There’s a new man at the helm on Merseyside, and for the first time in 11 years it’s not at the Red side of the city. With doffed caps, glum faces and respectful waves, Everton said goodbye to their dedicated David Moyes as he headed to the challenging pastures of Old Trafford.
In his place stands the reputable Roberto Martinez, of Wigan and Swansea fame, and he welcomes a new dawn at Goodison on August 17. Martinez divides opinion, but having previously been coveting by Aston Villa and Liverpool clearly holds a desirable standing amongst his peers. While making some astute signings so far in the window, Martinez may face his toughest task in convincing the club’s in-demand stars to stay.
Pre-season preparations have been routine for Everton so far. A shaky opening 2-1 defeat to Austria Vienna was followed by comfortable 4-1 and 3-1 victories over Accrington Stanley and Blackburn Rovers respectively. The squad are this week in the United States ahead of their participation in the International Champions Cup, playing alongside the likes of Milan, Inter, Chelsea, Juventus, Valencia, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. One final friendly against Real Betis on August 11th will give Martinez a last look at this squad ahead of their Premier League opener at Norwich.
Everton will be hoping to pick up where they left off last season, playing some wonderful flowing football and losing just twice in the final ten games. Normally slow starters, the club’s 6th placed finish and marginal European shortcomings last season had winning foundations right from the start. Martinez and his new crop of players will need to harness that spirit once again if they’re to improve their league placing.
Last season: 6th
In: Arouna Kone (Wigan, £6m), Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan, free), Joel Robles (Atletico Madrid, £2m approx.), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan).
Out: Phil Neville (retired), Thomas Hitzlsperger (released), Sam Kelly (released), Jan Mucha (released), Jake Bidwell (Brentford, undisc.), Conor McAleny (Brentford, loan).
As mentioned, the likeable Roberto Martinez is gearing up for his first season in charge at Goodison. General consensus is that he’s the perfect fit for the job, taking the natural step up from the recently relegated Wigan to Everton who, with the upmost respect, are not a ‘top’ club in the Premier League…yet. Could Martinez change all that though? He’s credited with installing the passing ethos now synonymous with Swansea City, and he regularly defied the odds with Wigan, avoiding the drop on a number of occasions and most recently bringing home the FA Cup in exchange for their Premier League status. Everton fans will rightly remember how Wigan thumped Everton in the sixth round of the FA Cup, and given the right resources and time, Martinez could take Everton that extra step back into Europe. The Toffees have finished above rivals Liverpool in the last two seasons, and fans and manager alike will surely look for another domestic cup run to compliment their continental ambitions.
In order to fulfill those ambitions, Martinez will need to put his stamp on Everton as his own team. No small part of that is bringing in players, and he’s gone with past experience for his first dealings, joining up with three past players from Wigan. It might not have been the three that Everton fans had been salivating at the thought of, but still represent clever moves. Instead of the media-touted Callum McManaman and James McCarthy, in have come 11-goal Arouna Kone for a cool £6m, and defensive stalwart Antolin Alcaraz. Martinez was quoted last season as saying that if Alcaraz had not missed six months of the campaign, Wigan would not have been relegated, and so it remains to be seen what kind of impact Alcaraz can make at Everton if fully fit. Six of his 14 starts last year were clean sheets, but he faces a tough task in ousting the partnership of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin. Kone will need to build off his success last season, with the club somewhat short of goals with Jelavic off the pace last year. If Kone can replicate his Wigan form, Everton will be onto a winner. If not, Martinez could face some criticism for splashing out that kind of cash on a 29 year old with only a year in the Premier League on his CV. Joel Robles has also moved to Goodison after spending time on loan with Martinez from Atletico Madrid. He kept Al-Habsi out of the FA Cup Final, and will be great backup to the
balding ageing Tim Howard. More additions could come towards the end of the transfer window, especially if the club lose one of their higher earners, for example Marouane Fellaini, who has a £23m buyout clause.
Controversially, the club’s crest is also new this season. Don’t get comfortable though, after mass opposition from the fans, the club are reverting back to the old one in time for the 14/15 season.
Martinez will have liked what he saw last season so looks unlikely to change things too much. Providing all come through the pre-season fit and fighting, and there are no big departures between now and the start of the season, I expect the team playing Norwich to look something like this:
Strongest XI: Howard – Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines – Mirallas, Gibson, Osman, Pienaar – Fellaini – Kone.
Keeping Leighton Baines will surely help Everton’s chances of finishing as high as sixth next season. The England man was supposedly the target of a £12m bid by his former boss at Manchester United, but Martinez and Chairman Bill Kenwright are in agreement that Baines remains integral to the club and their future plans. Only time will tell if United come back with an improved offer, but it’s clear that Baines would command a large fee, given his skills in attack, defence, and from set pieces. Away from Baines, and fans will be looking forward to seeing more from Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian had an indifferent last season, but his form at the tail end of the campaign showed just why Everton were so keen to sign him. Comfortable on both flanks, quick, and with a delicate touch, Mirallas often lights up the pitch with his flair, and could chip in with a few goals too.
Keep an eye on
Gerard Deulofeu. This kid is widely regarded throughout Europe, and Everton have made a coup securing his signature for the immediate future, as he’s sure to break into the first team at Barcelona in the next few years. In their excitement, the Everton shop spelt his name wrong at the kit launch, but who can blame them? Described by Martinez as a ‘real diamond of Spanish football’, Deulofeu scored 18 goals for Barcelona B last season, and was the Spanish second division’s fourth top scorer. Born of the Barca bottle, fans can expect lots of pace and passing, as well as a calm head from the 19 year old.
*Special mention goes to Ross Barkley, who is set to see more first team action this season.*
Norwich (A), West Brom (H), Cardiff (A)
Three fairly routine fixtures as far as Everton should be concerned. Norwich pose a fair threat given their excellent transfer dealings this summer, while West Brom showed their quality last season with an opening day victory at Liverpool and final day 5-5 draw with Man United. Neither are particularly tough opponents, however, and Martinez should look to capitalise on a gentle start to the long campaign and aim for maximum points. New boys Cardiff will have the home advantage, but should be outclassed by the visiting Everton.
Where will they finish?
I think it’ll be a year of transition for the Toffees, with Martinez steering his new side to a top half finish, but some way off the European pace. 8th.
BPF Prediction: 8th