Everton season preview

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Roberto Martinez Everton arms foldedAllsportRoberto Martinez: Can the new man better last season's sixth place finish.

What's changed since last season?
Everything (or maybe it just seems that way). Anything not chained down seemingly had reason to fear the Goodison exit door this summer. Everton will start the new season amid a raft of changes on and off the pitch.

Roberto Martinez and his newly assembled coaching team are the select few chosen to take Everton to the next level, with an expectant bunch of supporters treated to a productive pre-season. The new manager has instilled subtle changes to the football, leading to a patient approach designed to bring the best out of a talented squad.

Some supporters are unable to overlook the relegation at Wigan, others point to the FA Cup success against Manchester City. That said, only time will provide the answer as to which milestone is a truer representation of Martinez and his managerial ability.

On the playing front, the arrival of Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Barcelona punctuated the trio that Martinez knows well from his Wigan days. Joel Robles, Arouna Kone and Antolín Alcaraz all following their former boss to Merseyside. These astute signings and a willingness to give the younger players a chance leads to a squad stronger than the one beaten at Chelsea on the final day last season.

Encompassing several areas, the changes stretch beyond the coaching and playing staff. Alongside a new Goodison pitch, there are the annual kit changes and, finally yet importantly, 'that' badge. Almost 25,000 signed the petition against this unsightly creation. Unfortunately, supporters will simply have to grin and bear it until the 2014-15 redesign.

Key to this campaign?
Turning draws into wins. After racing out of the blocks last season, the wheels of momentum hit the buffers when Everton began to throw away points via late goals. The concessions in the latter stages of matches cost Everton a place in Europe.

Elsewhere, fitness is a key factor. Despite the additions to the squad, Everton lack the depth of the other European contenders and cannot afford too many injuries. A push for Europe could rest on the avoidance of injuries and suspensions.

Predicted finish/realistic goal
Following upheaval on numerous levels, plenty are bound to expect a season of transition, but there is no reason why Everton should downgrade expectations for the forthcoming campaign. Europe is a realistic target, though a Champions League spot is likely to remain out of reach unless everything clicks swiftly into place.

The media often label Everton as 'punching above their weight' yet aiming anywhere below the top six is an underselling of the talent within this group. Europa League should be the bare minimum in terms of targets.

Make or break season for...
Logic dictates patience towards Martinez, thereby ensuring the make or break seasons reside at the feet of the players. There are several possibly playing for their Goodison futures.

To describe his first season as indifferent is overly kind and Steven Naismith must display a substantial upturn next season, although recent matches hint at better days ahead. Another on the brink is Magaye Gueye, but the ship may have sailed on this one; the French youngster currently falls short on skill and fitness.

One to watch
Loan signing Gerard Deulofeu has the potential to add a touch of class in attack, but the brightest prospect is Ross Barkley. Showing glimpses at the end of last season and encouraging signs in pre-season, the young midfielder is primed to break into the first team.

Since his main positional rival, Leon Osman, has struggled for form during pre-season, Barkley certainly has the raw materials to make the advanced midfield position his own in the weeks and months ahead.

In addition, watch out for Bryan Oviedo. Criminally underused last season, the Costa Rican has impressed in pre-season and looks primed for greater involvement. Also, keep an eye out for John Stones. The composed young defender is developing into a viable option at centre-back and right-back.

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