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Everton return to Goodison - but this time it feels different

A busy summer, successful deadline day and promising opening day have fuelled optimism among Toffees supporters

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

What’s that I can sense? Is it optimism? Is it hope? Is it excitement? A combination of all three?

For the first time in aeons Toffees fans are looking forward to an Everton home game. I know I’ve not felt so excited about heading to Goodison Park for years. A summer of change, followed up by a successful transfer window and an encouraging opening day performance at Wolves has only fuelled supporter expectation.

But what makes that excitement so visceral is contrast with the acute frustration and sometimes anger felt towards the club last season. The 2017-18 campaign was one of the worst I’ve endured as a supporter. When watching the match on Saturday contrast the atmosphere to our last home game - ironically against the same opposition - where the crowd were almost willing the team to lose in order to push the manager further towards the exit door. Even a late equaliser was greeted with muted celebrations, before the majority of the fans fled the scene before the team could even begin their lap of appreciation.

But to give the club enormous credit they have already started to right the wrongs of last year, starting at the top.

Marcel Brands - or Papa Marcel as well call him here - is rapidly becoming my hero. The ice-cool Dutchman faced the unenviable task of deconstructing a bloated, ageing, underperforming squad and rebuilding in the space of two-and-a-half months but has passed his opening test with flying colours.

Take the defence for example. Brands has effectively swapped Ramiro Funes Mori, Ashley Williams and Cuco Martina for Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne and Kurt Zouma. While in midfield Davy Klasseen has been replaced by Bernard. The man’s a magician.

Then there is Richarlison.

There’s no doubt that Everton probably paid over the odds for the 21-year-old but the fuss over the transfer was way over the top considering some of the other fees being bandied about this summer. Maybe because it was little old Everton doing the spending? Who knows.

Those same pundits were no doubt waiting to pounce on the former Watford man and use that fee against him. But the Brazilian answered the critics in fine style with an outrageous debut at Wolves last weekend.

Everton have had some talented players over the years but only a certain few generate a purr of excitement as soon as the pick up the ball. The most recent example I can think of is a teenage Wayne Rooney, maybe Mikel Arteta on his day. But in Richarlison we have potential have a star in the making.

What makes it even better is he seems to absolutely love being an Evertonian. You will have already seen over social media the videos of him signing autographs, posing for selfies, giving away his match shirts. Basically embracing what it means to be a Blue and creating a bond with the supporters - something we so sorely lacked last year.

I for one can’t wait to see him for the first time in the flesh on Saturday. And after nine paragraphs of optimism, I sincerely hope we don’t mess this up as only Everton can.

The opposition

Southampton needed a nervy 1-0 win at Swansea in their penultimate game of the season to secure survival in what was a disappointing year for the Saints last time out.

The underwhelming Mauricio Pellegrino clung on until March but with the threat of relegation becoming ever real he was replaced by Mark Hughes, another grizzled veteran of several Premier League jobs.

Hughes managed to do just enough to keep the Saints up, including that 2-2 draw at Goodison Park, but much work was needed over the summer to repair a faltering squad.

Whether he has done that remains to be seen. Dusan Tadic was a big loss over the summer so a lot of pressure will be on Mohamed Elyounoussi to replace him. Elsewhere Stuart Armstrong, Angus Gunn and Jannik Vestergaard hardly set the pulses racing. Deadline Day loan signing Danny Ings will be tasked with improving an attack the mustered just 37 goals from 38 games last season.

Team news

Richarlison has been passed fit after it was confirmed it was only cramp that forced him off late on against Wolves last weekend.

Phil Jagielka begins a three-game ban following his red card last weekend with Mason Holgate or new signing Kurt Zouma in contention to replace him.

Yerry Mina is out with a foot injury while Andre Gomes is still struggling with a hamstring problem.

Projected starting XI

Final word

Marco Silva has highlighted the importance of repairing the bond between the team and the fans after enduring such a fractured relationship last season.

Last weekend’s positive performance was a solid step in the right direction and a similar display against Southampton would be most welcome.

The fans understand the need to remain patient as Silva and Brands begin what is a long-term project. That may mean results don’t immediately come our way. But as long as the team shows positive intent, a desire to work hard and attempt to entertain, then we won’t have many complaints.

Three points would be nice though.