Cuco Martina, with the main focus appearing to be on strengthening the attack.
The lack of work on the defence – only Keane out of the two new signings would have been viewed as being a regular – certainly came back to bite the Merseyside outfit in the early weeks of the campaign as they struggled down the wrong end of the table.
Martina would have been brought in as a back-up player, but he ended up being a regular in the XI at right-back and then left-back when Leighton Baines picked up an injury.
While he sometimes did a solid enough job, the fact that Everton were starting a player than often failed to make the squad for Southampton in the 2016/17 campaign summed up the predicament they were in.
At the heart of the defence things we even worse, with Keane struggling to replicate the form he had shown for Burnley previously, and Williams and Jagielka continuing to show that the best years of their career are behind them.
Youngsters like Mason Holgate and Jonjoe Kenny also came in and did well, but they shouldn’t be regulars in an XI for a club that is looking to seriously challenge the top six clubs in the Premier League – that is what owner Farhad Moshiri wants, as shown by his investment in the playing squad last summer.
Things certainly improved from a defensive point of view for a time when Sam Allardyce took the reins at the end of November – they only conceded twice in his first seven matches in charge in all competitions – but heavy defeats on the road against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal soon followed in 2018.
Williams had largely been a regular in the back four with Keane under Allardyce, but a sending off in March in the 2-1 defeat to Burnley proved to be a turning point for player and manager, with the 63-year-old omitting him from the matchday squad for the rest of the season.
Jagielka replaced him and Baines and Coleman soon retook their place in the defence when they returned from injury, and while they looked ok defensively, it still wasn’t great.
In the final game of the season against West Ham on Sunday, their defensive frailties were shown as Allardyce decided to go with a 5-3-2 formation, with Keane, Jagielka and Funes Mori in a three-man defence and Coleman and Baines as wing-backs.
Funes Mori was hauled off at half-time on his first Premier League start of the season, while the likes of Keane, Jagielka and Baines all failed to impress.
If Everton are to line up with four at the back next term – with or without Allardyce with many fans hoping on Twitter it is the latter – many would probably say that Coleman is the only one that would be a guaranteed a spot in the starting XI.
While Keane may or may not be a regular pick – he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt given it has been a tough campaign for everyone – that still leaves the Merseyside outfit with plenty of work to do in the window.
There is no way that Jagielka, Baines, Williams or Funes Mori should be starting the campaign in the back four, and that means the club needs at least one – and preferably two – centre-backs, while they also potentially need two new left-backs depending on what is going to happen with the likes of Luke Garbutt and Brendan Galloway.
Building a new-look defence could be what Everton need to move on to try and compete for a top-six finish in the future, and it must be the priority for Moshiri and Co when the transfer window opens this week.