Even by Everton’s standards, it was a summer of upheaval and turbulence.
Another managerial exit, an unexpected managerial appointment, low profile signings and a high profile departure.
Yet the Blues have responded with a start to a Premier League season that they haven’t matched since their fourth place season of 2004/05.
With the upwardly mobile momentum stalled by an international break, we asked Everton Correspondent Phil Kirkbride to give us his assessment of Everton’s season so far.
And then you have your own opportunity to tell us how you think the Blues have fared.
First of all, Phil Kirkbride’s assessment.
How has the season gone so far?
Well. You could even say very well, given everything that has been stacked against the team and new manager. A return of 14 points from the opening seven games, and lying fifth in the table at the international break, is a wholly positive return. The three home wins came against sides Everton ‘should’ be beating but, as last season showed, the club’s form at Goodison is not a given. A run of tougher fixtures awaits but a point at Manchester United, amid the backdrop of injuries to key players, spoke volumes for the early work under Rafa Benitez.
The defeat to Aston Villa was disappointing and the League Cup exit was maddening but, otherwise, the season has started well.
Verdict on the new signings?
Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend have been excellent and between them have scored eight goals and assisted four times.
Not bad for less than £2m in transfer fees. In the recent past, Everton have spent 10 times that amount on one player and not had anywhere near that level of return.
Along with Abdoulaye Doucoure, they have been the key to the Blues’ impressive start.
Salomon Rondon is gradually working his way towards full match fitness and is sure to have more of an impact as the season progresses. Asmir Begovic has done ok in his League Cup appearances but we have yet to see Andy Lonergan.
How has the manager performed so far?
Very well. To compound a transfer window restricted significantly by financial fair play concerns, Rafa Benitez has had to deal with a growing injury list. But, especially in recent games, the absence of both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison has not stopped Everton picking up points. Few gave the Blues a prayer at Old Trafford last weekend but Benitez’s game-plan was executed perfectly by a group of players who knew their jobs inside and out.
It’s clear that the players are responding to Benitez’s methods and his hands-on approach to training at Finch Farm.
Biggest surprise so far
The new signings. When you spend less than £2m on a pair of wingers, expectations are naturally lowered. And while Evertonians could see the talent in Gray, and understood that Benitez rated Townsend, there was still little belief that the pair would have such an impact.
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What are the team missing?
A clean bill of health, for one. Injuries continue to make life harder for Benitez, despite how well he and the team are coping.
But in terms of positions and players, Everton still need greater strength in depth in central midfield as well as a right-back to provide competition for Seamus Coleman.
The club are looking to do business in the January transfer window so they may find solutions there.
Do you think they’ll do better, worse or about the same as pre-season predictions?
On current form, Everton, Benitez and the players will prove many pre-season predictions wrong and finish closer to the top six than people believe.
But how close to the top six, who knows at this stage? The Blues have made a positive start to the season but are still very much a work-in-progress.
With the talent in the squad, Everton should have finished higher than 10th last term but flaws in their mentality meant the season fizzled out. Benitez is looking to rectify that and, if he can, then the Blues will defy pre-season predictions.
Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think …
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