Ronald Koeman’s Everton host Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday (2.05 pm kick-off) looking to keep the pressure on the top four.
The Toffees are currently seventh in the table having won 16 of their 34 league games this season, and sit two points adrift of Arsenal in sixth, and six behind Manchester United in fifth.
However, with the FA Cup final to produce a winner already set for European competition, seventh place looks set to be enough to secure the Toffees’ return to the Europa League for the first time since 2015.
Nonetheless, they’ll be looking to finish as high up as they can and within the top six to make a big statement of intent next term, and they’ll certainly be on their way to doing so with victory over Antonio Conte’s Blues on Sunday.
So, Everton clearly have much to play for between now and the end of the season, but that hasn’t stopped speculation building about who they may look to sign in the summer, and one man they’ve been linked with in recent days is Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
It has been reported that the Toffees, as well as Chelsea, will need a substantial offer to prize the 25-year-old away from Serie A, yet it’s a deal Koeman and the Everton hierarchy should look to get done if they are to mount a challenge to the top six next term.
And that’s because, at the moment, the Toffees are depleted in the defensive department, with Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori long-term absentees after nasty injuries earlier this season, and the future of captain Phil Jagielka far from certain despite decent displays in recent weeks.
That has left Koeman calling upon the likes of Mason Holgate and Matthew Pennington in recent times, and although both are talented youngsters with a bright future in the game, they aren’t yet the calibre of defender needed to sustain a challenge to the top sides.
Yet 25-year-old Koulibaly is.
The defender has been an integral part of the Napoli backline which currently sit third in Serie A, with the Senegal international having started 24 of their 33 matches, missing a small proportion of the season while away on African Cup of Nations duty.
And he has earned rave reviews for his performances for both club and country this season, and with Koulibaly an extremely versatile defender who can play anywhere across the backline, be it in a back three or a back four, he is exactly the calibre of signing and player which Koeman needs to take Everton to the next level.
With the spending powers of the top six sides, the Toffees have done remarkably well to bridge the gap to them this term, but as has been evidenced with the Romelu Lukaku contract saga, which sees him unlikely to stay at Goodison Park, they need to show genuine ambition in the transfer market.
They are in terms of facilities and development, with the club in the early stages of securing a deal for a new stadium at Bramley-Moore dock, and now need to in terms of player acquisition.
And Koulibaly could be the start of that.
With Chelsea also thought to be interested, it would represent a potentially defining scalp if Everton were to beat them to the 25-year-old’s signature, and could set the Toffees up for greater opportunities in the transfer window, and ultimately greater success on the pitch for years to come – it may even be enough to give Lukaku something to think about with regard to his future at the club.
You sense that competing on the financial front with the Premier League’s top sides would represent their best chance to break into that top six and make it a top seven, and that is why signing Koulibaly this term ahead of the Blues would be hugely significant, both on and off the field.