After one season which yielded so much promise and another which was an unmitigated disaster, the upcoming campaign is a vital one for Everton boss Roberto Martinez.
An appalling pre-season paved the way for a terrible start to 2014-15. The domestic calendar was interspersed with Europa League football at Goodison Park and with regular injuries to key players, the Toffees really struggled to accrue any kind of positive momentum. If Martinez wants to last beyond Christmas, it’s vital this team fires in the opening weeks.
Indications are that they might. Pre-season has been much more structured and the core of the squad have been in situ throughout preparations, even if Chelsea’s unashamed pursuit of John Stones has been an unwelcome distraction. Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu also represent savvy bits of transfer business.
With no European football, the Merseysiders can focus squarely on matters closer to home too. While that means no ventures to Wolfsburg, Lille, Bern and Kyiv for the fans, those who frequent Goodison Park are likely to see a Toffees outfit emboldened in Premier League matches.
Reasons to be Positive
The first XI is very strong. John Stones, James McCarthy, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku is a core of exceptional young talent, while the twin threat from full-back options Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines means Everton have plenty of attacking options. If Deulofeu can dazzle on the flanks, he’ll give the Toffees a direct edge they were lacking last season.
As aforementioned, Martinez won’t have to deal with Europa League football either. While it was a welcome distraction at times last term, the Catalan’s rotation policies left much to be desired; in practice, a regular XI will allow the players to strike up relationships and bring the best out of a team which boasts plenty of potential.
Reasons to be Negative
At the time of writing, no team has spent less money this summer and while the Blues have kept hold of all their key players, there are some gaping holes that need addressing in the squad. With Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz departed, a new centre-back is a must, while the lack of a creative midfielder can leave Everton looking a little one-dimensional on occasion.
In goal, concerns linger over Tim Howard, who endured a torrid 2014-15. In addition, if Lukaku was to pick up an injury or suspension, Arouna Kone has shown he’s not up to the task of leading the line. Unless there’s some significant additions in the final embers of the window, Everton are short in a lot of areas.
Key Player – Romelu Lukaku
Although Lukaku may not have lived up to the £28 million the club shelled out for him during his first campaign as an Everton player, the 20 goals scored by the Belgian in a mediocre outfit was a measure of his sharp predatory instincts.
The ex-Chelsea man has a rough touch and is still a little raw, but if Everton play to his strengths a little more in 2015-16, Lukaku will add a direct dimension at the point of the attack. At this juncture, for the Toffees, if the goals don’t flow from their record signing, it’s tough to see where they’re going to come from.
Prediction – 8th
An 11th place finish last season was an appalling return given the squad available to Martinez. But with well rested players, plus a couple of new additions, a higher finish looks inevitable. With sides like Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Swansea City making some quality summer purchases, it’s going to be tough to breach the top seven, though.
A late splurge in the window could see Everton push those aforementioned sides and the youthful spine of the side should provide some standout moments. Without any more investment, Martinez will have to wrap his key men, Stones and Lukaku in particular, up in cotton wool.
Expert Opinion – Peter McPartland (Toffee TV and Followtonians)
With only two low key signings so far this summer it’s hard to get to excited about the season, especially watching all the big clubs strengthen. But that might not be a bad thing.
Last summer expectations were through the roof after a late charge for Champions League. but a combination of a relentless season, the World Cup and a poor pre-season meant players started the campaign unfit and under prepared. Added to the extra European games, Everton’s squad simply couldn’t cope.
This year, with all the players back after a rest and a straightforward preseason, the players look sharper and more focused. Everton won’t be expected to do much and are now more likely to be seen as a team in the chasing pack for Europa League rather than Champions League, but this could help them.
If the Toffees can add 3 new players before the deadline and keep their squad intact they have a chance to return to European football and hopefully progress in a cup competition; 20 years without winning one is far to long! The start is horrific—the Toffees play last season’s top eight all in the first 10 games—but if Everton can ride it out, keep key players fit and confidence high, hopefully last season’s disappointments will be a distant memory.
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