Here we go, the Premier league is back, the 2017/18 season is here and we’re ready, right? Of course we are! It’s been 83 long days since Everton finished on a whimper at the Emirates on the final day of what was a relatively decent campaign. Although truth be told, with just one win in our final five, the season was all but finished once Ronald’s men had guaranteed the return of European Football to Goodison Park.
After securing a return to European Football in his first Season, Koeman, along with the guidance of Steve Walsh, has been very busy in the pre-season, bolstering the squad to mount an attack on the monopolised top six and conquer a few European cities on the way. The Toffees have brought in no more than seven new faces to boost the first team and along with some exiting young talents, such a young Josh Bowler from QPR and Henry Onyekuru from Eupen, (who was promptly loaned straight out to Anderlecht on a one year deal). Such a sharp contrast from the notorious summer of 2011, signing just two players… on loan, in the form of ‘Andy Van Der Drenthe’ and an unknown roof fitter from Argentina by the name of Denis ‘The Stracq’ Stracqualursi on the final day of the window. It’s quite astonishing that despite all his apparent flaws, Moyes lead that team to a 7th place finish that year.
Anyway, notable new faces include the former Ajax leader and captain, Steven Nais…sorry! I mean Davy Klassen, Michael Keane from Burnley, who already seems to have cemented a spot in the heart of Defence, Jordan Pickford from Sunderland as a much needed number one, Sandro Ramirez from Malaga and of course the return of a certain Wayne Rooney. I know I know, there’s also Martina Cuco, who has shone about as bright as that energy saving light bulb in the loft, but thankfully he is not likely to feature in a fully fit Everton eleven. Depth is unlikely to be an issue next season, but having sold Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United and with Ross Barkley set to leave, the team is still lacking some really game changers and goals.
There was a genuine excitement as pre-season kicked off in Tanzania that something special was happening, even with the loss of our top striker, and indeed the Blues have come through an unbeaten pre-season which included two competitive 1-0 victories against Slovakian side Ruzomberok FC in the Europa league qualifiers. However, it’s fair to say performances have been on the whole underwhelming and slightly concerning. New signings have shown glimpses of things to come but the pre-season has seemingly exposed some serious lack of pace and shortage of genuine threat up top.
The Blues have of course been chasing long time target Gylfi Sigurdsson to bring in that much needed creative spark, however the matter is fast becoming a remake of Wolfgang Petersen’s classic ‘The NeverEnding Story’, with Swansea seemingly unwilling to budge on their eye watering £50 million price tag and Everton doing their best to come away with some moral victory in cutting a deal at anything below the Swans price tag. One suspects the deal will limp over the finish line in the coming days and the Icelandic playmaker will no doubt be a key player in Koeman’s plans. Another long-term target is Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, who would be a perfect fit in leading the Everton attack. The Frenchman has scored 98 goals in his five seasons in the capital and has 27 league assists to go with it. Whether the deal can be made is another matter, the Arsenal man seems hush on a move and with time running out, it may be up to Walsh and Co to redirect their attentions elsewhere.
We kick things of against Stoke on Saturday at Goodison, which is arguably our easiest game over the next six weeks. Mark Hughes’s men have added nothing going forward in the summer and have lost one of their top performers in Arnautovic to West Ham. Kurt Zouma has been brought in on loan from Chelsea, as well as the veteran Darren Fletcher who made the switch from the Baggies to the Potters in what was arguably the dullest transfer of the summer to date. I think Stoke will do well to avoid a relegation battle this year. Everton are due to meet four of last season’s top 6 in the opening weeks with three away games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, along with a home tie against Tottenham Hotspur. There is also two vital ties against Hajduk Split in the Europa League sandwiched in between, therefore getting off to a winning start on Saturday could be very important in terms of shaping the forthcoming season.
Whilst the squad quality is still a bit of an unknown quantity, the aim of this season will be to surely close the seven point gap on last seasons the top 6. However, as no Evertonian needs reminding, this club is starved of any real success, we can’t continue to have a generation of Evertonians growing up talking about losing to Fiorentina at home in the UEFA cup as their fondest Everton memory because ‘’it was really loud’’… *eye roll*. Everton therefore really need a strong push on all fronts this year. A criticism of Koeman’s team last season was the two early exits from both domestic cup competitions. Losing two home ties against beatable opposition was inexcusable. The same must be avoided this year, strong cup runs will be key in assessing the success or indeed failure of this season’s Everton. A particular focus must be given on the Europa league, whilst the competition is very game heavy, you only need to look down the M62 at Manchester United to see the benefits of taking the competition seriously. A long overdue second European honour, along with a doorway straight into the Champions league would be the perfect way to mark the start a new era of Everton FC.
A big season awaits, bring it on!
– David Hughes (@DAHughes92)