FA WSL Preview – Everton

The 2020/21 FA Women’s Super League kicks off on the weekend of the 5th / 6th September. D2B is here to preview all twelve teams in the title race and assess their chances. Last year we went alphabetical in presenting the teams, but this year we’ve plumped for reverse order of where each club was placed when the league was finally abandoned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Having looked at Tottenham Hotspur in the previous article now we turn our attention to Everton who were surely the most improved side in the division despite a mid-table finish…

Everton Women

Last Season: 6th of 12

Nickname: The Toffees / the Blues

Founded: 1983, as Hoylake WFC

Home Ground: Walton Hall Park (capacity 2,200)

Manager Willie Kirk – Leading the “revolution” at Everton.

Up to the COVID-19 interruption Everton had looked a solid mid-table team in the FAWSL last season. While this might not seem very exciting to the casual observer the Blues’ set-up was worlds apart from the previous two campaigns where they finished 9th and 10th and structural changes to the league were instrumental in helping them keep their top flight berth.

Under manager Willie Kirk they have steadily built a better squad, while continuing to keep faith in long serving players such as ‘Dan’ Turner, Gabrielle George, Megan Finnigan and Simone Magill. Despite some, er, modest attendances at home games it also seems that Women’s Sporting Director Sarvar Ismailov has held his nerve and is committed to supporting Kirk’s vision and ambition to take the club to the next level.

“It’s been a real revolution… it was about survival when I first came in then there was a bit of a rebuilding job. We knew we would be in a good place over the summer in terms of recruitment. We are ahead of the curve in terms of being able to attract the names of those we hope to bring in down the line and to try to make Everton a force again like they were back in the days when they were challenging for titles.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, via BBC web site 12/8/2020

They now find themselves on the coat tails of a couple of teams trying to break the dominance of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. The Toffees were unable to get a single point from any of these top sides and also lost twice to new arrivals Manchester United – who went on to claim ‘best of the rest’ status.

So, how to build a better team for 2020/21? Well, the summer didn’t get off to the best start when it was announced that attacker Chloe Kelly had rejected a new contract and was heading off to Manchester City. The 22-year old had enjoyed her best Super League campaign scoring nine goals and earning a place in the Lionesses Squad for the SheBelieves Cup.

But any doom and gloom that supporters may be feeling about Kelly’s departure should be assuaged by the way the manager has sought to replace her.

In fact, it could be argued that Kirk’s found a way to get more bang for his buck and, subsequently, more tactical flexibility in terms of how the Toffees can approach matches.

First of all Everton have brought in a serious international forward who will give Everton palpable threat in the penalty box. Valérie Gauvin scored a half-century of league goals for Montpellier in 90 appearances, including 14 in 16 last season. She is a go-to number nine option for the French national team where she’s close to a one-in-two average and should be able to cope with the physicality of the WSL.

Valerie Gauvin – signing a top European striker is indicative of Everton’s ambition.

“Signing Valerie is a real coup for the club and a sign of our ambition. For me, she is already one of the top strikers in Europe and taking into account her age and mind-set, she will continue to get even better, and I’m delighted to be part of that future development. She is going to add a focal point to our attack and will be an important part of what is now a very exciting squad that we have put together.”

Willie Kirk, Manager, via She Kicks online 06/08/2020

However, service into the danger zone will be key as Gauvin isn’t going to run channels in the way that other strikers do. This surely is where Hayley Raso and Claire Emslie come in.

Matildas’ international Raso arrived midway through last season on the back of 166 senior appearances and championships secured in both Australia and the US, but didn’t get a chance to feature in 2019/20. She’s pacey and tricky and can play wide midfield or across a front three. She also knows how to link up with a traditional ‘9’ having worked alongside Canadian striker Christine Sinclair at the Portland Thorns.  

Emslie, who has signed on loan, is a wide player who knows the WSL well having made 61 appearances for Manchester City in all competitions, scoring fifteen times. Her career could have stalled at NWSL Orlando Pride, but she grabbed a season at Australian W-League Champions Melbourne City, scoring key goals in the title run. She’s quick, hard-working and enjoys taking opponents on.

Claire Emslie arrives on loan from Orlando Pride adding depth to Kirk’s attacking options.

Factor in 23-year old Danish winger Nicoline Sørensen and fans may well be hoping that there’s enough fire power in this Everton squad to be thinking ‘Chloe Who?’ by October.  Sørensen can play on either flank or at number ten and scored 48 goals in two spells with Brøndby. She’s used to winning having secured title honours with all three of her clubs in Denmark, plus she picked up the Golden Boot and Danish Player of the Year awards last season.

At the other end of the pitch Everton have strengthened their backline with Rikke Sevecke, who at 5’11” should add some presence in both penalty boxes. In addition full backs Ingrid Moe Wold and Poppy Pattinson supplement the squad’s depth. Veteran Moe Wold has 70 caps with the Norway national team and is closing in on 250 senior appearances. She’s tough, a grafter, good technically and more than able to get up and down the flank. Pattinson, at just 20-years old, is a highly regarded left back who had a breakthrough season at Bristol City last year.

Only one midfielder has been recruited at the time of writing – 21-year old Spaniard Damaris Egurrola from Athletic Bilbao – which suggests that Kirk is largely satisfied with his ‘engine room’. Lucy Graham flies below the radar a little bit in the WSL but is a really good box-to-boxer going into the second year of her two-year deal.

Everton midfielder Lucy Graham – A bit underrated?

And perhaps Izzy Christiansen should be regarded as a brand new acquisition. Like Raso, Christiansen’s season was over before she made her league debut and it’s been a tough couple of seasons for her following a move to Lyon from Manchester City. She brings a great attitude to the group and, at her best, superb fitness and the ability to chip in with goals. At 28, she’s hitting her peak years so Blues fans would love to see her hit the kind of form that puts her in contention for a GB / Lionesses spot ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 European Championships respectively.

They start at Bristol City, who won’t be fancied by many to get out of the bottom three all year. But Everton won’t take them lightly as the Vixens have been doing some summer business of their own and every year the division is getting more competitive.

On paper this side looks like it could be very tidy, though not yet a title challenger. Football of course is played on grass, not paper, and Manchester City gave the Blues a timely reality check during pre-season with a 4-1 thumping. There are good individuals in this group, though, and Willie Kirk has previously been able to make his teams more than the sum of their parts – which is what makes Everton potentially so exciting for 2020/21.  Can all these individuals gel quickly as a team? If so, no one will get a comfortable afternoon against the Toffees, a good cup run is possible [though the Conti Cup has become a major challenge, Ed], and they can go better than a 6th place finish.

Departures

  • Hannah Cain, Forward
  • Taylor Hinds, Defender
  • Kirstie Levell, Goalkeeper
  • Chloe Kelly, Forward
  • Inessa Kaagman, Midfielder

Arrivals

  • Rikke Sevecke, Defender
  • Poppy Pattinson, Defender
  • Ingrid Moe Wold, Defender
  • Nicoline Sørensen, Forward
  • Valérie Gauvin, Forward
  • Claire Emslie, Forward
  • Damaris Egurrola, Midfielder

Earlier this year, we charted on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check out the link above, there’s a heap of great blogs and websites written by people who really know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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