Behind only Big Nev, Ted Sagar and Gordon West on Everton’s all-time appearances list for goalkeepers, he is at the peak of his powers and playing the best football of his career. He makes mistakes – which keeper doesn’t – but he commands his area, knows his angles and is as good a shot-stopper as ever he was. Under Martinez, he has been asked to become an auxiliary defender, making the manager’s beloved triangles and passing the ball rather than clearing it – the old dog learned these new tricks with surprising comfort.
Another long, lean keeper of the type favoured these days, he has plenty to learn and, not yet 24, plenty of time on his side. Might play a lot more next season with the Europa League likely to see squad rotation all over the pitch, so his long term prospects at the club will be more clear come this time next year.
Enjoyed a golden spell around New Year when he seemed to score every week, but couldn’t maintain that kind of scoring touch, though his season’s return is commendable from right back. His marauding down the right side has troubled the best opponents (indeed, he has only been quietened by his team-mate, Gerard Deulofeu, occupying the space he needs) while his defending, though sometimes compromised by raiding upfield, has been solid. His end product, powered by an astonishing energy, has improved with the confidence that flows from the praise that has rightly come his way. Rightly made the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and also voted Player of the Year, he has set the bar very high for 2014-2015. Not bad for a £60k signing from Sligo Rovers – as must be quoted in every piece about him!.
A scarcely believable 36 now, if anything he has improved this season with the trust shown in him by his manager. Always a solid defender, his discomfort with the demands of the passing game was evident in some nervy early season displays when opposing managers would plan to press Everton into using him as an outlet. To his great credit, his distribution improved beyond recognition (if still one-footed) while his fitness and pace would impress in a man half his age. Defensive wobbliness in the few games he missed revealed the extent of his impact on the team for anyone with doubts A very decent shout for Player of the Season (but not quite mine).
The new captain, a centre-back who spent his formative years in midfield, was always likely to fit well with the new manager’s credo of ball retention and short accurate passing. But, after so many consistent campaigns, his season was affected by injury and two somewhat hurried returns in defeats against Liverpool and Manchester City. At the heart of the defence and the heart of the club, he had to get used to being a peripheral figure in the second half of the season and can expect to play a much fuller role in next season’s four competition schedule.
Not many 18 year old Championship defenders get a £3M move to an established Premier League club, but that’s what David Moyes did for the lean teen from Barnsley. Whether by design or default, he is an almost perfect match for the Matinez Project: comfortable on the ball; willing to learn; and always playing with his head up, looking for the right pass, not just a pass. Having been deployed initially at full-back, he is clearly a central defender, with the potential to be England’s most complete since Rio Ferdinand. He has been inconsistent, but as he gains experience, the error count will reduce and his ball-playing will come to the fore. Next season, he should look to establish himself as a first choice and seek a first England cap
This time last year, he was the darling of the moneyballers, his stats up there with the very best in Europe. Though his output this year has been impressive (especially his dead-eye penalty kicks), he has not quite reached the levels of performance that ousted Ashley Cole from England’s XI. He missed his old mate Stephen Pienaar more than I expected going forward, and his lack of height and occasional positioning problems caused some defensive issues. Will surely benefit from a summer unscarred by 2013’s tedious transfer speculation.
Surprised everyone by slotting into Leighton Baines shoes at both ends of the pitch before his season-ending leg break. Might not be of the highest class as either a defender or midfielder to warrant regular starts, but a very handy squad player, who can score vital goals.
Looked off the pace when called upon to cover Sylvain Distin and a little short of the class expected of an Everton player these days. His bags of experience didn’t prevent a panicky header and a slot on every bloopers reel with his own goal at St Mary’s in a huge match that pretty much did for Everton’s Champions League chances.
Having started the season in the Championship – and at Wembley for the Community Shield – he arrived at Goodison to something of a mixed reception. Within a few matches, the faithful were won over by his discipline, his running and his consistency. Though only 23, he has bags of experience and uses it to snuff out danger almost before it arrives, providing the screen for the back four and offering an option in attacks. Undoubtedly helped by Gareth Barry alongside him, he has become one of the best Defensive Midfielders in the Premier League and looks, contrary to many whispers at the time, a snip at £13M. My Player of the Season.
Though tiring a little towards the end of the season, he spent most of it keeping it simple, fouling when he needed to and providing the old head that could take the heat out of games when necessary. He popped up to score a few goals too, compensated for his lack of pace with an astute understanding of the possibilities Everton’s possession would yield. If called upon, he won’t let England down in Brazil, an environment that will suit the style of his game perfectly.
On the pitch more often than any other Blue in the first season under Martinez, a remarkable stat for a player who was around Goodison even before the Moyes era began. Neither quite strong enough nor quite fast enough to deliver consistent top performances over 90 minutes, he has been at his best as a substitute able to knit play together, finding gaps in tiring defences searching for the late goals that have been pleasingly plentiful or in shoring up the midfield when protecting a lead. He’ll be 33 next week, with a testimonial to recognise his superb service to follow, so will have one eye on his future. An ego-free, wholehearted Blue to his core, few men look better equipped to instill the right values in Academy players – a role I hope he will move towards next season.
Started only half Everton’s Premier League games, but showed why he is so vital to the Baines-Pienaar axis so admired by other managers. Still has the quick feet and willingness to look for the killer pass, now allied to plenty of experience (though he retains a persistent propensity to get a little hotheaded). Another old head likely to pick and choose his matches next season, but also a vital cog in the Everton system.
After looking a little chubby on his mid-season arrival, he soon showed that he has the exact traits that Martinez looks for in a player – ie, he looks “Spanish”. Comfortable off either foot, excellent close control and balance allow him to play in tight spaces and usually find a cross or pass to a man in a better position. More opportunities will come his way next season when he will look to have a big impact on both flanks.
Capable of spectacular goals, and spectacular misses, his Spring form rescued what would have been a disappointing season in which his finishing and passing had been shown up by colleagues. Unlikely ever to be mistaken for Thierry Henry cutting inside to stroke the ball home, his direct play and willingness to have a go provide a useful counterbalance to the occasional over-elaboration of colleagues. If he could just pause for a heartbeat and find the right pass, he would be some player.
Some player! Never have I seen so naturally gifted a talent in a Blue shirt, including Wayne Rooney. The boy from Barcelona (at least before he ran into the much under-rated Nathaniel Clyne at St Mary’s) had the beating of every defender he faced, and often the one after that too. If he can just judge his next move once past his man, he will be a leading light of European football – but he still has much work to do on that final ball. If he stays and kicks on, he should be a delight to watch next season.
Were he blessed with Deulofeu’s talent, what a player we’d have! As it is, the Scot’s intelligence and discipline have combined to force his way into Martinez’s thinking for any match. Though not quick, he can float between the lines and bring others into the game either with his back to goal up top or by threading passes through the channels. Also reliable in terms of tracking back in midfield.
His highlights reel would suggest that he is the new Zidane, a long-striding, goal-scoring central midfielder marrying power and grace in the classic style of continental Number 10s. But he can be caught in possession, make poor decisions and drift out of games – at 20, what more can we expect? If he can bring his A game to more matches next season and isn’t burned out by too many minutes on the field, great things will come his way. That said, he will be a marked man in his second trip round Premier League grounds, with defenders getting in and around him to deny space, block off his runs and prey on a slightly suspect temperament. Next season will define him as a great player, or merely a very good one.
The big Belgian has ambitions to play regularly in the Champions League and his Autumn form suggested that he was not misplaced to think such. His injury in the nightmare at Anfield did knock him back and, towards the end of the season, his volume of matches spent playing alone, up top, began to tell – he is still only 20 after all. Runs all day and is exemplary in attitude, his main weaknesses are a suspect first touch and a tendency to snatch at finishes. Might not be exactly what Chelsea are looking for as they seek to re-build, but might just be tempted by the kind of wages and metropolitan life Tottenham can offer, but Evertonians will be hoping that the £25M or so a permanent move would cost can be cobbled together in the summer. If not, he’ll go with the cheers of thousands of Blues in his ears and a warm welcome awaiting him on every return to Goodison.
Almost delivered on what seemed a rash promise of Champions League football and definitely delivered on a style of play that pleased every Bluenose. Almost as impressive as his tactics, positive play and confidence was his grasp of what it means to be Everton’s manager, manifested in his media appearances, his moving Hillsborough Memorial speech and his respect for the club’s history. He’s very much “our manager” and not going anywhere – at least not yet.