It’s a question that hasn’t gone away all season, and even now – with just seven games to go – it’s still unclear: what constitutes a good season for Everton?
Before the campaign started, the Toffees looked in good shape. Most people agreed they were having a good transfer window, but that was all predicated on the fact they’d done their business early.
When it comes to transfers, ‘early’ means decisive – but not necessarily good business.
It turned out that the summer transfer window was anything but a good one. Perhaps if a replacement was found for the departing Romelu Lukaku that might have been different. But at the time, Everton looked in good shape. Even so, it was hard to pinpoint just what success was going to be.
After all, the previous season, the Toffees were in with a shout of a top four place up until defeat in the Merseyside derby on the first day of April. That defeat essentially heralded the end of the season for Ronald Koeman’s side, who went on to win just three more games.
That shows how close to breaking into the top six Everton actually came. Had they not – basically – given up, they might have been closer to Manchester United than the eight points they finally finished behind the Europa League champions.
Seventh place, given the calibre of the top six sides, was always going to be par for the course, and so it proved.
This season, after everyone else had strengthened and Everton had lost their two most effective players from the previous season – Lukaku and Ross Barkley, who was injured for the first half of the season and then left in January – it was always going to be a struggle.
And that brings us to the current day: under Sam Allardyce, Everton can still manage to finish seventh once again.
You can talk about the style of football. You can also talk about what are fairly embarrassing performances at times this season. You can even point to the money spent in the transfer window (though admittedly lots of that was recouped by selling Lukaku). But in the end, isn’t a seventh-placed finish what most Toffees fans expected before the season started?
They might – quite justifiably – have expected a challenge for the top six. They might have expected some good football, too. Maybe a cup run or a European adventure, too. They certainly won’t have expected this. And yet the outcome could well be the same.
You can understand that fans want more than what they’re seeing from Everton this season. They have, essentially, paid large sums of money to follow their team on what has been a write-off of a season. But even so, that seventh place and potentially the final Europa league spot is still viable.
At the start of the season, wouldn’t that have been acceptable?