What a season the 2013-14 campaign was for Everton. The Toffees were close to earning a spot in the Champions League, actually controlling their own destiny for a top-four finish after a late-season win over Arsenal, though the Toffees ran out of steam down the stretch and finished a distant fifth.
Still, the Merseyside club had an excellent year and were involved in some of the most exciting matches of the season. Now with a spot in the Europa League and even higher expectations, Everton won't be sneaking up on any opponents this year.
They begin the 2014-15 campaign with an away tie against newly promoted Leicester, per the club's official Twitter account:
If they can keep the band together—convincing Chelsea to let them hold onto Romelu Lukaku for another year while keeping other clubs away from their own stars—and also make a few key signings on the transfer market, Everton will again be dangerous in 2014-15 and challenge for a top-four spot.
Let's take a look at their 2014-15 schedule.
|Everton 2014-15 Schedule|
|Aug. 16.||3 p.m. BST||Leicester (a)|
|Aug. 23.||3 p.m. BST||Arsenal (h)|
|Aug. 30.||3 p.m. BST||Chelsea (h)|
|Sept.13.||3 p.m. BST||West Brom (a)|
|Sept. 20.||3 p.m. BST||Crystal Palace (h)|
|Sept. 27.||3 p.m. BST||Liverpool (a)|
|Oct. 4.||3 p.m. BST||Manchester United (a)|
|Oct.18.||3 p.m. BST||Aston Villa (h)|
|Oct. 25.||3 p.m. BST||Burnley (a)|
|Nov. 1.||3 p.m. GMT||Swansea (h)|
|Nov. 8.||3 p.m. GMT||Sunderland (a)|
|Nov. 22.||3 p.m. GMT||West Ham (h)|
|Nov. 29.||3 p.m. GMT||Tottenham Hotspur (a)|
|Dec. 3.||7.45 p.m. GMT||Hull (h)|
|Dec. 6.||3 p.m. GMT||Manchester City (a)|
|Dec. 13.||3 p.m. GMT||Queens Park Rangers (h)|
|Dec. 20.||3 p.m. GMT||Southampton (a)|
|Dec. 26.||3 p.m. GMT||Stoke (h)|
|Dec. 28.||3 p.m. GMT||Newcastle (a)|
|Jan. 1.||3 p.m. GMT||Hull (a)|
|Jan. 10.||3 p.m. GMT||Manchester City (h)|
|Jan. 17.||3 p.m. GMT||West Brom (h)|
|Jan. 31.||3 p.m. GMT||Crystal Palace (a)|
|Feb. 7.||3 p.m. GMT||Liverpool (h)|
|Feb. 11.||7.45 p.m. GMT||Chelsea (a)|
|Feb. 21.||3 p.m. GMT||Leicester (h)|
|Feb. 28.||3 p.m. GMT||Arsenal (a)|
|Mar. 4.||7.45 p.m. GMT||Stoke (a)|
|Mar. 14.||3 p.m. GMT||Newcastle (h)|
|Mar. 21.||3 p.m. GMT||Queens Park Rangers (a)|
|Apr. 4.||3 p.m. BST||Southampton (h)|
|Apr. 11.||3 p.m. BST||Swansea (a)|
|Apr. 18.||3 p.m. BST||Burnley (h)|
|Apr. 25.||3 p.m. BST||Manchester United (h)|
|May 2.||3 p.m. BST||Aston Villa (a)|
|May 9.||3 p.m. BST||Sunderland (h)|
|May 16.||3 p.m. BST||West Ham (a)|
|May 24.||3 p.m. BST||Tottenham Hotspur (h)|
Part of what Everton must do this year is improve against the league's top competition. Against teams in the top seven of the Premier League table—Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United—they took just 15 of a possible 36 points.
While hardly a shabby mark—and while it means they were quite proficient against the league's other 13 teams, taking 57 of a possible 78 points—being able to take points from the big boys will be required if they are to crack the top four this year.
Of course, in any other season in Premier League history, the Toffees would be playing in the Champions League next year, as OptaJoe noted:
I think we can all be quite happy with the way things have gone.
Getting back in Europe is a step in the right direction and it’s what we all wanted. It’s what we probably deserve as well. We have played well enough to have earned that.
We were clinging to the hope of reaching the Champions League so to have that in the first season under a new manager shows where we are at.
Indeed, Roberto Martinez has given this team a new approach and even more reason to hope that a top-four finish is in the offing. Everton will be appointment watching next season, that much is for certain.
As always, the home and away Merseyside derby with Liverpool will be the highlight of the campaign. Last year's 3-3 draw in November was one of the matches of the season, though January's 4-0 loss to Liverpool was arguably the low point of the year for the Toffees.
Everton will desperately want to take more than a single point from their bitter rivals this time around. You can go ahead and circle those dates on the calendar, because they'll be some of the top matches of the year for sure.
There will be high hopes at Goodison Park next season but finishing fifth or higher will be a major challenge. Manchester United are sure to be better. Tottenham likely won't be stagnant either. And surpassing one of this year's top four finishers to get into the Champions League would take a special season.
It would also take a special summer transfer window. Martinez worked his magic last year, and if he can replicate it again this season, the Toffees will once again be a team to be feared.
A top-seven finish is virtually guaranteed but long gone are the days when that type of finish will suffice. With a taste of Europe once again, Everton's ambitions will remain high.