The Full Premier League Season Preview – Everton
Everton go into the new campaign full of hope that the club’s January signings of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar can help replicate the sort of upturn in fortunes over the second half of last season over the course of an entire campaign – if they can, then the club could be potential dark horses to challenge the top six.
Elsewhere, Tim Cahill brought an end to a hugely successful eight-year spell by moving to MLS side New York Red Bulls and Joseph Yobo completed his move to Turkish outfit Fenerbache, while Marcus Hahnemann and James McFadden were both relseased from the club at the end of last season.
The main big exit (there’s one every summer) was Jack Rodwell who left for Manchester City in a transfer move that smacks of desperation with Roberto Mancini just keen to get someone, anyone, in through the front door and when the entire squad was fit, the England international struggled to get into their starting eleven and he won’t be missed, in the short term at least.
One To Watch – Steven Naismith
The Scottish forward arrived at Goodison Park this summer as a bargain bucket free transfer to bolster the club’s forward ranks after rejecting a new transfer with the Rangers Newco.
His partnership in Scotland alongside Jelavic is also a welcome boost and it shows that for the first time in a long while, particularly in light of Cahill’s departure, is prepared to start with two strikers up front. Nonetheless, upon returning after a lengthy injury lay-off, after being out for most of last term with a cruciate ligament injury, the fact that he is playing in a new, quicker league means that he should be given time to adapt, but the early signs are promising.
Breakthrough Year – Ross Barkley
The main beneficiary of Rodwell’s departure to Manchester City this summer will surely by Ross Barkley, the England U-21 international midfielder who first burst onto the scene at the beginning of last season with a series of rambunctious displays, which led to some preposterous over the top praise from Martin Keown among others.
While he may have only gone on to make six league appearances altogether last season, Barkley will be 19 years-old in December and it’s time that he stepped up to the plate in what is still a relatively thin squad and in Marouane Fellani, he has one of the finest central midfielders in the league to play alongside and learn off.
Everton were let down badly by their away form last season where they managed to win just five games on their travels all season, less than West Brom, Wigan and the same as Norwich. While they may have only scored 50 goals in the league last season, they were a completely different side in the second half of the campaign after their customary slow start to the season.
If they can banish that perennial hoodoo over their early season form, then they could potentially be a force to be reckoned with in the latter stages of the campaign, with on eye on a possible top six place and Europa League spot. They do have a very small squad, though, even by Everton’s standards and a lot will come down to whether they get a few more bodies in with the money received from the Rodwell deal, otherwise they may be a bit light in midfield and out wide on the wings.
Without European football to distract them, though, like rivals for a top six spot Newcastle and Liverpool both have, they may be able to sneak in under the radar and force their way in. The top six is as fluid as it has been at the moment when compared to recent years – Tottenham have a new manager, Chelsea are trying to implement a new style of play while Arsenal could either be brilliant or flop, so the stability of this current Everton side may prove much to their benefit, even if they could still do with a few more fresh faces.
When it comes to the cups, Everton are always, much like I have just done, tipped as dark horses for them and in all honest, they should have made the FA Cup final last term after going ahead in the semi-final at Wembley against local rivals Liverpool before letting them back into the match. The focus has and will always be the league first and foremost, and the nature of how early on in the season the League Cup is isn’t always conducive to them getting far in it.
Nevertheless, I’m backing at least one cup final to make good on the undoubted progress the club has made in recent years, and Moyes requires a piece of silverware to validate his credentials for bigger challenges in the future, with the Manchester United job still on the cards.
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