English Premier League 2014-2015 Season Preview: Everton
After working wonders at Wigan Athletic, manager Roberto Martínez joined a bigger club with more prestige and expectation at Everton and set about turning it into more than just Liverpool’s “other” club. The Toffees quickly gained the respect of the Premier League, playing attractive football and getting good results throughout the year.
Eventually, Martínez ran into the problem that many new coaches find after an initial period of success, bolstered by the freshness of a new voice after years of the same. The team’s form dipped a bit in midseason, particularly in a stretch of five games with just one victory against major competitors for European places. Everton slipped to seventh place, its lowest since three consecutive draws to open the season left it in 15th at the start of September.
Despite following up that lull with seven straight victories, the damage was done. After flirting with the Champions League places until January, Martínez’s side could only finish fifth, which seemed disappointing after the early promise the team showed.
Still, Everton exceeded expectations. Martínez’s system is such that familiarity makes it easier for the team to find results, so the Toffees should be able to hit the ground running in 2014-15. Only one of their trio of promising on-loan players, Gerard Deulofeu, was not signed permanently. Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku did sign, and box-to-box midfielder Muhamed Bešić should step right into the starting lineup and provide an extra thrust from behind the forward line.
With a bit more consistency, Everton, with American goalkeeper Tim Howard entrenched between the posts, could again push for a coveted place in the Champions League.
KEY ARRIVALS: M Gareth Barry (Manchester City), M Muhamed Bešić (Ferencváros), F Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
KEY DEPARTURES: M Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, loan ended)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ross Barkley parlayed his first extended chance with Everton’s first team into a World Cup call-up. The 20-year-old playmaker was accustomed to playing on loan to Championship sides under David Moyes, but Martínez made him a major piece in last year’s squad. His form and whether he can avoid a sophomore slump in 2014-15 could be vital to the Toffees’ success.
KEY STAT: Everton hasn’t won a league title since 1986-87, when it won the old First Division, and hasn’t won any trophies since taking the F.A. Cup and Charity Shield in 1995. Last season provided a glimpse into what could be possible for the Toffees, as Martínez carried them to 21 league victories — their most since that 1986-87 title-winning season.
STADIUM: Goodison Park (Built in 1892; Capacity 39,571)
An ownership split created the need for a new stadium for Everton. Formerly playing in Anfield, Everton’s owner broke away from the Anfield stadium owner and took over Goodison Park’s athletic fields. Archibald Leitch designed multiple stands, part of which were slightly damaged during World War II bombing, to give the venue a distinctly soccer use.
Goodison was the first English soccer stadium to have undersoil heating, the first to have a scoreboard and has the distinction of St. Luke’s church tucked between the Goodison Road Stand and the Gwladys Street Stand near the corner flag. The team doesn’t play early Sunday games out of reverence for the church.