Everton kick off the 2019-20 season at Crystal Palace on Saturday, with Eagles forward Wilfried Zaha potentially facing the side he looked close to joining this summer.
Zaha, 26, stayed with the Eagles, his boyhood club, despite submitting a transfer request and at least one bid for him from the Blues.
But there are still seven players, including eleventh-hour £35 million signing Alex Iwobi, who could make their Toffees bow in the new campaign’s curtain-raiser at Selhurst Park.
Palace, who finished 12th last term in Roy Hodgson’s first full season in charge, lost right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, 21, this summer to Manchester United for £50 million, while their additions included Everton midfielder James McCarthy and former Chelsea defender Gary Cahill.
Before Saturday’s game, RBM spoke to Jack Pierce, Palace fan and writer for Five Year Plan:
RBM: Only one place to start, then. Are you glad Palace held firm on Zaha, or should they have let him leave given he clearly wanted a move?
Jack: I just wanted the saga to end one way or the other. In the end, the clock ran out.
I’m obviously pleased we have retained who I consider the best player outside of the top six but how Wilf settles back into group after the window has closed will have a massive impact on how this season goes. He’s on big money here, on a contract he signed last year, so I don’t feel we owed him the opportunity to move away.
RBM: Should Zaha feature for Palace on Saturday, what sort of reception do you think he will receive from the home fans?
Jack: I don’t think he will play but if he does, I think it might be slightly mixed. Some fans aren’t very pleased at all about the request for a move.
However, he has a lot of credit in the bank with fans given his influence over the last nine years.
RBM: Meanwhile, James McCarthy leaves Everton for Palace with a lot of good will, having often impressed at Goodison Park despite having dreadful luck with injury. How pleased were you with his signing?
Jack: I seem to be in a minority but I think it could prove excellent business for Palace. In Roberto Martínez’s first season with you, I thought he was your best player.
If we get him back playing anywhere near that, I think he’ll be a fan favourite very quickly. He’ll hopefully do the dirty work a lot of people think Luka Milivojević does but doesn’t.
RBM: All in all, then, what sort of state do you think Palace are in going in to this season after the summer transfer window?
Jack: If Wilf settles back into the group and we avoid injuries at full-back, I think we’re OK.
I still think we’ve ended the window three or four signings short, but I am pleased with signing of Gary Cahill, though.
RBM: Palace manager Roy Hodgson seems to have a great rapport with the supporters. How much faith do you have in him going forward?
Jack: Let’s just put it this way: as soon as Roy goes, I fear we’ll be relegated within two seasons. What he’s done since taking over from Frank de Boer is superb.
The great escape the season before last, followed by the relative comfort of last season, means he deserves a lot of credit. He does get grief for a fairly safe style, but as long as he’s in charge, I think we’re OK.
RBM: Palace have lost their first home game of every campaign since 2011-12 and are notoriously slow starters. Do you think there is any reason for why this is?
Jack: Recruitment has never been right at Palace since promotion in 2013. The deals we do do are often late, meaning that the manager hasn’t had players for the whole of pre-season. That’s definitely a factor.
RBM: How do you expect Palace to set up on Saturday?
Jack: As we have done throughout pre-season; very solid and not a great deal of width. I’d be surprised if any new signings feature from the start other than perhaps Gary Cahill, given the injury to James Tomkins.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Jack: If Wilf doesn’t play, we’re looking at Andros Townsend to provide the width and the service into Christian Benteke, who is starting a season fully fit for first time in a few years.
There are also high hopes for Max Meyer after a full pre-season and a year of experience in England. Expect him to join the midfield to attack on Saturday.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Jack: My old man is a die-hard Evertonian so in order to keep the peace with him, I generally go for a diplomatic draw when it comes to Palace and Everton meetings.
With the current status of Palace’s likely line-ups, I’d take a point if offered.
Our thanks to Jack for his time.