Everton may have sold their top scorer, but Romelu Lukaku's exit allows Ronald Koeman to shape the team in his style, writes Matt Cheetham...
Romelu Lukaku's time at Goodison Park appears over. For Everton, this leaves them without their player of the year and top scorer for the past four seasons, but that should not dampen expectations around Ronald Koeman's squad.
Lukaku's role was never more integral than during his final season on Merseyside, where he became the club's all-time record Premier League scorer, and the first Everton player to hit 25 League goals since 1985/86. He scored 40 per cent of his side's goals, registering five-times as many as any other team-mate - indeed, no Premier League club had anywhere near the disparity between their first and second top scorers.
Losing such significant output has the potential to derail any side, but Everton will begin this season accompanied by more hype than in any recent campaign.
Everton top scorers - 2016/17 Premier League
|Player||Goals||% of Everton goals|
The primary reason for this is Farhad Moshiri, owner of the club for the past 18 months. In that time he's provided the financial muscle supporters have craved for decades, spending more this summer than in any transfer window during the club's entire history.
Under Moshiri, Everton have already spent more than in their previous eight seasons combined, and their Under-23 side has even outspent several Premier League clubs this summer. Lukaku's goals need replacing, but Moshiri provides the ammunition to do so like never before.
Everton transfer spending
|Approx transfer fee spent|
|Last 3 windows (under Moshiri)||£169m|
|Previous 16 transfer windows (since 2008)||£159m|
Koeman and director of football, Steve Walsh, have been quick to act, shifting away from a reliance on one individual for goals in favour of an approach by committee. Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen have been added, both of whom reached double figures last season, and Wayne Rooney followed over the weekend. By accumulating a more even spread of scorers, Everton aim to cover Lukaku's goals across an array of attacking threats, forming a more functional overall attacking unit.
Lukaku's scoring record stands up against most in recent seasons, but every player has weaknesses and some of the Belgian's clashed with Koeman's style of play. His first touch and close control isn't slick enough for a target man, which is a role his former manager has often used. Armed with Moshiri's millions, Everton now have the opportunity to craft a side far more in the Dutchman's desired style, replacing their former attacking part with a variety of different options.
Koeman's penchant for a high-tempo pressing game is another example of something he can instil more effectively without Lukaku. The Belgium international officially ranks as the Premier League's least effective forward in terms of distance covered per 90 minutes. He covered less ground than all strikers in each of the last two seasons, and even ranked bottom of all 503 outfield players in 2015/16.
Lukaku's running stats
|PL season||Distance covered per 90mins||Rank - outfield players||Rank - forwards|
|2016/17||8.8km||476 (out of 482)||Last|
"One of his big qualities is scoring goals," said the manager in February. "He's strong, he's fast. But I also think he can improve: giving options to the midfield players and threat to the defenders. We press from the front. His actions mean we might not have to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper and we can push up as a team."
It's easy to devalue the significance of this by simply highlighting Lukaku's goal return, but that doesn't have to coincide with such ineffectiveness out of possession. Harry Kane managed more goals while covering almost 20 per cent more distance every 90 minutes, which is one reason his side are much more effective. Against top-six sides and in certain away games, Lukaku's inability to lead the press limited Everton's prospects, and this is another area the Toffees can improve on in his absence.
As prolific as Lukaku was in an Everton shirt, there is also a narrative from fans that his proficiency dipped in the biggest games. His contribution in the 2016 FA Cup semi-final, for example, must go down as one of his worst afternoons in an Everton shirt, and stats support this notion that he struggled against the very best opposition.
Part of this is down to his supporting cast but his drop-off is still far more than would be expected. In games where Everton needed him to be at his most clinical and finish off one of his few attempts, Lukaku's needed three times as many shots to score, meaning he's rarely found the net.
Romelu Lukaku - last three PL seasons
|Lukaku||Games||Goals||Shots||Shots per goal||Mins per shot|
|v last season's top six||35||5||78||15.6||40mins|
|v other PL sides||75||48||255||5.3||24mins|
Most top scorers are flat-track bullies, which is an important trait to have, and might be where Everton eventually miss Lukaku most, when it comes to finishing off weaker teams. In the biggest games, though, Sandro Ramirez arrives having excelled in key moments at Malaga, and may already provide an answer. His goals won more points for his side than Lukaku, who scored almost 70 per cent of his with Everton already leading, or at least two goals down.
Lukaku v Sandro
|Lukaku||2016/17 league season||Sandro|
|7||Scored with side level||4|
|1||Scored with side 1 goal down||4|
|17||Scored with side 1+ goal up/2+ goals down||6|
|9||Points won by goals||12|
As unashamedly eager as he was to depart the Toffees this summer, Lukaku brought the goals Everton fans had never seen from a Premier League striker. That total will take some replacing, but the club have already signed well and Moshiri provides a platform to continue doing exactly that. By sharing the load, and constructing a side moulded to Koeman's exact taste, Everton can emerge a more efficient, effective unit next season.