LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard is congratulated by teammate Sylvain Distin during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON 4th round replay match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on February 19 2011 in London England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Continuing the series of pre-season reviews now I am going to discuss the strengths and weaknesses with the defence - keeper and back four - in the Everton line-up. This is the one area that many give Everton top marks - the midfield has talent but the foundation of Everton's performances has been a solid back four.
There seems little doubt that Tim Howard is the automatic starter in goal. Not only is he a capable performer - and unusually for Everton a stopper who can save a penalty - but by-and-large he is a very competent keeper. Like many fellow members of the Goalkeepers' Union he undoubtedly makes the odd howler but for every bad error there are many more excellent performances and match winning saves. There's plenty to like about the genial American. In reserve Everton have a reasonable deputy in Jan Mucha - despite some reservations about his movement - he is a good stopper.
The back line in front of Howard is pretty solid as well. At Right Back there are many options - The most likely choice is the captain, Phil Neville or Tony Hibbert. Additionally there is the young Irish international Seamus Coleman - a steal at £60,000. Neville brings a lot of experience to the side and usually a solid level of performance. Hibbert is another solid performer - famed for his lack of input at the other end of the pitch - and is always a solid hard tackling opponent. Neville occasionally fills in at midfield (left back or centre-back) as indeed does Coleman (of whom more tomorrow).
On the other side of the pitch is one of Everton's most important players - Leighton Baines. Last season's stand-out performer for his position he is a more than capable deputy for Ashley Cole in the England line-up and, just as important, his contribution further up the field is magnificent. The number of assists for a full-back is second to none and he even chips in with vital goals (and penalty conversions). The slight criticism of his positioning (caused by the marauding role he fulfils) is churlish.
In the middle of the defence there are three or four excellent options - Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka, Johnny Heitinga and, returning from a season-long loan in Turkey, Joseph Yobo. Many other sides would be glad to have such a solid group of players to choice from - all experienced and, apart from Distin (incredibly) internationals. Jagielka - assuming he doesn't move to Arsenal - and Distin are the first choice pairing and have built an excellent partnership. Jagielka is a strong performer who gives no quarter - more than capable of holding his own against the best strikers on his watch and Distin is a very solid foil. Johnny Heitinga - a World Cup finalist for Holland - is unfortunate to have to compete with the stand-out Jagielka for the right centre-half position. His form dipped significantly last season but there's every chance we may see a fresher, more in-tune Heitinga in the coming season. The unknown factor however is Joseph Yobo. He seemed to be out the door last season after agreeing a season-long loan at Fenerbahce along with a transfer fee. The transfer appears to have fallen through and so he is back at Everton seeking, no doubt, to rebuild his career. Whether Moyes has any plans to include him in regular action is questionable. After many years of good service he can still do a good job - but perhaps not at Everton given the parting of the ways which materialised last summer.
Tommorow I will conclude this preview by discussing the Wildcards - the players who can fill multiple roles: Tim Cahill, Seamus Coleman, Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini. Additionally I will attempt to estimate the likely line-up that Everton are likely to put on the pitch for the forthcoming season.