It's not all about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, you know. We're talking about the pressure on Iker Casillas, Luis Suarez debuting in the big one and Isco's big chance...
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Premier League 5th, 72pts, +22 GD FA Cup Quarter-finals League Cup Third round Top league scorer Romelu Lukaku 15 Bookings 54 (15th=) with one red card
Manager Roberto Martinez (since June 2013; age 41) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (9th=)
Players in Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £28m, from loan), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros, £4m), Gareth Barry (Man City, £1m from loan), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, loan), Brendon Galloway (MK Dons, undisc)
Players out Apostolos Vellios (released), Magaye Gueye (Millwall, free), John Lundstram (Blackpool, loan), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, end of loan)
Club turnover in 2012-13 £86m, 9th
Wage bill in 2012-13 £63m, 10th
It was a rare double vintage season on Merseyside, even if it ended in disappointment for both. Everton lost their chance for fourth in the run-in but the sight of Liverpool dropping the trophy when they had it in their grasp made for a decent finish to Roberto Martinez's first campaign at Goodison. Now he has had the ideal prelude to his second.
The signing of Romelu Lukaku for £28m is not going to enable Everton to compete with the elite week in, week out. They benefited last season from David Moyes failing so badly at Manchester United and Tottenham being in post-Bale transition, and there are reasonable grounds to suppose that the richest six will make up the leading sextet this term. But retaining Lukaku, scorer of 15 Premier League goals in only 31 appearances last season and 17 in 35 for West Brom the year before, gives Martinez the optimum chance of exploiting any slips and every reason to expect Everton to, at worst, be the best of the rest.
As noted in relation to Mark Hughes succeeding Tony Pulis at Stoke, replacing a long-standing manager is an especially difficult task - as David Moyes found out at Manchester United. But Martinez did a superb job of taking Everton on from the foundations built by the Scot, with their highest points tally since winning the title in 1986-87 under Howard Kendall. That the Spaniard did this so quickly adds a dollop of salt to the wounds Moyes suffered, especially as Everton did the double over the Old Trafford side, with the 2-0 win at Goodison the final straw for the United board. Martinez fully deserves his new five-year contract.
Everton's improvement was one fewer goal conceded, six more scored, and nine more points. Of the sides that finished above them, Chelsea and Arsenal were beaten and the only real blot was the 4-0 defeat at Anfield. Seven straight games were won from March 1 to mid-April. The obvious cause for regret was that three of the last five games were lost and, while they included the game that helped Manchester City keep ahead of Liverpool, the opportunity to reach the Champions League play-offs will come but rarely. In the knock-out competitions, losing in the Capital One Cup at Fulham was a waste, and a late collapse at Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals cost Martinez his hold on the trophy won with Wigan.
Everton's use of loans came in for unfair criticism. Teams should use any legal means they can to bridge the gap between them and the super-rich, and taking surplus talent from Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona ensures it does not rot away. Gareth Barry, like Lukaku, has now been bought; it is a shame Gerard Deulofeu has returned to the Camp Nou but Martinez has taken the winger Christian Atsu from Chelsea, subject to a work permit, and will surely be looking to pull off similar deals between now and the closing of the transfer window. Muhamed Besic, who played in all three games in Bosnia's unlucky World Cup campaign, strengthens the midfield but there has not been too much activity for a club facing the additional burden of Europa League football. Youth and old Wigan players will only get you so far, though Arouna Kone will be eager to make more of an impact after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman shone at the back and going forward. John Stones and Ross Barkley, who both have extended contracts, will benefit from being a year older. One wonders if the stalling of Jack Rodwell's career since he left for Manchester City helps persuade them of the wisdom of staying put a while; Sunderland's new signing said a few days ago: "I would probably say don't sign now, I'd say get as much football as you can."
Everton cannot truly compete with City and the rest unless Bill Kenwright can finally find a real-life fairy godmother rather than just casting them. But maybe if they can just once take that final step into the Champions League then they could attract the kind of investment that would make signings such as Lukaku's the norm rather than the exception.
Everton kick off at 3pm on Saturday away to the champions, Leicester. It must be some relief that the City involved are not Manchester because home teatime Saturday games with Arsenal and Chelsea follow, a stiff enough examination of Everton's strengths before the transfer window closes. After the break Martinez's men travel to West Brom and, on a Sunday, host Palace, before a Saturday lunchtime date at Anfield.
Good as last season's fifth place was, Moyes finished no lower than eighth in his final seven seasons without cracking the top four, which shows just how hard it is to do; only in 2005 did he manage it. The wealthiest six all look in decent shape now. They will take points off each other, though, and the fact is that two of them will not make the top four, which could prompt minor meltdowns. Everton need to be ready to take a chance, and not just miss out once more.
At the same time, that chance may well not come and you have to feel that Martinez, a Wembley winner against Manchester City in 2013, should give full attention to the cups. The romance of the knock-out game is accompanied by a touch of realism when it comes to a club just lacking the heaviest financial punch.
Everton were excellent last year - but squad strength in depth could be the issue. If lukaku doesnt stay fit or the midfield centre gets disrupted so will their progress. likewise if someone tempts martinez away at some point. But the full strength team could give the big boys a real run this year.- wibble