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Spotlight: Everton

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With a terrible start to the season, Ronald Koeman poisoned the Everton well in both the real and fantasy worlds, but things have turned around under Sam Allardyce. Given the charge led by Wayne Rooney and an improved defense, should you look to grab a handful of Toffees from the flowing Merseyside waters?

Everton v Swansea City - Premier League
Wayne Rooney has been re-energized on his Everton return, aided by seeing plenty of action from the penalty spot
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Everton sold several players over the summer, most notably, forward Romelu Lukaku (to Man Utd), defensive midfielder Gareth Barry (West Brom), midfielder Tom Cleverly (Watford) and winger Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona). However, those departures were countered by no shortage of impact purchases or free transfers: forward Wayne Rooney (from Man. United), midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), defender Michael Keane (Burnley), keeper Jordan Pickford (Sunderland), midfielder Davy Klaasen (Ajax) and forward Sandro Martinez (Malaga) — so there was rightly plenty of optimism at the start of 2017/18.

Unfortunately, our rose-colored glasses were tramped straight out of the gate when gaffer Ronald Koeman’s attempt to fit square peg players into a round hole line-up resulted in an 18th place position of only two wins and eight points from the first nine games. The results were well-deserved, as the team’s -11 goal differential was better than only Crystal Palace.

On top of that, Europa League delivered an early exit following a third place finish behind Atalanta and Lyon in Everton’s four team group. Hey, at least they were better than Apollon Limassol! Not surprisingly, the former Southampton boss was unceremoniously shown the door.

Under Koeman, Wayne Rooney was pretty much the only Toffee worth considering for fantasy investment, accounting for most of the team’s offensive production in notching four goals out of the team’s tepid tally of seven scores (0.78 per game). With the squad surrendering an average of 2.0 gpg and securing only one clean sheet (just 11% of the time), the defensive end was a veritable ghost town of fantasy tumbleweed and dust.

We will all do well to remember him at least a little bit fondly, though; in a remarkable footnote, until Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson matched the feat last weekend, Koeman had been the only manager able to avoid defeat to Manchester City, recording the lone draw of the first 20 weeks (in GW2) versus the rampaging Citizens.

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COMPARING KOEMAN’S AND ALLARDYCE’S LINE-UPS

Koeman changed formations somewhat regularly, but one fairly consistent tendency was playing with a three-man back. Thus he also utilized at least two forwards much more frequently than he went with a single striker. Generally, you could expect something along the lines of a 3-5-2 or 3-1-4-2. While he also changed starters fairly regularly, there was a 10 man core to the team under Koeman (number of starts in parentheses):

  • G: J. Pickford (9)
  • D: M. Keane (9) / A. Williams (8) / P. Jagielka (7)
  • M/D: L. Baines (9) and either C. Martino (4) or M. Holgate (4)
  • M: I. Gueye (9) / M. Schneiderin (7) / G. Sigurdsson (7)
  • F: W. Rooney (8) / D. Calvert-Lewin (6)

One major problem, of course, was that Rooney, Siggy and Davy Klaasen (three starts) clogged up plenty of real estate in the center of the pitch, leaving severe shortage of speed up the wings or target men in the box. While that certainly hurt the offense, it also made things tougher on the beleaguered defense, as the Toffees simply made a hash of things all around.

Caretaker manager David Unsworth shepherded the team to two wins and seven points in five games (even in goals scored and allowed), moving up to 13th place. And now Sam Allardyce has pushed to even greater heights of the 9th spot, collecting three wins and 12 points from the past eight games (+2 goal differential), despite losing the past two. Along with the turnaround in the table, several players have returned to, or newly come onto, the fantasy radar.

In contrast to Koeman, the most common formation under “Big Sam” has featured at least four in back and only the single striker, usually operating in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1. In doing so, Allardyce has made several modifications in adopting his preferred XI (# starts in parens):

  • G: J. Pickford (8)
  • D: C. Martina (8), J. Kenny (7), M. Holgate (6), A. Williams (6)
  • M: G. Sigurdsson (7), I. Gueye (6), W. Rooney (6), M. Schneiderlin (6), A. Lennon (5), T. Davies (5)
  • F: D. Calvert-Lewin (7)

Rather than clogging the middle with Rooney and Sigurdsson, Big Sam has moved Siggy out to the left wing, with Lennon often opposite on the right. On top of that, he has pushed Rooney deeper into midfield, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin operating up front as the single striker. In the two main iterations, either Calvert-Lewin is at the top of a central triangle (Rooney and Tom Davies in support), or DCL takes the head of a diamond with Rooney alone in advanced central midfield. In the former, Idrissa Gueye helps out the back line at CDM; in the latter, he does so paired with Morgan Schneiderlin.

Meanwhile, Baines was injured in Unsworth’s time, leading to plenty of defensive turnover under Allardyce. Losing dynamic right wing-back Seamus Coleman to long-term injury certainly hurt Everton under Koeman, but Allardyce has helped solve the problem by playing Jonjoe Kenny regularly in that spot. Koeman did not start Kenny until his final game (too little, too late!), and Unsworth continued to show faith in the youngster, giving him the nod in each of his five matches. By comparison, Koeman mostly played Mason Holgate or Cuco Martina opposite Baines.

Elsewhere in the back line, Allardyce primarily paired Holgate and Williams centrally at the beginning of his reign, with Martina playing left wing back opposite Kenny. However, Michael Keane has recently returned to the starting line-up in central defense, joining Martina and Kenny as the three most reliable starters on that end of the pitch.

The offense has averaged only 1.0 goals per game under Big Sam, a slight uptick from Koeman, but far from an enormous difference. The marked improvement has come on the defensive end, as the team has clamped things down to the tune of 0.75 gpg allowed, including four clean sheets (50%) for the new skipper.

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WHOM SHOULD YOU CONSIDER FOR YOUR FANTASY TEAMS?

Forward Wayne Rooney (£7.5 Official FPL, $9.55 Fantrax)

The longtime man a la Manchester thought he’d found the fountain of youth a ways back with his hair plugs. Now he knows better: Such a rejuvenating spring gurgles instead from Merseyside. After netting a total of 25 goals in 86 games across the prior three seasons (an average of 0.29 gpg) in Red Devils’ regalia, so far this campaign Rooney has absolutely exploded for 10 scores in only 18 games (0.56 gpg), tied for fifth in the league. Particularly in the Official format, Rooney has been an excellent value.

Official FPL: 93 points, #7 rank at forward, 16th highest price at position

Fantrax: 120 points, #15(T) rank at forward, 14th(T) highest price at position

However, with much of Rooney’s production coming from the penalty area, caveat emptor. After drawing only four penalties in all of 2016/17, Everton has earned seven so far this season across the first 22 games, leading the league in that category. During the prior three seasons with Manchester United, Rooney only took four PKs total. However, Rooney has taken five PKs this season, converting thrice and missing twice.

In his career, Rooney has made 23 and missed nine in the league for a piss-poor conversion rate of 72%. In comparison, Leighton Baines has made 20 compared to only two fails (91%), including converting two of two this season. Siggy has made six without a miss (100%), none this campaign. With at least two clearly superior options, Rooney simply should not be taking Everton’s penalties. Surely there is a metrics person on the team who has shared this kind of information with Big Sam. To that, of course, I envision a terse reply by old school Allardyce that a team’s big forward wants — nay, NEEDS — to be The Man. A midfielder or defender doesn’t require scoring a goal to get going and to be happy. A striker does.

On top of that, it’s one thing when a player’s misses result in lost points; in that case, it usually leads to a change. But Rooney’s misses haven’t cost Everton at all. Of his pair of PKs saved, both rebounded to be put in goals; he scored one himself against West Ham, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin did likewise against Swansea City (giving Rooney an “assist” in the Official format). So ultimately from his five penalties, the team has five goals, and Rooney has ended up with six shots on target, four goals and one “assist.” Pretty good considering that he missed two of them!

How important are penalties to Rooney’s production? In a word: Extremely.

  • Of Rooney’s 10 goals, four have come either directly or indirectly from penalties (40%)
  • He has 14 shots on target, and PKs account for six of those (43%)
  • He has three assists in the Official format, and one came via that route (33%)

Looking ahead, the penalty spot would seem to afford Rooney fantasy points that he rightly shouldn’t get, but fantasy managers will be happy to take them. If the Toffees continue drawing pens at the rate they have so far, it will remain a significant contribution to his production. The players (and coach) would seem to have afforded the former England international the respect only a grizzled veteran of Rooney’s status can earn. Or have they? Are we sure?

Rooney is clearly the #1 choice PK taker when on the field with Siggy. However, given that Baines and Rooney have not yet been on the pitch simultaneously when a penalty was awarded, it’s no certainty that the wiley old veteran Rooney actually is preferred to the even older, longtime club fan favorite Baines. Given his production and price, Rooney is a good pick-up for your Official fantasy squads at the moment, but if he loses PK duty to Baines upon the lefty lasher’s return to fitness, that would be a severe dent to Rooney’s value and you would have to be willing to drop him quickly.

And there’s another threat to take over PK duties, the new star striker...

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Forward Cenk Tosun (TBD, $7.00)

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse certainly have their talents, but the winter transfer of Turkish international sniper Cenk Tosun from Besiktas should give Everton more of what they’ve been missing since the Lukaku’s departure: a focal point/target man occupying defenders and creating space for others on the team, and a lethal finisher when he gets the chance to strike. With respect to penalties, Tosun has converted 24 out of 25 (96%) in his career, though much of the competition would not be considered up to Premier League level.

Calvert-Lewin has been a fairly useful third striker option in Official. Tosun is likely to push DCL out of the XI unless Allardyce decides to shift him to right wing and bench Lennon instead. Rooney should remain a regular starter, while there will be a slight amount of rotation risk.

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Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson (£8.0, $10.98)

David speculated on the fantasy prospects of Gylfi Sigurdsson after his move from Swansea late in the summer transfer window, and his prognostication has proven keen.

Starting with no goals or assists in his first 10 Toffees’ league games, he seemed like an impostor compared to the fantasy force that was Siggy at Swansea (34 goals and 29 assists in three and a half seasons). He instead brought back memories of his anonymity at Tottenham (eight goals and four assists in two seasons). However, the Icelandic wizard has warmed up with three goals and two helpers in the past 10.

As discussed, Siggy is not taking penalties, after scoring thrice via that route in each of the past two seasons. He also hasn’t yet cracked the net directly from a free kick, which he did twice in each of the past three campaigns. When Siggy beautifully curls his set pieces with an eye toward an assist, Calvert-Lewin and Rooney are far from optimal targets in the box. But Tosun, Williams, Jagielka and Keane offer inviting heads, so all hope is not lost. However, Siggy will face competition for free kicks if and when Leighton Baines returns from injury.

It appears that Siggy’s fantasy output with the Toffees may be destined to fall in between where it was with Swans and Spurs. At his fairly lofty price in Official, he could be worth adding in when Everton has a favorable run of fixtures. Siggy is a bit more attractive in Fantrax thanks to a price tag that at times has been under $10, but in that portal he is also more of a plug-and-play consideration depending on the match-up(s) rather than a long-term buy and hold.

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Defender Michael Keane (£5.3, $7.32)

There were high hopes when Michael Keane came over from Burnley. However, while Clarets’ defenders are all over the fantasy points leader boards thanks in some part to keeping the fourth-most clean sheets (10) and allowing the fourth-fewest goals (19), Keane started out as a huge disappointment, averaging only 1.6 ppg in Official and 5.1 ppg in Fantrax over his first 12 games.

After injury followed by uncertainty surrounding his status as a key player, Keane has jumped back on the fantasy radar recently, earning four straight starts, averaging 4.0 ppg in Official and 8.3 ppg in Fantrax. In all, covering 16 games this season, Keane has offered 107 clearances, 90 duels won, 36 interceptions and 20 tackles.

Offensively, Keane has not offered much in his career, with only two goals and two assists in 73 games. However, with better service as mentioned from Siggy or Baines, Keane should convert at a nicer clip than he did with Burnley. He has five shots this season, tying for second among Toffee defenders behind only Ashley Williams (11); unfortunately all of Keane’s shots have been off target, but that is bound to change, right?

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Defender Jonjoe Kenny (£4.6, $7.24)

Whilst moving up the ranks from England’s U-16 to U-21 teams, Jonjoe Kenny barely got a cup of tea with Everton before this season, with his most action coming on loan to lower division Wigan Athletic and Oxford United in 2015/16. Finally, now his time has come, as the youngster seems to be a certified regular for the Toffees at right back (at least until Coleman returns from injury).

Kenny has impressed in starting 13 straight games before getting a rest for the Manchester United fixture. In his first five starts, he averaged 0.6 ppg in Official and 5.4 ppg in Official. In his past eight, that has exploded to 5.1 ppg and 7.6 ppg, respectively. He’s filled up the stat sheet so far this season with one assist (two in the Official format thanks to drawing a penalty kick that was converted) and 31 crosses on the offensive end, along with five clean sheets, 67 duels won, 59 clearances, 32 tackles and 23 interceptions in defense.

Martina’s status will come into doubt when Baines returns from injury (as well as if the rumored transfer of Patrick van Aanholt come through), while Williams, Holgate and Jagielka seem to be on a rotation. This leaves Kenny and Keane looking like the best bets to remain regular starter among defenders from here on out, and given their expected production, they can turn a fantasy profit.

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Keeper Jordan Pickford (£4.9, $6.34)

Pickford was not a huge fantasy value with Sunderland, but he certainly passed the eye test, often keeping the Black Cats in games longer than they had any right, thanks to dazzling saves. Surrounded by a poor cast, it was difficult to blame Pickford for a rash of goals when, as the announcers often say, “He had no chance.” After Joel Robles delivered wonderful fantasy returns for Everton last season, it was easy to envision Pickford picking up that baton and running with it.

Following a theme with Everton players, it’s been a long time coming, but Pickford is definitely finally fulfilling on that promise. After averaging an atrocious 2.2 ppg in Official and even more miserable 0.4 ppg in Fantrax over his first 13 games, Pickford has exploded with marks of 6.6 ppg and 11.2 ppg, respectively, in the last nine contests.

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UPCOMING SCHEDULE

Everton has a decent run of fixtures in the immediate future, with three tough match-ups sprinkled in with six more amenable tilts across the next nine: at Tottenham, v. West Brom, v. Leicester City, at Arsenal, v. Crystal Palace, at Watford, at Burnley, v. Brighton, at Stoke. That makes Rooney, Keane, Kenny, Pickford (and perhaps others) good bets to hit fantasy pay dirt.

(Note: Aside from the official Premier League site and the Official and Fantrax fantasy sites, some statistics in this article came via www.myfootballfacts.com and www.transfermarkt.com .)

How many Everton players do you have in your squads? Are you considering adding more now? Who has caught your attention and who will take a little more patience? Let us know in the comments!