While Everton’s lively start to the season found supporters considering the possibilities of European football after a three-year absence from the Europa League, the past week has certainly soured things for both the club and its fans.
A dominant, albeit slim 1-0 victory over Manchester United on opening day was followed by an unexpected 3-1 demolishing of Aston Villa at Villa Park and a 5-0 victory in the League Cup against lowly Leyton Orient.
However, in their third league fixture, West Bromwich Albion quickly brought David Moyes’ fighting Blues back down to Earth with a 2-0 triumph in Birmingham to sow the now almost ubiquitous seed of pessimism at the club.
Worse news was still to come during the international break as both the scheduled loan move of highly-rated Belgian midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe was denied by FIFA for Club Brugge’s failure to file the paperwork on time and Marouane Fellaini was purportedly caught stating his desire to leave Everton to the Belgian press.
Regardless of last week’s occurrences, though, Everton supporters should still look forward to a fascinating campaign for a number of reasons.
For the first time since 2009-10 season, Moyes was finally able to bring in several, versatile first-team players through clever spending in the transfer window.
Aside from the re-signing of Steven Pienaar after his brief spell at Tottenham Hotspur, the Toffees also took advantage of Scottish Ranger’s plight to bring in Steven Naismith on a free transfer, followed by Kevin Mirallas, Bryan Oviedo, and promising 17-year-old winger Matthew Kennedy from Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League.
All of these new signings are regular senior internationals, excluding future Scotland player Matthew Kennedy, and arrive from well-established clubs in some of Europe’s second-tier leagues. Pienaar, Mirallas, and Naismith also provide great options in attack, while Oviedo brings quality cover for England international Leighton Baines at left-back.
Although Everton lost Jack Rodwell in order to fund those purchases, the club is still in a stronger position in terms of first-team players than it was last year and should hopefully be boosted by the continuing development of Francisco Junior in center-midfield, which should ease the hurt of Odjifoe-Ofoe’s scrapped arrival.
More importantly than signings, Everton has finally managed a decent start to the season. For the past three campaigns, they struggled consistently until January, when they have turned it around to finish among the Premier League's top 8.
Will Everton Finish in the Top Four?
With two victories from three league matches, Moyes' men could engineer a continued rise up the table with a home victory against Newcastle United and away at Swansea City in the next two weeks; fixtures they won 3-1 and 0-2 respectively last season.
If they can also improve their squad in the winter transfer window, where last season they picked up impressive performers Darron Gibson, Nikica Jelavić, and Steven Pienaar on loan, they should easily challenge for the top 6, behind the bigger spending clubs in London and Manchester.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard recently came out to say, "The spirit at the club is incredible. There are no egos and the guys at the club fight for each other," in an interview with the Daily Star Sunday.
Everton are well-known for their ability to punch above their weight. As Howard mentions, this is largely due to the player's incredible confidence in their teammates and willingness to sacrifice for the better of the team. With less money comes smaller egos and an acknowledgment that Everton will only be able to perform well and keep supporters happy if they leave every ounce of energy on the pitch and every bit of pride off it.
Many pundits have already began to mention the possibility that the Merseysiders might crack the Top 4 in the EPL for the first time since the 2004-05 season—when they qualified for the Champion's League, but fell at the first hurdle in qualifiers.
Although the club cannot compete financially with the likes of both Manchester clubs, as well as Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and neighbors Liverpool, they have a good enough blend of quality and fight to usurp the traditional powers and at least qualify for the Europa League next season.
Surely, Everton have what it takes in terms of management and first-team caliber to make the Top 4 in 2012-13. But, will they be able to maintain their early successes with a small squad and the pessimism that takes over when losing points to struggling clubs such as QPR and the typical relegation candidates?
We will have to wait and see.