Everton’s 2014/15 campaign left a lot to be desired after Roberto Martinez’s initial brilliant first season on Merseyside. The Spaniard arrived to a wave of hope from his spell at Wigan and was a breath of fresh air to the top half of the table in his first term. The Toffees’ season had looked to be on course for Champions League football, but the eventual Europa League spot still exceeded all expectations for ‘Bobby M’ and his squad.
However, Martinez’s second season was a let-down and even flirted with relegation during the difficult mid-passage of the campaign. The Europa League is notorious for being a curse on any sides’ fortunes in the league and Everton suffered as much as anyone else. The small squad at Goodison made it a challenge for Martinez to rotate for the horrible Thursday-Sunday fixture schedule for much of the first half of the season.
Last summer, the biggest news coming out of the blue half of Liverpool was revolving around a highly expensive Belgian centre-forward. After impressing during his loan spell in Martinez’s first season, Lukaku was signed on a permanent deal , yet failed to show quite the form he had done previously. Although still a young talent, the powerful Belgian continued to be up and down in his form and was not reliable enough to lead the line with any sort of consistency.
Going into the new season, Lukaku’s form must return to the level of 2013/14 if Everton are to pose any threat to the top half of the table, and several other attacking players need to find some consistency.
Gerard Deuolfeu returns to the club and his twinkle-toe runs down the wing should supplement the brutal power of Lukaku nicely. The 21-year-old Spaniard still has great promise and could be pivotal in the fortunes of the Toffees this season. His skill on the wing will hopefully limit the reliance on Aiden McGeady, who has looked below par during his time at Goodison, and should stretch the game further to allow space for Ross Barkley centrally.
Barkley is yet to improve on his initial performances at senior level and, despite his young age, has stagnated significantly of late. As with both Lukaku and Deuolfeu, Barkley needs to begin to fulfil his potential for the sake of Martinez’s job. The England international still produces the driving runs down the centre, but he is yet to show he can regularly take charge of a game and dominate the midfield. It is beginning to look like his best role may be as one of the central midfielders in a 4-3-3 rather than the number 10 role.
If Everton are to demonstrate any ambition for European places again, all three must perform and goals must come from Barkley to supplement the efforts of Lukaku.
Unfortunately for the Toffees, many of the sides around them are showing greater ambition than them at this current time and they are at risk of being surpassed. Southampton continue to be shrewd, whilst West Ham and Stoke have signalled their intentions with their targets this summer. Meanwhile, Swansea are continuing to build a very talented unit. It could turn out to be that the Europa League held Everton back, but sides around them are coming on leaps and bounds and everyone at Goodison needs a sense of realism about what they could achieve this season.
A top 10 finish would resemble a good return for the coming campaign and if they were also to develop several of their younger players it would be a highly successful season.
Currently, it looks as though both Kevin Mirallas and John Stones could be on their way out of the club before the end of the window and, unless the season starts well, Martinez could quickly find himself under pressure.