Everton: Young Blues Set to Take Next Step in 2012-13
Once again it was a squad of hard workers, regular performers and consistent tactics which helped the Blues punch above their weight.
David Moyes' continual belief in his squad and their willingness to fight for him and for each other often proved enough to overcome teams of greater technical ability or more financial muscle in the transfer market.
It is a squad, however, littered with key players who are in the latter stages of their careers: goalkeeper Tim Howard is 33; club captain Phil Neville is 35; defender Sylvain Distin is just one year younger; and playmakers in midfield Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are both into their 30s (as will be Phil Jagielka in a matter of days).
They do, however, have some younger talent looking to make an impression on the first team.
For the continuity of the club, it is important that these players continue to gain minutes in the first team and establish themselves as key parts of the side, as the likes of Seamus Coleman and Apostolos Vellios managed to do last term.
Let's examine who of the younger players could have an impact this term.
Jack Rodwell, age 21
Rodwell is almost unable to be classified as a youngster these days, having been a part of the Everton squad for four seasons already.
What he does need to do this season, however, is turn his immense promise into actual regular performances of sublime quality.
Rodwell is strong, athletic, fearless and aggressive; he boasts a range of passing. He can run with the ball at his feet, is decent in the air and doesn't mind shooting from range.
But until now, he has done all of this too infrequently when it matters. He needs to impose himself more on games and certainly has the technical ability to do so. Injuries have held him back at times, such as last season, but Rodwell needs to push on now and become the first name on the Everton team sheet.
Ross Barkley, age 18
Another midfielder, Barkley started last season in the Everton team but ended up playing just nine times over the whole campaign in the end as more senior players returned from injury. His talent on the ball is undeniable, and he made a favourable impression when he got his chances initially.
Playing from the right flank, he was maybe not as comfortable as when he operates centrally; Barkley is seen by some Everton fans as the biggest talent to come out of their Academy system since Wayne Rooney.
Barkley will no doubt get further chances to shine this season, perhaps in cup competitions initially, and should regard anything more than a dozen appearances as his initial target.
Shane Duffy, age 20
Central defender Shane Duffy came back to Everton from a loan spell at Scunthorpe last season to make his Premier League debut.
Which of the four will have the biggest impact for Everton this season?
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, he is an imposing presence at the back for the Blues and offers a good option at the back for Everton, impressing in his four league games.
Quite aside from Everton, Duffy can also have an impact at international level this season with the Republic of Ireland, who could be looking for some changes in personnel after Euro 2012.
Conor McAleny, age 19
Conor McAleny is a striker now, and like Duffy, he enjoyed a loan spell out in the Championship last term after having a brief impact on the Everton first team.
A forward with a keen eye for goal and the ability to break forward at pace, he could be one of those players who gets an early chance next season as Moyes looks for a new front choice partner for Nikica Jelavic.
McAleny may spend further time out on loan this season but certainly has the capability to make an impact for the first team.
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