Everton has had a rough start to the season with two draws and an insane, thrilling and unforgettable loss to Chelsea which saw a total of nine goals scored. The club started off the season at Premier League newbie, Leicester City and drew 2-2 when they let the Foxes equalize with just four minutes left in regulation. At home the following week, hearts were broken again as Arsenal's Olivier Giroud headed the ball into the net in the 90th minute leading to another 2-2 draw. Heading into the next two weeks the Blues play two clubs outside of the top flight in West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace.
With all of the money that the club spent over the summer and all of the hype surrounding the team entering the season, the question may be asked - are the next to matches MUST wins? As you have likely extensively read here on RBM, Everton spent a club record amount of money to bring back striker Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis. They also brought in Muhamed Bešić, Samuel Eto'o, Gareth Barry and Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea to bolster the first team. Such an active summer with big names is a relatively foreign concept to Evertonians and it did lead to high expectations entering the season. However there are many factors that needed to be taken into consideration before setting one's hopes so high.
The first item that comes to mind is that this offseason saw the World Cup played in Brazil and a total of eight players out on international duty. Those players included most of the club's top performers: Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley representing England; Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku representing Belgium; Tim Howard representing the United States; Muhamed Bešić representing Bosnia and Herzegovina; Samuel Eto'o representing Cameroon. Some of these players received a lot of playing time while others did not. Regardless, they were subjected to the wear of travel and training while their colleagues not participating in the tournament were able rest. Once the World Cup had ended, some of these players took well deserved holidays to recover and rest before the upcoming campaign. This happened to coincide with the beginning of Everton's training camp and preseason matches.
While Everton by no means was the only club to have players participate in the tournament; it must be acknowledged that the large amount of Everton internationals coupled with the lack of preseason training time and the lack of depth at certain portions of the squad have contributed to some of the early-season issues that we have witnessed. The issue with depth in the attacking roles cannot be understated either. Undoubtedly Roberto Martinez would have liked to ease Romelu Lukaku into the squad as he got back into match fitness but with the season quickly approaching and the lack or option at the moment, he was forced to put him into the starting eleven. The same can be said for some of the other players who are still struggling to find their form.
On a positive note, several of the club's internationals stayed local instead of playing for their nations over this current break. This should have allowed for some time to rest and train which should make fans hopeful of seeing a rejuvenated squad on the pitch this Saturday. The newer signings have also had another two weeks to assimilate with their surroundings and should be able to play larger parts going forward.
Going back to the question of are the upcoming matches must wins; I am inclined to say ‘no' simply because I don't like that term. In reality though, these are points that Everton desperately need if they expect to be in contention for a Champions League spot near the end of the season. Both clubs are near the bottom of the table - along with Everton but never mind that - and are hungry to get some points as well. West Brom have the potential to put up a good fight but the Toffees have the superior squad and should prevail. The same goes for Crystal Palace who are struggling to find their identity after unexpectedly being forced to take on a new manager right at the beginning of the season. These two clubs are both vulnerable at the moment and with road matches against two of the money clubs coming up afterwards; the Toffees need to strike while they can.