How Willie Kirk transformed Everton

SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: Willie Kirk, manager of Everton looks on prior to the Barclays FA Women's Super League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Haig Avenue on November 24, 2019 in Southport, United Kingdom. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

A year on since Willie Kirk joined Everton, he is preparing to face his former side, Manchester United, for the first time in the WSL.

Since his arrival and Everton have found themselves in a drastically different situation to the one they win were in when Kirk took the job.

Kirk came in with Everton winless. In his first game as boss the potential was evident. The Toffees beat cross-town rivals Liverpool 2-1 thanks to goals from Inessa Kaagman and Simone Magill, two players that have become absolutely instrumental in the success of Everton this season.

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Things weren’t perfect, though. Everton lost their next two games, both against teams that Kirk had previous with.

Kirk served as assistant manager to Casey Stoney and he was also the man to win Bristol City promotion back to the WSL after being relegated in 2014.

The Right Players Under the Right Manager

In his first summer window, Willie Kirk brought in four players. They are all regular starters and Lucy Graham has already become club captain.

The others are Tinja-Riikka Korpela, Molly Pike and Kika van Es. These important additions to the squad, building on the decent foundation that they already had, is the difference between them sitting fourth as they are, and sitting in eighth.

Everton were lucky last season. If it wasn’t for Yeovil, they would have been relegated. Kirk saw this as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance.

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The difference can already be seen. Everton have won more games this season than in all of the last campaign. It’s December.

The biggest reason for this is the fact that Kirk can bring in players like van Es and Molly Pike. They add a different dimension to the Everton side.

Pike, together with scot Lucy Graham, has transformed the Everton midfield. At times last season, they’d be overrun and look out of their depth but not anymore.

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The midfield looks more structured and sturdy but has also increased creative and attacking output. Lucy Graham, herself has three goals this season – including a screamer against Spurs and the game-winner in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.

Hannah Cain, Molly Pike, Dan Turner and Inessa Kaagman all have assists to their name too. The team as a whole has gone from 0.65 assists p/90, to 0.86. It’s this creativity that is allowing Everton to win games and more importantly, it’s giving Chloe Kelly the freedom to play her brand of football.

Identifying Issues Early, Solving Them Quickly

One of the most underrated aspects of good team management in football is being able to identify issues in your squad. Too many managers quickly become far too sentimental about their sides.

Kirk saw that Everton had issues in midfield, he fixed them. He saw issues in defence, in comes Kika van Es. There was an issue in goal, and he brings in Tinja Korpela.

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For as good as Kirstie Levell is, Korpela already has more league clean sheets this season than Levell had all of last year.

Korpela came in from Vålerenga but she also played more than 50 league games for Bayern Munich. She’s also coming up on 100 caps for Finland.

These changes have shown clear progress on the pitch, Everton look tighter, more creative and most importantly, they look like they can score goals. That’s something that Everton haven’t been able to say for a few seasons.

Not Done Yet

Despite all of their progress, Everton still have a way to go before they are challenging the top three consistently.

If they can add one or two world-class players to the squad then they will be in the mix. They really are one or two good additions away from being in the fight for that eventual third Champions League spot.

Willie Kirk is the right man to do this for Everton, too. He’s got a successful history and lofty ambitions. As long as his ambition is matched by the club, there’s really no ceiling on what Everton can achieve.

The grind continues on Sunday as Everton travel to Leigh Sports Village to take on Casey Stoney’s Manchester United side.