Guardian writers’ predicted position: 8th (NB: this is not necessarily Andy Hunter’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 8th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 150-1
Grand designs for Everton’s proposed stadium have been unveiled 30 months after Bramley Moore dock was identified as the club’s preferred site and decades after the search for a new home began. Now it is a matter of securing planning permission, £500m of funding and overcoming Unesco world heritage concerns over a derelict location before construction can start on Farhad Moshiri’s plans for Everton’s future. In the meantime, the billionaire majority shareholder will expect to see progress on his substantial investment in Everton’s present. That too is overdue after several false starts.
Unlike the stadium impressively envisaged by the architect Dan Meis, the manager Marco Silva has foundations to build on. For a sizeable chunk of last season – the three months bookended by the two Merseyside derbies, more or less – Silva appeared at risk of joining Sam Allardyce and Ronald Koeman on a lengthy list of poor appointments made on Moshiri’s watch. On this occasion the craving for stability, the appreciation of the mess Silva inherited and the desire to avoid another expensive managerial change prevailed. Everton were rewarded with a highly impressive finish to the manager’s debut campaign, one that not only showed his methods taking root but helped improve the fractured relationship between crowd and team. They have something to build on together.
“The feeling of our fans and players enjoying what we are doing is everything I want as a manager,” Silva said after Everton’s humiliation of Manchester United in April. He elaborated: “Good goals, quality, solid without the ball and we kept pressing them high and never give them a chance to feel comfortable. We gave a quiet afternoon for our goalkeeper too.”
That 4-0 lesson at Goodison Park, Everton’s biggest win over United in 35 years, was undoubtedly the high point of the season but not an isolated performance during the run-in. Everton won five of their final eight matches, keeping six clean sheets, including home victories against Chelsea, Arsenal and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s sorry side. Of the starting XI against United the influential Idrissa Gueye and Kurt Zouma are no longer on Everton’s books, although Silva has not abandoned all hope of re-signing the Chelsea defender on a permanent basis. Gueye is a significant loss, having got his head down and flourished last season when others would have sulked after being denied a dream January move to Paris Saint-Germain.
Both need replacing in what may prove a hectic end to the transfer window – with Mainz’s Jean-Philippe Gbamin earmarked as Gueye’s successor – and yet there is greater stability within the Everton squad than for several years. With United and Arsenal vulnerable, to say the least, Silva’s side are among those who see Europa League qualification and bridging the gap to the top six as achievable targets. Ending a trophy drought that has reached 24 years – the joint-longest in the club’s history (and the second world war was a factor in the other) – is also on the manager’s bonus list. As the imminent deal for the Juventus striker Moise Kean and £50m-plus bid for Wilfried Zaha confirm, there is work to be done beyond filling the gaps left by Zouma and Gueye.
Everton ended last season strongly but an upturn that began with a committed draw against Liverpool in March, the last point taken from Jürgen Klopp’s challengers during the title race, was not without lapses. Silva’s side have some way to go to convince consistently. Their form nose-dived in December after Jordan Pickford’s error gifted Liverpool an injury-time winner at Anfield. That illustrated a recurring problem that drove the manager to distraction – the team’s tendency to lose focus and/or confidence following a bad mistake or when conceding a goal against the run of play. A soft touch, in other words, which partly explains Everton’s move for an experienced title winner in Fabian Delph. The 29-year-old does not fit the transfer profile outlined by the director of football, Marcel Brands, who ideally wants to invest in players aged between 20 and 25/26, but he was always prepared to make exceptions that represent good value. At an initial £8.5m from Manchester City, the England international fits that bill.
Re-signing André Gomes on a permanent deal from Barcelona was a priority for Silva and accomplished for £22m plus a minimum of fuss. The manager will be looking to his compatriot to bring more leadership and not only shine when the going is good. Silva also wants to sign competition for Séamus Coleman at right back – most likely a loan – while the Italy international Kean represents the latest attempt to solve a longstanding problem in Everton’s attack. At 19, the Juventus academy product can not guarantee consistency in front of goal but he is an exciting, intriguing capture that reflects the club’s desire to build long term. He also eases the burden on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who thrived with the backing of Silva and the crowd during a much-needed run at centre-forward last season but is the first to admit his finishing must improve.
Despite the ambitious moves and the prospect of more incomings, Brands and Silva are having to tread carefully with club finances. It is a lasting consequence of the dreadful recruitment under Koeman and Steve Walsh, and Allardyce’s mercifully brief but costly foray into the market, that Brands’ summer has again been consumed by a need to reduce Everton’s bloated squad and soaring wage bill. Wages were a worrying 77% of turnover in the club’s last published set of accounts, £145.5m in 2017-18, which also revealed an operating loss of £22.9m. Everton are dependent on shareholder loans from Moshiri, who has invested £250m in the club and increased his stake to 77.2% in June. At the time of writing it is four players in and more than a dozen out this summer, and the case can be made quite easily for a dozen more to go. Easier said than done given the lucrative contracts handed to Oumar Niasse, Cenk Tosun, Theo Walcott, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Bolasie.
Silva, now assisted by the former Arsenal and Fulham striker Luís Boa Morte, believes Everton can compete for the top six with a few key additions. He oversaw a vast improvement in Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane and Calvert-Lewin last season while, with the exception of Yerry Mina, every signing made last summer enhanced the side. But another eighth-placed finish was not what Silva, Brands, Moshiri, Lucas Digne, Richarlison, Bernard and others signed up for. It is time to push on, both on the pitch and on the dock.