Note: We're previewing each team in the Premier League in advance of the coming season. We started with the promoted teams, and now we are moving up the table (more or less), skippingand saving them for last.
Everton finished 6th last season after a strong start, failing to qualify for Europe because both cups were won by teams outside the top 5. Manager David Moyes moved on to Manchester United, and the Toffees went and got Roberto Martinez from Wigan to take his spot. Will Everton take the next step under Martinez? I sat down with Brian Lewis, co-manager of SBN's Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey, to preview their 2013-14 season.
Coming Home Newcastle: For a good while last season, it really looked like Everton were making a serious run at a Champions League berth, but eventually they settled into 6th. What are your thoughts on how the season ended versus how it began? How do you feel about barely missing out on the Europa League?
Brian Lewis: We were all ecstatic to see Everton start the season quickly rather than sit around the bottom until Christmas. We were in 5th at Christmas, and it was exciting to have a realistic shot at making the Champions League. I think the bigger disappointment about missing out on Europe came from the FA Cup where we were thrashed in the quarterfinals by Wigan at home. We should have been in the final but the team bottled it. I can't be too upset because we improved over last season, but it would have been nice to see Moyes off with a trophy or Champions League football.
CHN: How do you see the Roberto Martinez era differing from the David Moyes era? What tangible differences have you seen so far?
BL: The biggest difference is going to be tactics. David Moyes was always conservative, sometimes to the detriment of the team. Martinez seems to be a little more interested in going forward and trying out things like a 3-5-2 as opposed to Moyes' almost constant 4-5-1. So far Martinez has been willing to experiment, but it also appears he understands he can't throw out a 3-5-2 immediately and hope it works. Everton has enough issues in the defense already, and going to 3 backs could compound the problems.
CHN: Sorry to bring this up: That new crest is awful. The silver lining, if there is one, is that the supporters got the board to back off, and the current iteration will only last one year. Are you optimistic that this wrong will be truly be righted?
BL: I'm still waiting for the board to get something right at Everton. Bill Kenwright has the nickname Kenwrong for a reason. The commercial side of Everton has been a disaster for years. We get less money from merchandising than clubs like Swansea, West Ham, and Aston Villa. For a club with Everton's history that is just inexcusable. The crest will be better only because the fans will be involved with picking something so the club can't screw it up too badly.
CHN: Tim Howard is still the man between the sticks, but Martinez has brought in former Wigan loanee Joel Robles as his eventual replacement. How soon do you think the changing of the guard takes place?
BL: I think Howard is able to play out his current contract which ends in 2016. Everyone liked to criticize the American keeper last year, but the statistics weren't as bad as the commentary. The difference last year was that rather than having a run of form or two where he was untouchable, Howard played at the same level for most of the year. Howard is still one of the top goalkeepers in EPL, and the Robles move will only help him remain focused during the entire season. Maybe at best Robles gets the nod in 2 seasons, but it would require a loss of form never seen by Howard to give Robles the nod.
CHN: Given your current squad, what would your ideal Starting XI be?
Pienaar - Fellaini - Gibson - Mirallas
Baines - Distin - Jagielka - Coleman
I went with a 4-5-1, though I think a 3-5-2 would be great for the club.
CHN: What do you expect Roberto Martinez's Starting XI will be?
BL: This is what Martinez will probably kick out this weekend against Norwich. Darron Gibson is hurt so I left him out, but he would probably slide into Osman's's place.
Pienaar - Fellaini - Osman - Barkley
Baines - Distin - Gibson - Coleman
CHN: What would have to happen this season for you to consider it a success?
BL: A successful season is top 7 and a deep cup run to the quarterfinals or later. If Moyes was still involved I'd expect a little more, but any managerial change is going to cause some upheaval, but the talent of this squad means anything below 7th means the squad played below their level.
CHN: Where will Everton finish in the table?
BL: I think Everton finishes 6th again when Liverpool just can't get the squad to gel after Luis Suarez departs.