Everton's limited budget has added to their appeal in recent seasons. David Moyes' perennial overachievers have been largely forgiven for their attritional approach and championed as the plucky paupers who can mix it up with the big spenders.
But this campaign, the Blues are proving more likeable than usual. Moyes has sprinkled some attacking inspiration on his squad, and Everton have announced themselves among the most entertaining teams to watch in England.
They're still playing 4-4-1-1, but with an emphasis on slick passing and fluid forward play that invites both full-backs to charge forward and casts Marouane Fellaini as the rampaging support striker who sets the tone in the final third.
Moyes has adapted to modern times and embraced a more expansive approach. And he's managed to evolve his tactics without losing the blood-and-guts physicality that's kept Everton riding high through the years of his reign.
At Swansea on Saturday, they were irresistible. Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar ran the home side ragged on the left flank, while the strike pairing of Fellaini and Victor Anichebe were simply too much for the Welsh side to handle.
This was not football the way Swansea fans are used to watching it. In their last home game against Sunderland, the Swans enjoyed 64 percent of possession and 93 percent pass accuracy (Whoscored.com). Those numbers dropped to 48 percent and 81 percent, respectively, against Everton—who simply didn't let them play.
Moyes' team averaged an attempt on goal every three minutes. They set the tone in every area of the pitch and ran out the most dominant of victories to climb to third in the league, just three points behind early leaders Chelsea.
There were success stories everywhere.
Fellaini conquered Manchester United in Everton's opening game of the season, and the towering Belgian did for Swansea, too. Baines enjoyed more touches than anybody else on the field and appears a player in the highest of confidence.
Everton were without Nikica Jelavic, but Anichebe stepped up, and the Nigerian collected his second goal in two games to suggest he may well be a factor this season, injuries permitting.
New signing Kevin Mirallas was also on target. The 24-year-old was top scorer in the Greek Superleague last season and offers both a nuanced attacking threat and the kind of tireless work ethic Moyes demands as a prerequisite. Operating on the right, he had a fine game against Swansea.
Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Phil Neville went about his business tidily in central midfield, and Leon Osman did the same alongside him—freeing those around them to move forward without fear and locking down the space in front of Everton's defense.
The game finished 3-0, and Everton could easily have won by five or six—continuing a fine start to the season that has many people talking up their chances of qualifying for the Europa League or Champions League next season.
"Pushing for a European place, I think, is a realistic thing for Everton," said Moyes, as per the Daily Mail.
Baines clearly agrees, as he told the Mirror:
This is as good an Everton side as any I’ve played in. The last time we were at this level was the year we got to the Cup final (2009). We had a really strong squad then. It got broken up but we’re getting back to that.
Optimism is rightly high. Everton have matched the start they had to the 2004-05 Premier League campaign, which ended in a fourth-placed finish and qualification for the Champions League.
There's a long way to go, but Moyes and his team will dare to dream they can do it again.
You might say the Everton manager is the Premier League's closest thing to Robin Hood—refusing to be backed into a corner by the bejeweled powers that be and assembling an eclectic band of merry men to fight his cause to the death.
Everton are fighting the good fight. And this time, they're doing it with style.