Everton won’t break into the top-four this season, but they’re slowly building towards it. Pre-season discussion always hinges on three questions, and this year is no different. Who will be sucked into the relegation quagmire? Who will be crowned Champions? Can anyone punctuate the “Big Six”? Like the chewy, sticky and unrelenting nature of their candy-namesake, Everton have found themselves inescapably wedged within the last question.
Despite Marco Silva’s managerial promise and Everton’s indulgence in the transfer market, gaining entry into the gilded land will remain an aspiration, rather than a realistic target. True, Arsenal and Chelsea will be unknown quantities, owing to a change of boss, but there is little chance of either side falling so dramatically.
Cause for excitement
While talk of an assault on the defended ramparts of the top six is optimistic at best, and naïve at worst, there is still cause for excitement at Goodison Park. Last year, stale football under both Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce brewed apathy, with the only thing that stirred a reaction anywhere near to the fervour synonymous with the Evertonian faithful being the cries for Allardyce’s removal. Their wish was granted, and the Toffees finally managed to get the man they chased so hard following Koeman’s departure mid-way through last season.
A lot has already been said about Silva and time will only tell whether those pronouncing him to be one of the brightest coaches in the game are true or not, but one thing is for certain: a quiet energy buzzes through Merseyside. That hum grew louder with the arrival of Lucas Digne, an accomplished left-back from Barcelona. The £18 million signing addresses an issue that has plagued Everton in the last couple of years, namely the fact that Leighton Baines – Everton’s greatest left-back since Ray Wilson – is not getting any younger.
You would be forgiven in thinking that Digne’s defensive qualities would be lacking, given he arrives from the Mecca of attacking football – the Nou Camp. Yet the 25-year-old is everything a modern full-back needs to be, combining attacking intent with defensive steel. During his year-long loan with AS Roma from PSG, the Frenchman was the top-ranked tackler in Serie A and impressed so much that he sparked a tug of war between the Italian club and Barcelona – Barca’s hijacking of Malcom’s move from Bordeaux has precedent, it would appear.
However, being an understudy to Jordi Alba was always going to be difficult and Digne found himself struggling for game-time, even if he was consistent when called upon. Crucially for Silva and Everton, though, was the pressing-game Digne had to adapt to in Spain. Silva will demand quick transitions and intense-pressing from his players and their newest left-back is well schooled in this philosophy. So, Everton have bought a player learned in the dogged defensive style of the Italian game and a student of the pressing approach Silva will look to implement – a rather good education, indeed.
Though some may baulk at the £50 million fee Everton dished out for Watford’s Richarlison, Everton’s only other purchase this summer, the Brazilian and the Frenchman’s arrival are statement signings. Perhaps the biggest compliment one could pay is that either player would not look out of place at any of the top six. Neatly, then, we return to the long-term project that forms the backdrop of Farhad Moshiri’s £200 million-plus investment drive. The Toffees clearly harbour ambitions of one-day buying membership into the “Big Six” and are recruiting players who would belong.
For now, though, Everton must be patient with Silva. Defining the club more than anything currently is potential; to think otherwise would be dangerous and lead to short-sighted decisions. It might temper expectation, but this year should be seen as a bedding in period for Silva. Of course, a top-ten finish is mandatory and anything less would be a backward step. Issues and questions still linger but complementing Silva’s schooling period should be an aim to find success in the cup competitions.
Everton won’t “blow the bloody doors off”, as Michael Caine once quipped, but they could quietly nudge it open, take a peek inside and glimpse their long-term aspiration.