The first minutes of a new season should be about renewed hope and unashamedly grandiose expectations.
With the table cleared, a bright new strip and some different teams to go against, there’s something refreshing about getting down to the domestic grind again for supporters. At sun-drenched stadiums across England, that was evident in the buzz from fans that bristled through the speakers on our television sets.
At Everton, gripped by the aforementioned new-season mania, there was a similar atmosphere as supporters settled into their seats, hoping the team could banish the bad memories of 2014-15. But the mood turned sour sharpish and Goodison Park, as it was last term, quickly became a hotbed of fan angst and consequent hindrance.
The reason? Things became familiarly stale for the Toffees supporters. Although Z-Cars was greeted with a roar and the first few challenges with a pugnacious din of appreciation, it was soon apparent that despite a few months away from the men in blue, nothing much had actually changed.
Had it not been for an injury to Leighton Baines on the eve of the opening day game against Watford, manager Roberto Martinez would have fielded an XI that contained 10 players which were in situ on September 1, 2013; the first season of his tutelage.
Needless to say, with no shift in personnel, the brand of football hadn’t deviated too far from the soporific, stagnant style that blemished Goodison Park last season either. Again, a team without impetus or endeavor moved the ball far too slowly and far too predictably, much to the benefit of their grateful opponents.
Although Gareth Barry brazenly called for patience from the supporters in the days following the match, which finished in a 2-2 draw, it’s not difficult to see why those in the stands, on the sidelines and on the pitch seem trapped in a malaise. The remedy is rejuvenation and the best way to facilitate that process is with new faces.
At the time of writing, Everton have spent a meager £5 million this summer, with Gerard Deulofeu, Mason Holgate and Tom Cleverley the only three acquisitions; it’s the smallest expenditure of any team in the league. Manager Roberto Martinez has cited three players he’s looking to bring in bespoke positions—the priority being creative, intricate midfielder—since April this year, per Andy Hunter of the Guardian. But the Toffees, who finished 11th last season, seem content to rest on their laurels.
SEE MORE: Read Everton’s 2015/16 season preview.
Granted, consistency is important and it’s a vital attribute which many great sides have been forged upon. But there is a fine line between stability and stagnation; at the moment, the Toffees are certainly straying towards the latter.
What’s even more of a concern is just how much astute business is being done by clubs around the Merseysiders in the table.
The most recent transfer blow for Everton was to miss out on Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City, who was undoubtedly a major target for the Toffees. But in addition to the Potters, Swansea City, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Newcastle United, West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion have all conducted savvy purchases; that’s without even mentioning teams like Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, who Everton have vied with for positions in recent seasons.
If Everton go into the season with the squad they have now, the campaign will be a struggle. While sides are reaping the benefits of the Premier League’s worldly gravitas and subsequent lucrative benefits, the Toffees are reluctant to get on board; there’s only so long a team can continue with a modus operandi of consistently punching above their weight before they get left behind altogether.
The manager may have money to spend before the window closes and Martinez’s comments to the media seem to suggest they do. But the club has put itself a precarious position.
Players like Angelo Ogbonna, Dmitri Payet, Georginio Wijnaldum and Shaqiri all looked to be genuine targets that Everton have missed out on. It leaves the Toffees ratting around in the bargain bucket section once again, even though Martinez insisted in May the majority of business was to be done early this time around, per Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo.
John Stones is anticipated to be the sacrificial lamb by many in the football firmament, with Chelsea relentlessly courting the young defender. But losing him at such a late stage would leave Everton with one senior center-back, little time to bring in replacements and a pot of cash that’d mean they’ll end up paying well over the odds for any targets.
If Stones was going to be sold, it should have been wrapped up already. The club should have isolated potential incoming players that could have been brought with the money and afforded them time to become immersed in the squad. But to cash in now, given the volatile atmosphere amongst the supporters at the moment, any sale of the 21-year-old could be the trigger for some major unrest.
Either way, new players are a pre-requisite if Everton are to keep pace in 2015-16. Aaron Lennon has strongly been linked with a return and while he was a decent addition late last term, he’s not a new face, nor a player that will enrich the current first XI. Given all the aforementioned factors and the manner in which the Toffees have backed themselves into a corner, it leaves Martinez needing to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Much more is needed to be done in terms of incoming players, not just for the team to better its 11th place finish from 2015-16, but for the Toffees to stave off the current inertia and inevitable deterioration.
So while other top flight sides may stand on the cusp of an exciting season with a bolstered squad and swollen bank balance, unless there are a selection of seismic deals done in the final knockings of the window, Everton will be looking over their shoulder with very real worries to ponder.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball