Faith, Hope and Disparity

Previewing Everton's 2015-16 Premier League campaign, one that promises to be a challenging but defining one for Roberto Martinez on whom the jury remains out after two contrasting seasons.

The start of a new season... For those Evertonians of a certain vintage, old enough and fortunate enough to remember the glory days of the 1980s (and, indeed, the few years that followed before the reality of our decline started to bite) it was a time of wonderful possibilities. A fresh start, a clean slate and the realistic potential of claiming the title or a trophy at the end of it if everything went our way.

Nowadays, of course, the landscape of English football has been altered beyond recognition, the playing field tilted in favour of an ever-more powerful clutch of elite clubs who, it feels, have a lock on the top four and the Champions League places this coming season before a ball has even been kicked in anger. That dominance by Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City has been part of life in the Premier League for a number of years now – broken only briefly by Everton two seasons ago as the Red Devils faltered following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson and the season before that by Tottenham as Liverpool struggled to finish seventh – but it just feels stronger and more unbreakable than ever coming into 2015-16.

Where under the natural cycle of the old order, United would probably have needed to undergo years of reorganisation and rebuilding in order to find their way back to challenging once again for the top honours, under Louis van Gaal they have spent a fortune to buy their way back into the top four after just one season of turmoil. For the rabble across Stanley Park, the impact of the Gillette and Hicks debacle and the rampant spending on mediocre players that followed should have been far more damaging than it has been and they remain capable of out-spending most of the top flight to keep them in the top-five picture year in, year out.

Just 18 months have passed since Martinez's Everton had Champions League qualification in their own hands following seven wins on the bounce. But a combination of the retrograde steps made in 2014-15 and the fact that many of the teams around us have made positive additions to their teams mean that the fight to finish "best of the rest" behind the monied top four or five is going to be as competitive as it has been for some time. Put bluntly, without some truly top-drawer acquisitions before the transfer deadline, the Champions League looks as far off as ever.


One of the biggest frustrations for Evertonians over the past two or three seasons has been the lack of investment in key areas during the January transfer window, particularly in 2014 when targeted acquisitions might have made the difference between that eventual fifth-placed finish in Martinez's first season in charge and squeezing Arsenal out of the top four.

It's not just Everton managers who cite the mid-season window as a difficult environment in which to strengthen but our perennial budget contraints mean the need to get value for money is particularly acute and it appears to have trumped the old "speculate to accumuate" adage in recent years – in the past three Januarys the Blues have signed just four players for the total outlay of about £5m.

Fortunately, one of them has blossomed ahead of schedule into a first-choice starter and the most sought-after young centre half in the Premier League but David Moyes's acquisition of John Stones was a decision made very much with the longer term in mind; unlike the supposed bid for Alvaro Negredo that same month, the lad from Barnsley was not intended to make an instant impact. Signing Aiden McGeady from Spartak Moscow was a frugal move where the immediate benefit to the team's attacking options was traded off against a nominal fee to land him in January 2014 and Aaron Lennon made an almost immediate and positive impact. But neither signing was supported by significant further additions, particularly in attacking midfield and up front where they were badly needed.

Having accepted that budgetary rationale as underpinning Everton's lack of significant activity in the winter windows, Evertonians were expectant that this summer would see the manager address his squad-strengthening needs quickly and decisively. Martinez asserted at the end of last season that he and his team "[have] worked really hard since January to identify [our] targets," but while Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley were brought in early, the Blues will start the season with just those two additions to the first team. The net spend of just £4.25m so far may be a little misleading as both signings have much higher market values but the squad remains worryingly short overall.

Martinez has spoken on more than one occasion of his desire to bring in "two or three" more before the 1st of September but there is considerable unease among the fans that while clubs like West Ham, Stoke, Southampton, Newcastle and Swansea – teams we would rather not believe are now our peers but reality now dictates otherwise when you consider last season and the summer's transfer business so far – have all made positive moves to improve their teams, Everton have thus far stood still. New signings are no guarantee of success, of course, but they provide a fresh injection to a team and generate positivity among supporters. Indeed, how many Blues fans would not have been buoyed had Martinez signed a player like Wijnaldum, Clasie, Ayew, Affelay or Mitrovic this summer, regardless of how untried they are in the Premier League?

The Catalan has conducted some of his most meaningful business on the final day of the window, however, and it makes predicting how the Toffees will do this season somewhat difficult. Taking the squad as it is now, it's hard to see how the Blues will be able to make the step back up to challenging for the top four.

Everton summer transfer spend, 2005-2015

The arrival of Deulofeu will replace the direct running of Lennon and provide some more unpredictability and craft down the flank – albeit at the expense of some defensive presence in front of right back Seamus Coleman – and hopefully more in the way of service to Romelu Lukaku. Two years older than when he first arrived, he maintains he has developed as a player in the interim but his time at Sevilla suggests that he still has room to grow and mature into a reliably productive outlet.

Cleverley, meanwhile, may not have set the pulses racing when he was drafted in on a free transfer from Manchester United but the versatility he offers, his tidiness on the ball and his willingness to move it forward mean that he could surprise a lot of people this season. Capable of sitting in in defensive midfield or playing further forward in a more attacking position, he has the potential to fulfill a role that Darron Gibson looked capable of occupying when he was fit last season. Unfortunately for him, while he continues to be beset by injuries, the door is open to Cleverley to make that kind of starting role his own and hopefully ease a transition away from Martinez's over-reliance on Gareth Barry alongside James McCarthy. In the interim, the ex-Aston Villa loanee is likely to be the round peg that goes into the square left-midfield hole – he can go in that position but he won't be the best fit.

Without the distraction and extra burden of the Europa League, the Blues will hopefully be able to avoid the alarming mid-season slump that had some fans fearing another relegation battle following four consecutive defeats over Christmas and the New Year and develop some of the consistency that was more prevalent in Martinez's first season in charge. While the impact of the club's involvement in Europe was often over-stated last season – Everton's worst period of form came during the three-month hiatus from Continental competition and was, arguably, largely due to inflexibility on the manager's part in terms of tactics, personnel and formation – it unquestionably played its part, if only in terms of team selection, player rotation and mental fatigue.

Though it doesn't look likely to happen at the moment given the unbelievable spate of hamstring injuries that has hit Finch Farm this summer, Everton are also going to need better luck with injuries. Robbed of the services – or full capacity – of vital players like Ross Barkley, Lukaku, McCarthy, Stones and Coleman last term, the Blues' hopes of making a strong start were badly undermined from the outset and the team struggled for continuity with players of that level in and out of the side. Add in the significant loss of Steven Pienaar's talents for three quarters of the campaign and some of the supporting cast like Bryan Oviedo and Gibson and you can see some of the evidence for the drop-off in results from 2013-14 to last season.

That has heightened the need for squad depth and, pleasingly, the club's impressive youth Academy looks to be bearing fruit at just the right time to bolster the squad. Brendan Galloway has shown in his cameos at the end of last season and in his showing in pre-season that the lightning that produced the precocious talents of John Stones could yet strike twice with another 19-year-old central defensive prodigy. Tyias Browning, too, is showing encouraging signs of developing into a player capable of deputising at first-team level, either at right back – just as well, seeing as Tony Hibbert has already been ruled out of the first two to three months of the season – or in central defence. It would be folly to risk having to rely on two raw Under-21 players should injury strike the two first-choice centre backs, however, and Martinez has, pleasingly, reiterated in recent days that a central defender remains one of the three positions he is looking to strengthen before the month is out.

Similarly, Ryan Ledson's progress through the ranks continues and Kieran Dowell has shown remarkable maturity during his pre-season runouts but while they offer an exciting glimpse into what is coming down the pipeline at Finch Farm in the coming years, both are too young to be considered for regular Premier League action.

While a more settled team, some evolution in the manager's tactics and a better run of injuries could see Everton achieve a top-ten finish – and, with a bit of luck, end up in the Europa League equation come May – there is little doubt that in order to seriously challenge in the top six, seven or higher in the Premier League, Martinez has to add players of genuine quality this month rather than merely adding bodies in positions where he is short.

Everton have done a commendable job in keeping the club's most important and prized players at Goodison Park over the last couple of years and together they form an impressive nucleus of a potentially brilliant side, but there is still some way to go before the pool is deep enough and possesses enough match-winning talent. And the longer that situation persists, the greater the risk that the Blues' best players will leave. There is already a feeling that another mediocre season without Europe at the end of it will see us lose the likes of Lukaku, Stones and Mirallas come next summer. Some key additions this month could at least get us close to where expectations were a year ago and give those kinds of players a reason to stay.

If last season confirmed anything – and there was evidence of it in his first season, too – it's that the team is crying out for a top-class playmaker capable of breaking down entrenched defences with a killer pass, a moment of magic or a goal out of nothing. The likes of Pienaar and Leon Osman have offered that at times but with both reaching the end of their careers and suffering with injuries, neither can be relied upon with any great regularity. Such players are hard to find and usually come at a price but it's an area that must be made a priority this month if Everton are at all serious about getting back into the mix for Europe. That and help for Lukaku up front are two key areas where the side is currently lacking, but supporters are having to wait with bated breath to see if the manager and Board will follow through on the pledge to add in those positions.

Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu

Difference-makers? Cleverley and Deulofeu are the only two new arrivals so far

That he publicly stated back in March that he was not in the market for another striker was surprising to put it mildly, and while many observers have felt that he was always likely to add a forward before the deadline – even if only on loan – it's heartening that Martinez has now acknowledged the need for another goalscorer. As things stand, the loss of Lukaku for any significant length of time would cut our challenge for Europe off at the knees. Based on all the evidence of his two-year Everton career thus far, Arouna Kone looks several levels below what we need as a back-up or auxiliary striker. Steven Naismith is one of the most natural finishers at the club but lacks genuinely ability to lead the line as a lone striker in Martinez's chosen system. Despite his impressive scoring record, Kevin Mirallas is in the same boat, his best role being playing off a centre-forward or cutting in from the flanks. And Conor McAleny remains an untried and inexperienced alternative.

Moreover, it's not just cover for injury that another attacking option is required. Lukaku was dropped from the starting XI following the defeats against Southampton and Stoke over the Festive period last year in order to allow him to recharge, refocus and reset , and while it was during that period that Kone scored his one and only Everton goal to date, the Blues looked especially toothless without the Belgian.

Whatever happens between now and the 1st of September transfer deadline, the Blues will almost certainly kick off the 2015-16 campaign with a nearly identical squad to the one that finished the club's most disappointing season in nine years and that is raising concerns among fans about how we'll manage through what is a challenging run of 10 fixtures against eight of the best teams from last term. Pre-season performances are no reliable indicator of how well a team will fare when the real business gets underway but it's not unfair to assume that without some significant changes in training and coaching over the summer, with the same personnel will come the same challenges and shortcomings.

Again, if the squad looked and felt dangerously under-cooked coming out of last summer because of the World Cup and a disorganised pre-season, this time around it looks ill-prepared in terms of depth and quality. With the season starting a week earlier there is a danger that, should Martinez's business occur (as seems increasingly likely) right before the deadline, 10% of the season will have gone before the new signings arrive. From what we know from 2014-15 and the limited reliability of pre-season form, does this Everton side have the quality to get enough points from those first four games to make a good start to the new campaign?

The start could be all-important, too. The Blues have begun slowly in each of Martinez's first two seasons at Goodison but while 2013 was down to him bedding in a new possession-based system without a reliable goalscorer leading the line, the points dropped in August 2014 were massively disappointing and, the manager has admitted, they took a huge psychological toll on the players from which they took months to recover. Thanks largely to the silence on the transfer front since Deulofeu's signing was announced and the consequent lack of a feel-good factor going into the opening day, anything short of victory over Watford would immediately set supporters on edge and put the pressure back on the manager's shoulders. With Southampton, Manchester City and Tottenham to follow, collective morale would be in jeopardy from the beginning and even if new recruits were to arrive in the interim or around the deadline, precious points would be lost.

Everton points tally and league position after 4 matches, 2005-2014

Psychologically speaking the reverse is true, of course. Get off to a flyer in the first few games and everything will look and feel completely different – more so if Martinez can make those much-needed additions that would support a sustained challenge near the top of the table by the deadline. Everton have shown in the last couple of years that they can match most teams on their day and that there is enough talent in the existing ranks to compete with the best when everything is clicking.

Therein lies the rub in the context of a gruelling 38-game season. It requires Barkley to quickly rediscover and consistently produce the moments of brilliant form with which he lit up his first full season at senior level; Lukaku to receive regular service and remain lethal in front of goal for nine months; Tim Howard to regain the levels that made him a reliable if not infallible presence between the sticks; Martinez's maurauding full-backs to re-find their scintillating form; and the likes of Mirallas and Deulofeu to stay injury-free. Unfortunately, given how the elite clubs are spending and Everton's new rivals in the top 10 have also been capitalising on the television rights bonanza to add quality to their ranks, it also demands that the Blues as a collective be at peak level week in, week out if they are to challenge for the top four or five places. And that isn't realistic, even without the vagaries of injury crises, suspensions and the like.

With that in mind, many are hoping that Martinez places maximum importance on the cup competitions this time. Given the desire to progress in the Europa League, Everton's Capital One Cup campaign was nobbled before it could clear the first hurdle given all the changes the manager made to the line-up against Swansea in the third round, while the FA Cup arrived at a time when the team was still reeling from its horrendous run of results during the Festive programme.

While the domestic trophies have lost some of their lustre in the face of the riches and prestige associated with the Premier and Champions Leagues, they represent an achievable route to glory, silverware and Europe for Everton this season. In the same way that Martinez appeared to prioritise the Europa League last season, few fans would complain if he took the same approach to the FA and League Cups now... anything to end the trophy drought and get the Toffees' name back up in lights in an era where our proud and illustrious history is too easily overlooked.

Should he be able to achieve it, it would be a huge boon to Martinez who comes into 2015/16 knowing just how important the season is going to be for him personally. Following one expectation-defying campaign and one massively disappointing one, many expect the Catalan's third season to be a defining one in terms of his ability to lead Everton back to competing for the top honours. Free from the distractions of Europe and with a more focused pre-season behind him, the conditions should be right for him to convince a significant section of the fanbase who approach the big kick off this weekend with grave scepticism and prove he has what it takes to take this club forward.

Final position: 9th
Key player: Romelu Lukaku
Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku

Reader Responses

Selected thoughts from readers

Kieran Fitzgerald
Posted 06/08/2015 at 07:25:41
We are relying on too many people hitting their markers from the off.

Martinez as manager to change his tactics; Martinez as manager to play players in their proper positions; Martinez as manager to make the right subs at the right time; potentially our most dynamic player, Barkley to hit form and be consistent; our defence, as a unit and individually, to remain solid and stop the soft goals; our players to somehow avoid the ridiculous amount of injuries;the club to provide the right cash to strengthen the squad; Martinez to spend the money on the right players;the players, manager and club as a whole to show some passion.

The list is endless. If it as just one of two issues form the list, you could see some positivity. But when you look at how much has gone wrong over the course of just last season, it's hard to see how this one will start any better.

As I mentioned earlier in another post, I am usually as excited as a child at Christmas coming up to the start of a new season. I hate being this negative and this fearful of again becoming apathetic, I just hope the club as a whole proves me wrong.

Steve Hogan
Posted 06/08/2015 at 08:14:59
As usual Lyndon, a comprehensive and well crafted article. You cover all the main worries and concerns Evertonian's have at the moment. This really is a desparate time for the club and it's fans.

The lack of investment on and off the field is simply playing a game of russian roulette with the clubs future, and I don't rule out a long battle over the course of the season, to stay out the three relegation spots, should injuries to key players rob us of any sort of goal scoring return.

Quite simply, something has to give in terms of ownership of the club, the silence from the club is deafening, despite the sad fact we sit bottom of the table in terms of transfer spend with just two days to go before the start of the season.

Desparate times.

Eddie Dunn
Posted 06/08/2015 at 09:25:17
Excellent article Lyndon, you cover every facet of our predicament.

Much will depend on whether Martinez can capture the fans' imagination with some meaningful additions to the squad before the deadline. At present we seem to lack confidence, and have little momentum, after the oddly planned warm-up games, and injuries to key players. The constant use of players out of position will continue to frustrate both players and fans alike, and the stubborn use of only one winger deprives the team of vital width.

It will be interesting if the fit-again Baines can get forward more, as last season he was carrying an injury, and didn’t seem himself. I see Cleverley as an important capture, and hope he is allowed to push forward, where for England he linked well with his strikers.

We still lack cover in vital areas, as stated above, but even with some vital new faces, I doubt that we will see anything higher than a mid-table finish. Last season the whole division was relatively average, with only Chelsea really getting consistency. We were saved by the loan of Lennon, who showed the lads how to work hard and gave us more width, and the poverty of some of the teams around us.

The likes of Stoke, Palace, Southampton and Swansea all have strong teams and will be in the way of any top half finish. So better luck with injuries and some late new faces will be vital if hopes of a challenge for the Europa places is to materialise.

Personally, I fear that we will under achieve this season, and we will see a similar scenario to last season. A lack of pace in midfield, players afraid to shoot, and an unbalanced side lacking drive and width. The defence will continue to suffer if the statuesque Barry is placed in front of it. His lack of mobility, and serial fouling will cost us again this term.

Martinez seems to like to see him swapping places with Stones or Jags, as soon as one of them ventures forward. This stubborn dependence robs the side of the ability to move quickly from defence to offence, and is one of the reasons for our inability to get players up quickly to support an attack.

Finally the manager should play to Lukaku’s strengths and not his weaknesses.

My prediction is a sad 14th. (I hope I am wrong).

Dave Ganley
12 Posted 06/08/2015 at 09:52:17
For me, the buck stops with Martinez. IF he manages to change his dour playing system into a fast free flowing system, IF he changes his training regime to get the players fully fit and raring to go to be able to last the full 90 minutes, IF he stops playing players out of position and IF he picks players on form rather than favouritism then we may have a chance.

I have always thought that we have a decent enough squad, although new players are always welcomed, but last season we vastly underachieved and that was solely down to Martinez, his tactics and his failure to get his players fully fit resulting in a multitude of soft tissue injuries.

To be honest, I really don't buy into the excuse that shaky confidence after the first couple of games dictated how the season panned out. If the players confidence is that shaky after 2 draws then there is no way they would even have become a professional footballer. No that is just a poor excuse as was the Europa distraction. Any successful team has to cope with extra fixtures and if you are striving to get into european competition then you can't blame the same competition when things go wrong. If we had got into the champions league then I don't think the same excuse would have been made.

Martinez seems to be out of his depth at this level. Without wishing to start comparing Moyes with Martinez, one comparison I will make is that can you imagine Moyes's players coming out in public complaining about changing the system as Martinez's players did just after Christmas last season?? We all knew the system wasn't working, probably since the mauling we suffered against Chelsea, yet he still stubbornly persisted with it. Phrases that we hear, such as that he doesn't consider corners or free kicks proper goals, that he would rather win games 5-4 rather than 1-0 and we play with the ball so we train with the ball make me shudder inside that he is in fact in charge of our great club. You have to earn the right to play with the ball and by that I mean we have to hunt in packs to retrieve the ball and break at pace. We are just not fit enough to do any of that.

I agree that we shouldn't read too much into pre season results, however pre season should give us an indication into the playing style we hope to achieve into the coming season and it appears that we are going to persist with the same dross as last season. I really can't see a master plan to fool anybody by playing slow dross pre season and then blowing teams away by fast free flowing football once the season starts.

I fear that if we start the season as we ended the last then all the decent players we have will decide enough is enough and jump ship to clubs that can actually challenge for honours and not stay at a club that is heading in a downward spiral and where players are blatantly not enjoying their football.

I am sorry to be so negative about the upcoming season and I really hope I am wrong about Martinez. I hope he makes me eat my words and also serves me a healthy dose of humble pie because that would mean we are doing well. Unfortunately I don't see that happening and as a result I am dreading the new season. For me last season was the worst for many, many years and that is because of the talent we have in the squad and the mind numbing dross we served up. I have never seen so many people leave the stadium early, even when we were winning. The atmosphere was also among the worst I have ever witnessed, at times you hear a pin drop. There is a lot of work to do to win back the fans as well as the players and I just don't think Martinez is up to it. As I say, I hope I'm wrong but fear I'm not. Very worrying times ahead for our great club.

Jim Potter
13 Posted 06/08/2015 at 09:55:12
Spot on Lyndon.

We need:-

The much heralded No 10 for the inspiration and spark that we lack. And jeez did we seriously stink in the excitement and imagination departments last season. (And please, let's not get on Ross' back this year. Let's lift his confidence and not destroy it).

At least one seasoned and reliable central defender (we are after all two down on last season). A pre-requisite is in ensuring that he is not Equadorian and has never resided in (or even visited) Wigan.

The extra striker - as Kone (Kone A) is in reality .... Kone Z.

Lukaku (when provided with the right service) can be very good. His first touch though needs to be improved (massively) - as he metamorphoses too often into Mr Bean as the ball approaches his feet. My belief is that like Samson, he needs to grow his locks back - his strength and skill will return (medical fact).

We are not going to win the league. But we can look to play some great football. Go forward Roberto, not sideways and backwards. Possession is good - but it's not entertaining or fruitful when there is no end product.

Their goal is THAT way!!! Barcelona tikka takka ends up in the opposition area and invariably in their net. Ours .... doesn't. It kind of stays around the half way line and .... peters out ... painfully.

What happened to that positivity of Roberto's first season? Sin meirdo turned into meirdo last year. The phrase itself is now a parady. 'No fear' of Everton exciting their fans being more accurate nowadays.

'Possession' of a trophy - that should be the holy grail this season. Amen to that.

James Stewart
14 Posted 06/08/2015 at 10:39:35
Great article and a realistic prediction. We have an unbalanced squad with no depth. It overachieves simply because we have a core of excellent players who could play in a better side, Baines, Jagielka, Lukaku, Stones, Coleman, Mirallas. Beyond that though the drop in quality is drastic and should any key players get injured we are screwed.

Going into the season I have no faith that Stones will not be sold at the last hour which could seriously derail us before we even get started. We have started we are not a selling club but by our pathetic investment total it quite clearly states we are.

Colin Grierson
16 Posted 06/08/2015 at 10:51:54
A good read that!

As a naturally optimistic person, I tend to predict we will do better than we end up doing. The exception was Martinez's first season when my prediction came to fruition.

Last season, however, I was miles out. I'm still an optimist, but having seen the team play in a style that must only give confidence to our opposition, it is hard to predict anything other than mid-table mediocrity this season and that is my optimism kicking in!

Realistically, without strengthening in the centre of defence, No 10 position and up front, we must be a fixture that daunts nobody in the league. If I were an opposition manager or player, it's a fixture I would relish given last season's showing.

My Optimistic predicted finish: 11th
My realistic predicted finish 15th

Drew Shortis
18 Posted 06/08/2015 at 10:59:00
I'm willing to withhold my judgement until the transfer deadline. If we can secure an experienced centre-back, a backup striker, a couple of wildcard loans and crucially the number ten we so desperately require then my whole outlook would be transformed. I remain convinced from what I have heard that Martinez has these three key positions firmly in mind and is waiting to get the best deals possible given our limited resources.

If these three key signings fail to materialise then I will be very concerned about our prospects. I just can't believe, after publicly stating that these are the positions required, the club would fail to come through and get the business done. With all of the clubs around us strengthening their squads with some quality signings it would seem suicidal to do nothing and I don't think the board is blind to this fact.

For me the two signings we have made so far will both be excellent additions and it is good to see a crop of youngsters edging nearer to first team action. It has also been heartening to see us stand firm and keep the core of our team together. For me it all comes down to those three crucial signings. Get them right and, without Europa to contend with, we could see a return to Martinez's first season exploits. Fail to deliver and I see another season of mid table mediocrity.

Dick Fearon
22 Posted 06/08/2015 at 11:21:18
Lyndon, you have covered all our pre season bases and there is not much to add except to fasten our seat belts or in my case under my doctors impossible orders, keep as calm as possible.

For the sake of our great club going through a lengthy and difficult period plus our loyal fans I hope we get the rub of the green.

My faith in Martinez is near breaking point so I pray for a slice of good fortune in what is to come.
Mike Childs
23 Posted 06/08/2015 at 11:32:21
Good article as usual Lyndon hopefully the questions you ask can be successfully answered. Would love to see him prioritize an FA cup run like he did Europa last year.
Tony Marsh
24 Posted 06/08/2015 at 12:08:50
We can debate as much as we like about Martinez and how good or bad he I as a coach. The truth is Martinez does not have the financial clout to buy the standard of player that can implement his football philosophy. We can all see what he is trying to do on the pitch but the team isn't good enough to carry out his plans.

Without massive investment in the squad and better calibre of players brought in it will always be a constant struggle. We can study graphs and data and stats untill the end of time but it doesnt change the facts. The whole club from top to bottom is under funded and nothing will change unless we get change at the top.

Like Goodison Park Kenwright is past it and unfit for purpose. Bill needs to go quickly as all all other discussions on the team and manager are irrelevant while BK remains.

We are like the Man City of a few years ago before the big money boys came in. Shite ground, poor owners and living in the shadow of a Global giant. Only way to join them is with lots of money. End of story.

Aidan Wade
26 Posted 06/08/2015 at 12:45:18
A realistic synopsis of the hopes and fears, thanks Lyndon.

I think we have good players, a better ideal 11 + subs than the other pretenders to 4th spot. That might be blue tinted glasses.

If I could see just one innovation this year, I would like to see much more urgency when we don't have the ball, try and win the ball back no matter where it is on the pitch. I think we did this better in the first season under Martinez. I think in our Nadir last season I saw we had made the fewest tackles in the premier league. If you watch Barca in the rare instances they lose the ball, the first thing they do is try and swarm the man in possession and win it back. Opposition defenders will often prefer to hoof it to touch instead of risking a sideways pass in their own box.

I do not want us to be competing for the fair play award. I don't mean we should be breaking legs and taking names but simple closing down, forcing errors. We let too many average teams take their time to build from the back while we try and reset in our own box and hope we have a chance to counter. Sometimes it works but if you let any PL team from Chelsea to Watford play balls into your box for 90 minutes, sooner or later they're going to get a goal.

Love the new TW Magazine style by the way.

Dean Peamum
27 Posted 06/08/2015 at 13:15:10
Good article Lyndon but sadly could be titled "This Is Everton" or written for the start of any season in the last 8-10 years.

It shows me three things, firstly, financially we can’t compete with the rich kids and thats why we’ve become their feeder club. RM doesn’t want Stones to go but we all know if Chelski offer the right price he’s gone.

Secondly, we have a manager who is hellbent on playing the game his way but doesn’t see that he hasn’t the personnel to do this. Also I doubt he has a Ben Drew CD in his collection - he has no Plan B.

Thirdly, we have a chairman whose ambition is to finish in the top ten in the PL and maybe have a wee cup run. Last season's Europa League adventure masked our usual hopeless domestic cup runs.

I hate to rain on the parade but looking at our first 10 fixtures (and IF Stones goes at the last minute) I think we could be bottom six by then. Really hope they prove me wrong.
Dave Lynch
28 Posted 06/08/2015 at 13:41:01
This will be a defining season for not only the manager but also for Bill Kenwright.

The under investment cannot surely go on, the vast majority of fans I know are getting very twitchy indeed and are coming to the realisation that without a new owner or massive investment we are doomed to years of mediocrity without the hope of a trophy.

We cannot keep on blaming Sky and its bias toward the big 4, they have pumped more money into the game than anyone and trust me when I say that if Everton where taken over by a billionaire, they would be all over us like a rash.

We need major changes starting at board level, the rest will follow.

Craig Walker
30 Posted 06/08/2015 at 13:59:27
A brilliant assessment of the task facing Everton this season.

I've rarely felt as flat as this with the advent of a new football season. I like Roberto and desperately want him to succeed but I just have a bad feeling about this forthcoming campaign. We have too many players who have too many off days. As you say, Lyndon, we can give anybody a game on our day but too often we simply fail to turn up.

The atmosphere at Goodison last season was often soporific because there was nothing to excite the fans. Sometimes the crowds' impatience spreads to the players and you could see it getting to them. I'm just hoping that expectations are low this season and that might work in our favour. I think good performance against Watford is imperative but we've been here before against newly-promoted teams (QPR anyone?)

Please Bill, give our manager some funds and put some hope into us long-suffering fans. If we can't have hope before a ball has been kicked then what is the point?

Alan Humphreys
31 Posted 06/08/2015 at 14:14:28
Martinez has a fair few flaws but for me it’s his over reliance on certain players and in particular the way he sets his midfield out.

The two holding midfielders hamstrings us every game, no pun intended. The likes of Barry and McCarthy are limited in that they have one job and do that alone and little else. I could see the merit of playing two holding players if our full backs maruaded up the flanks but that aspect of their game seems to have been curtailed under the new coaching regime.

One holding player and the likes of Cleverley/Gibson/Barkley accompanying them with two wide men and the much vaunted "no.10" behind Lukaku. This allows cover but adds some brains to the braun in the engine house.

Fran Mitchell
32 Posted 06/08/2015 at 14:53:44
We have experienced 2 very contrasting seasons under Martinez. Personally, neither of them truelly represent our position, both in terms of ability and club status.

The year we finished 5th we were on a high, exciting young players added to a solid base and a 'new style' helped us perform above ourselves. Last season we suffered from a seeming lack of confidence which manifested itself through a lack of ideas, creativity and eventually a loss of hope.

Moyes' leaving was bound to result in some turbulance, the base of the team getting older and some more experienced players failing to adapt to a new style (coleman and baines).

This season, personally, needs to be the foundation of what is to come. The shape and style of the team needs to be defined, as well as the role to be played by key players like Barkley, McCarthey and Lukaku. These 3 need to define themselves, and show themselves to be among the best of their positions. In my opinion, these 3 players should have 40 premier league goals between them. But the style must suit.

Can Martinez build these foundations? I have my doubts, and if after 12 games the team looks out of shape and undynamic, then he has to go. But we live in hope.

He has to adapt. All the best managers adapt, Guardiola, Mourinho, Wenger, Heynckes etc. they never have just one style, every season there are adaptations. Martinez must show he has learned, that his footballing vision is not some abstract philosophy but is real, is concrete. He must show his tactics, his training and planning are based on the football on show. He has yet to do this.

The ingression of Galloway, Ledson, Dowell and Browning should be part of the plans. They must train with thr first team, be part of the squad but without pressure nor expectation. They should be allowed to make and learn from their mistakes. Barkley suffered because he had no honeymoon period. We waited so long to see him, that we expected him to perform like a world-beater on a consecutive basis. This pressure made him suffer when his form dropped and he entered a rut.

Barkley must get out of this rut, but to do this he needs a defined role in the team.
Lukaku is an immense talent, we must not forget this. All strikers of his age drift out of form, have issues to be resolved. But we have not had a striker as potent in many a fans lifetime. But the team must play to his strenghts.

A top-8 finish would be progress, breaking the top-6 will be difficult due to our small squad, but top-8 while maintaining touching distance of te top-6 should be our main aim.

For the top positions of 5-8 there are many teams that will feel they should be there: swansea, southampton, tottenham, liverpool, west ham, crystal palace, newcatle, stoke and of course Everton. So 5-12 will be a competative area with little room for error. We must show ourselves to be amonst the elite of this 'middle group', or the only way will be further regression.

Christopher Timmins
38 Posted 06/08/2015 at 16:52:25
Lyndon, never had so many such few expectations for the season ahead. We needed to acquire certain players in certain positions and look what happens before a ball is kicked in anger we potentially lose our main striker and centre half for the start of the season.

Given the pre season spend we won't finish ahead of any of the following:

Man City
Man United
Liverpool and

The race for seventh is on!

Kevin Tully
39 Posted 06/08/2015 at 16:54:57
I find it difficult to believe we will be starting the season with Tim Howard in goal. He was statistically the worst 'keeper in the Premier League last season, costing us at least 10 points. I have said all along, if he is not replaced and he starts to cost us games and points again this term, then Martinez deserves all the criticism that will be flying his way.(If he had the funds available to replace him of course!)

We can't place all our hopes on Barkley to come good as our creative force in this side either, he certainly looked as if he went backwards last season. As always, we require an injection of funds, without having to rely on selling our best young players. If we can keep Stones and bring in some quality, we have a decent squad that should be match for most this season.

Unfortunately, it looks as though we will have to sell to buy, and if the player to be sacrificed is Stones, then most of that money will have to reinvested on three central defenders! I can see us dipping heavily into the loan market again - such is the life of an Evertonian these days.

Paul Thompson
40 Posted 06/08/2015 at 16:59:47
As the typically excellent article from Lyndon who accepts it is extremely difficult to predict prior to the transfer window shutting. We now have a target of three more in but that may be four if and probably when Stones goes.

Preseason indicates that we are better organised and filter, but with the same flawed and limited set up. Without much better signings that can change that dynamic midtable mediocrity is probably optimistic.

Robin Cannon
41 Posted 06/08/2015 at 17:02:28
A comprehensive and pretty much accurate assessment of our chances.

Although you did depress my by point out (most likely accurately) that Tom Cleverley is going to be stuck in an unfamiliar left midfield role as we continue to play someone (anyone) out of position there rather than actually signing someone. It's infuriating.

Our first XI, if firing, is a match for most. I don't trust the manager at all after his approach to last season - the difference between that and the season before was hugely depressing, and I don't buy that it was because we were "sussed" in any way, but rather that we approached games in a far more lackadaisical manner. If everything falls into place perfectly then we'll be challenging...but how often do things fall into place perfectly?

Brent Stephens
42 Posted 06/08/2015 at 17:48:34
Excellent, measured coverage of so many issues. Enjoyed that.
Ross Edwards
43 Posted 06/08/2015 at 20:34:30
I personally think that the talk I've seen on Twitter and elsewhere about us being in a relegation battle this season and struggling is a massive exaggeration. OK, we're the lowest spenders in the PL this summer but would you really say that our best XI is worse than the likes of Stoke, Palace, Villa, Newcastle, Sunderland and the like?

Absolutely not. I think we'll be finishing somewhere around 7th-10th this season, with the vast majority of pundits thinking the same. Depending on the 3 in comings Roberto is hoping for, if it's Austin, Shaqiri and Van Dijk, we could certainly push for a top 6 finish. Obviously that looks to be a total pipe dream the way this window is going.

As for the manager himself. He must adapt and be less stubborn tactics wise. We all know Einstein's quote about insanity, doing the same things and expecting a different result each time. That definitely applies 100% to Roberto.

It is crucial that we beat Watford on Saturday. If we lose or draw it would be a disaster considering the fixtures we have at the start of the season. If we can get to the end of October, the Sunderland game in the top half of the table, I think we will have a very good season considering the fixtures we have between November and the beginning of January with 9 or 10 winnable fixtures.

However, if by the Sunderland game we are struggling for points, confidence and form it could be another difficult season and Martinez could be under massive pressure at that stage.

After last season he cannot afford another poor start because patience levels amongst the fans are not what they were last summer.

As for expectations this season, we have to go all out for the cups this season because 20 years without success for a club of our size and history is completely unacceptable. We have never taken the League Cup seriously and in truth it is probably our most realistic chance of ending that draught. Top 8 and a trophy would be an excellent season in my book and with the team we have, silverware is certainly possible. We have to believe that we can end that draught sometime soon.

What I'm saying is, give Roberto until late October/early November and see where we are. If we're in the top half by that stage it's a good start and a platform for a very good season. If we're in the bottom 6 or worse then you can call for his sacking if you like.

Matthew Burgess
45 Posted 06/08/2015 at 22:05:34
We should be ok - Martinez has to box clever in the final few days of the transfer window to make the additions we need and that's been the trend for a few years now so no surprises, though admittedly for fans it is frustrating and unnerving.

There's a lot of quality still at the club. I'm fully braced for Stones to leave for a £30+ million offer and the club will need to act swiftly to bolster the squad. It'll be alright...

Frank Wade
46 Posted 06/08/2015 at 00:27:30
As usual Lyndon you have all the bases covered. Hard to feel optimistic about the coming season, yet if we could just entice Charlie Austin and Yarmolenko into a blue shirt, I for one would have a totally different outlook.

The major worry I have is Lukaku as our key player. I just don't see the quality needed at this level. A player who will shine in the highlight reels from time to time, but for me, watching every match, he lacks many of the basic skillset of centre forward play such as touch, ball control, holding up play and shielding the ball, movement to make space for others and for a pass to himself, appreciation of the offside rule, heading the ball, sharpness, alertness etc. His strength, as shown predominantly in the Europa Cup, is in breaking quickly, turning defence into attack, where he can use his strength. His fight, passion and urgency shown in his first game for us against West Ham and in the home derby a short time later have long since disappeared.

My second worry is the playing of Barkley or Naismith in the square peg role in wide midfield in pre-season. It didn't work last season and won't work. It's disappointing that we will start without Lennon, who turned our season around when he arrived with his work rate and ability to pop up with the odd goal and assist. He seemed to boost the whole team. I just hope that we have some agreement/arrangement that we will be back in for him when the price is driven down by his contract situation. Unlikely though, with the Deulofeu purchase.

On the plus side, today we have James McCarthy signing a new contract. I think we have a good atmosphere among the players at the club where players such as Coleman, Stones, McCarthy etc get on really well together and enjoy each other's company and appreciate where they are. They also have recent experience of seeing another of a settled group, Fellaini, move to a big club and being unhappy there. The grass is not always greener.

We also have the promise of the younger first team squad players who did very well in pre-season. Maybe the dream of building a talented young squad from within will work as it did long time back with the Busby babes, SAF's class of 92 and to a lesser extent recently with the Saints, until half the team deserted the cause for the bench in a neighbouring parish. I hope to see more of our young players get playing time especially Galloway, Browning and McAleny. Ledson, Dowell, Kenny and Bobinson also look to have potential to make the first team, but need experience and are longer term. Maybe the future is Blue and these lads are our modern day equivalent of Wright, Hurst, Husband, Harvey, Royle, Whittle.


Martin Mason
47 Posted 07/08/2015 at 16:12:05
A very good article Lyndon, it's good to see an understanding of the reality of the position of EFC in the grand order of things and how precariously we're balanced for next year. I personally despair because of RM and it was the Arsenal game that finally did it for me in that no matter who we bought world wide we would have still been an embarrassment because we played like a bottom of the first division club, clueless and spineless and unfit to even provide training oposition to Arsenal

I desperately hope to see us do well but I see 19 other teams now who'll be up for it more than us. OK we may not go down but we have the potential to. If we were ever to go down then I can't see Everton bouncing back, that is the big worry, we are in decline and it could well be Sheffield/Leeds type or worse.

Trevor Lynes
48 Posted 08/08/2015 at 13:45:14
Excellent article identifying more or less every deficiency. I would like to add my comments on our coaching and scouting systems.

Our coaches seemingly only develop defenders. Perhaps we need an attack minded midfielder of the past to join our staff and get youngsters developed who would be able to replace positions occupied by Osman and Pienaar.

Good management and coaching should identify positions where the existing players are ageing and have youngsters ready to step into these positions.
Baines has suffered with the loss of Pienaar and Osman is still our most creative midfielder.

It is no coincidence that defenders generally win the club awards at the end of each season.This is an indictment of our coaching methods in my opinion.

I cannot understand why we wait until the end of each transfer window before we make any movement to sign players. It is like vultures circling to pick on whatever is left of a carcase when all of the best meat has been eaten. We seem to be the only club in the league to operate in this manner.

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