The Toffees’ shrewd summer transfer business means they can be the surprise package in the title race that challenges big guns Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City this season, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.
Four games into last year’s Women’s Super League season, only two teams had 100 per cent records. Thanks to a comprehensive start, with 14 goals scored and only one conceded, Everton were one of them. A shock FA Cup quarter-final victory over Chelsea confirmed that this was a team who had the ability to compete with the very best.
Yet their bright start faded away, and they ended the season in a predictable fifth place. The only sides they lost to across the season were the four teams who finished above them, but the style of the defeats showed how big the gap still was. They only managed to score one goal against the top four over eight games, and lost six of those by a two goal or greater margin.
Having recruited significantly last summer, Everton have shown no signs of letting up in this transfer window. Their recruitment has shown a cunning awareness of the value in some of the less visible European leagues. Where last season they brought in players from Denmark, France and Spain, this season they have focused their attention on the Damallsvenskan in Sweden. Anna Anvegard, Nathalie Bjorn, and Hanna Bennison make up three of an astonishing eight summer signings. The Swedes will join up with Aurora Galli (Juventus), Kenza Dali (West Ham), Courtney Brosnan (West Ham), Leonie Maier (Arsenal), and, most heart-warmingly of all, the returning Toni Duggan (Atletico Madrid).
Bennison, in particular, is a massive coup for Everton. The club have paid a ‘substantial fee’ thought to be in the region of £150,000 for her, and at 18, she is one of the most highly-rated teenagers in the world. Bennison is the kind of player who does the unexpected; a player who if you paused the game when she was on the ball, you still wouldn’t see the pass she was going to make before she made it. It is exactly that kind of visionary ability which helps you unlock the best defences in football. Possessing positional versatility, she can play on either wing or as an attacking midfielder, and is incredibly skilful on the ball.
Positional versatility seems to have been what Everton manager Willie Kirk has focused on when it has come to building this side. Almost all of his attacking options can play from the left, right, or through the middle. Sorensen and Claire Emslie split their minutes equitably between both sides last season. When asked where she would be playing, Duggan said that if she had to fill in at full-back it wouldn’t bother her.
“The beauty of this squad is we’ve got so many players that can play so many different positions,” Duggan continued. “It’s going to be difficult for other teams to judge how we’re going to set up, and we could be a surprise package each game.” Sides become a lot harder to predict if they can rotate players through different positions between or even during games.
It also future-proofs you against injury, something which the signing of Anvegard hints at. The wheels of Everton’s season began to fall off in conjunction with Valerie Gauvin’s injury in the FA Cup final. The forward never regained her early season form, and Everton struggled to sufficiently replace her. Anvegard offers them an elite back-up who has the ability to become the first-choice.
The former Rosengard striker scored the most goals and had the highest expected goals of any player in the Swedish league last season. She is particularly good at pulling out of the six-yard box, away from expectant central defenders, to score from cut-backs. She is also a better carrier of the ball than Gauvin is, which once again hints at Kirk’s desire to have a more fluid attacking line-up, with Anvegard being able to pick the ball up from deeper and allow the other attackers to make runs ahead of her.
The most keenly felt departure from Everton this summer will surely be Ingrid Moe Wold who retired at the end of the season. The Norwegian right-back played the third most minutes of any Everton player in the 2020/21 season. To replace her, Everton have brought in two options: Maier and Bjorn. Maier is a more natural right-back than Bjorn, who predominantly plays centre-back, and the former Arsenal player looks most likely to take on that starting role. Bjorn, whilst not a great 1-v-1 defender, is a fantastic reader of the game and will happily step up the pitch to dictate play. Both will have to work hard to adequately fill the gap left by Moe Wold.
Overall, Kirk’s summer signings are an exciting blend of youth and experience. Bjorn, Anvegard and Galli are all just reaching their peak years whilst Dali, Maier and Duggan can offer some of that big-game know-how which Everton have lacked in the past. With the change of manager and player departures at Manchester United, Everton certainly have the ability to overtake them. Breaking into the top three and securing a coveted Champions League spot is another question, though.
On paper, all three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City have better squads but the close-run nature of the WSL means that you only need a couple of games to go your way to put real pressure on. The arrival of the three Rosengard players will certainly add an interesting dynamic to when Everton play Arsenal, now managed by former Rosengard coach Jonas Eidevall.
Whatever happens this season, these signings indicate Everton have a plan that stretches far beyond the coming months. Reaching the top table of women’s football does not happen overnight, but Everton have continued to take big strides this summer.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph