Manager: David Moyes
Key Arrivals: Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar
Key Departures: Gary Naysmith
Key Returning Players: Anderson Silva, Victor Anichebe, Mikel Arteta, James Beattie, Tim Cahill, Lee Carsley, Tony Hibbert, Tim Howard, Andrew Johnson, Joleon Lescott, James McFadden, Phil Neville, Nuno Valente, Leon Osman, Alan Stubbs, James Vaughan, Joseph Yobo, Andy van der Meyde
Performance Last Season: The club from the blue half of Merseyside finished 6th on 58 points. They were 2 points ahead of Bolton and 2 points behind Tottenham, but had a vastly superior goal differential. In fact, only the big four had better ratios than Everton’s plus 16. They started out very well, particularly in their 3-0 victory over Liverpool in September, but battled inconsistency for the rest of the season. They were eliminated in the earlier stages of the Carling Cup, and at the first hurdle in the FA Cup, but this may have benefited them in the long run. Much like Tottenham in 2005-06, Everton was able to concentrate on the league without the fixture pile-up or injury woes of teams making long cup runs.
David Moyes was able to consistently use the same core players week after week in the league, as 8 Everton players made more than 34 starts, and a 9th had over 30 appearances in all. Unfortunately, one of the players that did not make 30 appearances, in Cahill, was one of the clubs most important. Much of the club’s poor form took place while Cahill was injured, and the team plays a much better brand of football when he is on the pitch. Everton was able to end on a highpoint, thumping Portsmouth 3-0 in their final appearance at Goodison, then drawing with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. European football awaits for Moyes and his lads, and hopefully this trip will last a bit longer than two years ago.
Strengths: I would say that Everton’s strength lies in their central defence. Alan Stubbs still has bit of football left in him, but the young partnership of Yobo and Lescott performed admirably last season and they have a bright future in front of them. They are also well protected in the middle of the pitch by Lee Carsley, who started every match in all competitions for David Moyes last term and has made the Goodison faithful forget about Thomas Graveson. Jagielka’s arrival will only make this area of the pitch even stronger.
Weaknesses: Everton’s glaring weakness is the lack of a true winger. The only player on the squad that really fits the bill is Van der Meyde, and after four seasons of injury and indifferent form at Inter Milan them Everton, Moyes really can’t count on him to fill that roll. That means whoever mans the wings for Everton will be playing out of position. Whether it is Cahill, Arteta, Osman, or one of the young strikers (Anichebe or Vaughn), all will run their socks off for the cause, but Moyes really must get outside help for his squad. Several players are still being linked to Everton, and it looks as if Beattie will be moving on and bringing in some funds, so the problem could yet be solved before the August transfer window closes.
If all goes right: This club finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League a few seasons ago, and that will be the ideal finish as long as Moyes is in charge. More signings will have to made, injuries will have to be avoided, and some youngsters will have to grow up very fast. It is not likely, but two weeks before the season starts optimism reins supreme.
If all goes wrong: Several extremely versatile players (notably Neville and Jagielka) allow Moyes to cope well with the inevitable injuries a club encounters during the long league season. But it is unlikely that Everton could cope with another extended absence from Cahill, and losing Johnson for more than a match or two would be tragic. If this came to pass Everton could fall back into the bottom half of the table. Relegation seems unlikely, but Everton do have a habit of following up good seasons with bad.
My Prediction: There is an awful lot of pressure on to teenage strikers to partner Johnson up front, and it looks as though most of the goals will have to come from the midfield. This makes the attack a bit one-sided, although the solid defence should keep Everton in most matches. I think they overachieved last season and will fall back to earth a bit over the next 9 months. I predict they will finish 8th, a solid season, but just short of European football.