There’s a saying in sports that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. This, I suppose, is the sports version of “don’t do stupid [stuff].”
For Everton football club, the best deals it made this offseason were the purchases of two players who were with the team last year. The players are Gareth Barry (who was on loan last from Manchester City) and Romelu Lukaku (on loan last year from Chelsea). American fans will remember Lukaku as the powerful forward who gave the U.S. team nightmares at the World Cup (but was otherwise disappointing for Belgium).
The Barry purchase means that Everton retains the midfielder who shielded our back four so effectively and started many an attack with his calm, astute passing. The Lukaku purchase means that we retain our leading scorer (by a big margin) and, on his day, a fearsome presence up front.
Unfortunately, when your key purchases are players you had last year, the prospects for leapfrogging the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal aren’t great. Indeed, with Tottenham and Manchester United under new coaches and having money to spend, it’s not clear that we can hold off the two teams that finished just below us. Playing in Europe on Thursdays won’t make the task any easier.
Everton will have the services of two new players, Muhamed Bešić (a young defensive midfielder) and Christian Atsu (a young winger). Bešić was excellent for Bosnia at the World Cup, especially against Argentina. Atsu had his moments for Ghana, especially against Germany. Atsu is on loan from Chelsea.
However, Everton will be without the services of Ross Barkley, its best young star, for several months, probably. We have no replacement for his unique talent.
The season began today with a 2-2 draw at newly promoted Leicester City. It’s almost always tough to begin the season away against a team spurred on by fans who have been starved of Premier League matches. And I doubt that Everton will be the only good team to drop points in Leicester this year.
It seems clear, however, that we will have a very difficult time matching last year’s top-five finish.