Sitting 6th in the Barclays Premier League table currently, this will have been a very productive season for Everton and their manager Ronald Koeman in his debut season in charge. Despite having very good spells of the campaign the team has suffered some difficult spells; however the one consistency of the season for Everton is the goals scored by their prolific frontman Romelu Lukaku. The powerful Belgian international has enjoyed his best season at the top level of English football since bursting onto the scene, scoring an impressive 24 goals in the Premier League, earning himself a place in the PFA Team of the year and in line to win the Golden Boot this season.
The one downside for Everton and their immediate future is that Lukaku will almost certainly be playing his trade somewhere else next season. Comments made by the player when entering contract talks with the club all but confirmed that he wants to be playing Champions League future next season. With Koeman constantly linked with a move back to his dream club to manage Barcelona the issue of Lukaku might fall on someone else’s shoulders but the likelihood is that Koeman next year will be without his prolific Belgian. The improvement to Lukaku’s gameplay has been evident to see this season, he looks more instinctive in front of goal, his link up play has improved in terms of holding the ball up and bringing players into the game, his ability to get in behind defenders is smarter and he looks much more direct. He will always have his doubters when it comes to his work rate and his ability to pressure defenders, as when he has a bad game he most certainly has a bad game.
How much Everton receive from the Lukaku sale could determine the possible replacement to lead the line for the team. No doubt with European football Koeman would have to look to invest in another frontman as there is no real alternative for Lukaku in the Everton squad, unless a lifeline to resurrect his Everton career was thrown at Oumar Niasse who has impressed during his loan at Hull City. Lukaku’s fellow countryman Michy Batshuayi could be a real possibility for Koeman to make a move for, especially if Chelsea follows up with their rumoured interest in Lukaku. Batshuayi has been extremely unfortunate at Stamford Bridge this season, evidently he was not a signing made by Conte with his lack of appearances this season, but when he has played he has shown glimpses of why he had so many suitors while with Olympic Marseille. The Belgian boasts 3 goals in 9 caps for his country and is a striker that when he is confident scores goals, he possesses fantastic movement and in the box he is lethal. He could really be an option for Everton as he looks almost certain to leave Stamford Bridge this summer, Koeman might have to change certain elements of how he plays for the 23 year old striker as he is slightly raw when he drops deeper and gets involved but scoring goals would not be an issue for Batshuayi.
North of the border Moussa Dembele at Celtic will be one name who will have much interest expressed in him this upcoming summer. The 20 year old Frenchman has impressed many, despite the level of the Scottish top tier. A goal scoring return of 32 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions this season, highlighted by his goal against Barcelona in the Champions League, will certainly attract attention. Bigger clubs than Everton might be among the clubs chasing the young French striker, but offering more first team football and a chance to play at the top level of English football with a healthy wage would be a big appeal for Dembele and Everton. Sharing a lot of the same attributes as Lukaku, this could be a move that should be pursued by Koeman and the Everton board. One player who Everton was linked with all last summer was Southampton frontman Manolo Gabbiadini while at Napoli. The 25 year old Italian has taken very little time to settle into life in the Premier League with 6 goals in his 6 games since making his January move to Southampton. Despite only being at the St Mary’s for a short spell of the time, his form and ability could certainly attract attention, and could very well be on the shortlist of players to replace Lukaku. The contrast of style between the two players is clear to see, Gabbiadini is unbelievably technically sound, with a football brain that is perhaps beyond any other player playing in the Premier League, compare him to Lukaku who is power, and pace Everton would have to find a way to play to the style of Gabbiadini. A move for the Italian international might not be a viable option for the club, but if the sale of Lukaku allows them he would certainly be on the list of targets.
A like for like replacement for Lukaku would be Villarreal striker Cédric Bakambu. The DR Congo international is amongst the top centre forwards playing in La Liga currently, despite having a stop start season this time out with injuries. The 22 goals he scored last season was a great return for the 26 year old, and when considered the games he has played this campaign his 9 goals has not been too bad of a 2nd season at the Estadio de la Cerámica. Bakambu does possess similar attributes to Lukaku in terms of his frame; he is a powerful lad with bags of pace. His ability to play out wide is an extra bonus so he is a better player outside of the box than Lukaku is, however in front of goal maybe not as potent. The Villarreal frontman would be the ideal fit to replace Lukaku and in terms of price he would perhaps not cost as much as possible targets that have been talked about like Mauro Icardi or Alexandre Lacazette. Real Sociedad striker Willian José might be another name linked with Goodison Park this summer. The 25 year old Brazilian has been attracting attention this season, and could be another striker who finds himself linked with a number of clubs. José would be a very smart bit of business if Everton got in a position to buy the Sociedad striker. His ability to play in between the lines and on the shoulders of defenders causes massive problems for defenders. The Brazilian has put himself on the radar of clubs this summer, Everton could make an early move to try and get this player as he has the potential to be world class.
The biggest problem Everton face is replacing the goals that Romelu Lukaku has scored for the team, when you consider that Ross Barkley is clubs next highest scorer with 5 goals to his name. Not a popular selection amongst both sets of supporters as a viable possibility to lead the line for the team could be arch rivals Liverpool and England striker Daniel Sturridge. Now 27 years of age Sturridge needs a fresh move to showcase his talents as a goal scorer and keep him in and around the international scene. Obviously Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has not gave Sturridge the treatment he deserves and a move away looks likely this summer, he would be a top signing for Everton if supporters could look past the connection. Sturridge when he is fit is such a top player and he should not be an overly expensive option should the Everton board even consider a move for the player.
Koeman and Everton could be very active this summer, trying to propel the club to realistic top four contenders. To do this however they need a top marksman, and if Romelu Lukaku get the move which at this stage looks very likely, this must be the number one priority for the club. It will be an interesting summer for the club and potentially very exciting for the Everton fans.