Is landing Lukaku and keeping Barkley enough for Everton?
For the first time ever this season, there is an alternative route for 13/2 top four wannabes Everton to get into the Champions League. It means the Toffees must take the Europa League seriously.
Winning this so-called lesser continental competition yields the reward of a place among Europe’s elite for the following campaign. UEFA’s innovative incentive means Roberto Martinez has another avenue to make good on what he said last summer when he convinced Everton chairman Bill Kenwright to give him the job of succeeding David Moyes.
The Toffees boss certainly has the tools to deliver Champions League football to Goodison Park in the future, but it has proved costly. Kenwright sanctioned smashing the club’s transfer record to make Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku’s loan spell from Chelsea permanent.
Bringing him to Everton for keeps meant an outlay of £28m, and a return on that investment from the player personally, not to mention the results it is expected to generate both domestically and in Europe, will be expected.
Lukaku looked like he was labouring on international duty at the recent World Cup in Brazil, but must better his 15 Premier League goals at Goodison last term. It’s 18/1 he is leading marksman in England’s top-flight.
Ivory Coast international Arouna Kone, who missed almost all last season with a serious knee injury, provides experienced backup to 21-year-old Lukaku in attack. Martinez is keen on another wide option to supplement January arrival Aiden McGeady, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith and Steven Pienaar, however.
Chelsea could again come to Everton’s aid, if a deal can be struck to take Ghana international Christian Atsu, who was certainly not shy about putting balls into the box at the Brazil finals, to Merseyside on loan.
Retaining Ross Barkley from the clutches of Champions League clubs is a battle Martinez has won for now. The attacking midfielder, who is rapidly becoming both the Toffees and England’s great hope, is tied down to a new contract. How Barkley performs in Europe will be watched intently by potential suitors.
Much the same applies to fellow Everton youngster John Stones. A smart buy from Barnsley, this composed defender has also committed his future to the club that saw something in him at Oakwell and fast-tracked him into the team when Martinez was without skipper Phil Jagielka.
Stones may have to move out of central defence and cover right back, however, as Seamus Coleman is expected to miss the start of the season with a hamstring problem. Martinez still has Toffees stalwart Tony Hibbert available to play there, though, and extended his stay at Goodison for another two years.
Everton fans will have watched Leighton Baines’ poor performances in an England shirt at the World Cup and hope they were a blip, perhaps brought on by tactical shortcomings or the climate. He remains a hugely consistent performer for his club, and can always be relied upon to produce something from set pieces.
If Baines does see his Toffees form ebb, though, then Costa Rica’s Bryan Oviedo, who had to watch his country shock the world from the sidelines with a broken leg, will soon return to action. Veterans Tim Howard, in nets, and Sylvain Distin, backed up by Paraguay’s Antolin Alcaraz, complete a settled and strong defence.
Martinez has also added to the engine room by bringing in Bosnia anchorman Muhamed Besic. Utility, and not just to create competition for places, also has a lot to do with this transfer. For former club Ferencvaros, Besic played across the backline, while turning out in the holding role for his country.
A permanent transfer for Gareth Barry, and notably handing him a three-year contract at Everton, is eye-catching. This is about more than just ensuring he reprises that hugely impressive deep-lying partnership with James McCarthy. Barry has European experience, both from his time at Aston Villa and Manchester City, which will serve Martinez well.
Forgotten man Darron Gibson also chipped in with a couple of goals in continental competitions during his Manchester United days too. Odds of 20/1 say the Toffees will lift the Europa League; that makes them the joint third-favourites alongside holders Sevilla and emerging Italian force Fiorentina.