The November international break is upon us and it's time for a look back at Everton's 2014/15 season thus far. The Toffees' campaign got off to a slow start, but Roberto Martinez's side began to give Evertonians hope before the Premier League resumes play next week. Here's how it went down and what we can look forward to for the rest of the season:
After an excellent 2014 World Cup for Bosnia-Herzegovina, 21-year-old (at the time) defensive midfielder Muhamed Besic signs a five-year deal with Everton.
Romelu Lukaku joins Everton on a five year deal. The £28 million fee paid for the striker sets a club record.
Everton played five friendlies before the season got started: Tranmere Rovers, Leicester City, Porto, Celta Vigo, and Paderborn. The Blues drew twice and lost three times, setting the table for a disappointing start to the season.
Everton started the Premier League season at King Power Stadium against newly promoted Leicester City. The Blues went up twice on the Foxes, but a late Chris Wood equalizer forced a draw. This game was the first indicator of defensive problems that would linger through the beginning of the season.
Goals: Aiden McGeady, Steven Naismith
August 23rd. Everton vs. Arsenal. Premier League.
Arsenal were the first visitors to Goodison Park in 2014/15 and it looked like Everton would run away with three points at the end of 45 minutes. However, Arsenal were able to take advantage of Everton's defense and mount a comeback with a late Olivier Giroud equalizer.
Goals: Seamus Coleman, Steven Naismith
Notable Injuries: Steven Pienaar, groin.
August 30th. Everton vs. Chelsea. Premier League.
After two disappointing draws, Everton were looking for redemption against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. But it wouldn't happen, and Everton were down 2-0 before five minutes had passed. Despite the early goals, and the though the final score was 6-3, Everton were in the game until nearly the end. If the shaky defense wasn't a glaring issue before this match it definitely was afterwards.
Goals: Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith, Samuel Eto'o
September 13th. Everton at West Bromwich Albion. Barclays Premier League.
This was an encouraging game for Roberto Martinez's squad. Everton went on the road to the Hawthorns and picked up their first league win and kept a much-needed clean sheet. This match was also significant as Romelu Lukaku got his first goal since he was bought from Chelsea in late July.
Goals: Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas
September 18th. Everton vs. VFL Wolfsburg. Europa League.
Everton welcomed Wolfsburg to Goodison Park as they began Europa League play. The Bundesliga team were dismissed with a 4-1 thrashing, their only goal coming on a late free kick.
Goals: Ricardo Rodriguez (OG), Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines, Kevin Mirallas
Notable Injuries: Seamus Coleman, head injury.
September 21st. Everton vs. Crystal Palace. Premier League
After a win in the league and one in Europe, the Blues came out strong and scored early against Crystal Palace at home. Despite the early goal, the opponents scored three and Crystal Palace left Liverpool with three points.
Goals: Romelu Lukaku, Leighton Baines
September 23rd. Everton at Swansea City. Capital One Cup.
Arguably the low point in Everton's short season came against Swansea in the Capital One Cup. Everton were shellacked 3-0 in Wales and crashed out of the competition. It could be said that it was a blessing in disguise to have one less competition to worry about, but a win at Swansea could have brought another derby with Liverpool.
No Everton goals
September 27th. Everton at Liverpool. Premier League.
Everton went into the Merseyside derby reeling from two straight losses, and a Steven Gerrard goal in the 64th minute made it seem like the Blues were on their way to another at Anfield. It was Phil Jagielka's stoppage-time laser shot that broke Liverpool hearts and split the points.
Goal: Phil Jagielka
Notable Injuries: Kevin Mirallas, hamstring.
October 2nd. Everton at FK Krasnodar. Europa League.
After the excitement of the late equalizer in the derby Everton made the long trip to Russia for more European action. An early goal by the Russian Premier League team had the hosts thinking three points, but Samuel Eto'o was the hero for Everton with an 82nd minute goal to level the score.
Goal: Samuel Eto'o
October 5th. Everton at Manchester United. Premier League.
A short turnaround after the trip to Russia and the fourth consecutive away fixture surely had an effect on this one, a strange loss at Old Trafford. Leighton Baines missed his first penalty in the Premier League and a late attack wasn't enough to get an equalizer past David De Gea, who played out of his mind.
Goal: Steven Naismith
Notable Injury: John Stones, ankle ligaments.
October 18th. Everton vs. Aston Villa. Premier League.
Everton's most complete game of the season so far came against Aston Villa at home, a 3-0 win. Ross Barkley made his return from a knee injury that had kept him on the sidelines for the entire 2014/15 campaign, and put in a strong 66 minutes in the one-sided affair.
Goals: Phil Jagielka, Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman
October 22nd. France.
Around 10,000 Everton supporters made their way to the North of France for their first real opportunity to see the team play in Europe in five years. Evertonians were greeted with violence outside of a bar on the eve of the match and with tear gas from police in the town square on match day.
October 23rd. Everton at Lille. Europa League.
Any excitement surrounding this game took place outside the stadium. Neither team looked particularly dangerous and the points were split. Evertonians, however, could be happy about another point on the road in European competition.
No Everton goals.
October 26th. Everton at Burnley. Premier League.
Samuel Eto'o nearly bagged a hat trick and Everton cruised to a 3-1 win at Turf Moor. The Cameroonian striker took this match as occasion to prove wrong any naysayers about his age and ability to play at a top level. Then again, it is Burnley.
Goals: Samuel Eto'o (2), Romelu Lukaku
Everton announced the results of the 2013/14 Annual Report which revealed record profits (£28million [Lukaku money]) and a reduction in debt.
November 1st. Everton vs. Swansea City. Premier League.
Swansea came calling on the first day of November, and Everton were looking for revenge for the 3-0 loss in the Capital One Cup. Neither team were given the satisfaction of a goal, much less a win, in a frustrating match at Goodison Park.
No Everton goals.
Notable Injuries: Antolin Alcaraz, shoulder.
November 6th. Everton vs. Lille. Europa League.
The Blues handed Lille a 3-0 loss and retained first place in Group H. Everton shut down Lille's offense and the Toffee attack was too much for the Ligue 1 team.
Goals: Leon Osman, Phil Jagielka, Steven Naismith
November 9th. Everton at Sunderland. Premier League.
Everton weren't able to take advantage of a Sunderland team that had hovered in or near the relegation zone all season. The result from the Stadium of Light was a 1-1 draw, and the Blues headed into the international break.
Goal: Leighton Baines
Just as the good news came in that James McCarthy had evaded a serious injury, Everton received bad news to counteract it. Leighton Baines suffered a hamstring injury, and returned from England international duty to be assessed by the club. Baines situation was updated just before publication of this story and it looks like the left-back may only miss one or two weeks.
Everton are out of the Capital One Cup, sit at the top of Europa League Group H, and occupy the tenth spot on the Premier League table (one spot ahead of Liverpool).
There is no doubt that the loss to Swansea and crashing out of the Capital One Cup was a disappointment. But Roberto Martinez has high expectations for his team in the Europa League, and the performances thus far have backed up his claims.
The league campaign has seen it's share of lows: late equalizers from Leicester City and Arsenal, Chelsea netting six at Goodison, the loss to Crystal Palace at home, injuries to Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas, and John Stones.
There were highs as well: the first win against West Brom on the road, Jagielka's stoppage time equalizer in the derby, Eto'o's emergence against Burnley.
While tenth place wouldn't be any fan's expectation or hope at the beginning of the season, there have been encouraging signs of late (not against Sunderland). The goal of Champions League football next season is very much attainable with 27 fixtures left.
Steven Naismith leads the team with five goals across all competitions, followed by Eto'o and Lukaku, who have both managed four. Naismith has been the club's strongest player throughout the season, now the only issue is whether Martinez can find an effective way to get the Scotsman and Ross Barkley on the field at the same time.
The most disappointing player has been Christian Atsu, who has only made three appearances and has failed to impress. Martinez, however, says it's just a matter of time. Another preseason acquisition, Muhamed Besic, has had a rough start in his four appearances but has looked better in recent outings. Look for the boss to involve both players in the near future, especially with more European fixtures on the horizon.
What to look forward to
The lineup against Sunderland saw Everton as close to full strength as they have been all season. Kevin Mirallas has returned to training with the first team, and when he gets back he should bring width and stronger attack from the wings. John Stones should be ready to go again in early 2015, and should help shore up the backline. Any player returning from injury will help with squad depth, which has been an issue.
The January transfer window should be an interesting time for Martinez, who had said that he would not bolster the defense when dealings begin. Baines or Stones could take longer than expected to return from injury, and Antolin Alcaraz is out for an unknown amount of time, so the boss may change his tune. Look for young players like Tyias Browning and Luke Garbutt to make an appearance in the meantime.
In the Europa League, Everton face Wolfsburg on November 27th in Germany, and the match will likely determine who will finish at the top of Group H. Both teams will probably emerge from the group stage to the round of 32 unless Krasnodar or Lille pull off a miracle.
In league play, Everton will welcome fourth-place West Ham to Goodison Park on November 22nd.
December will be a very busy month for the Toffees, with six league matches and one Europa League fixture on the schedule.
Only four matches are on the docket for February, but it starts with the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. The month also includes games against Chelsea and Arsenal.
If Everton continue to play well in Europa League, it could make March and April very busy for the Blues.
The remainder of 2014/15 should be a tough test for Everton. It will be challenging for the team to eclipse or even repeat the success of last year, especially with the added pressure of European football.