Everton is in the first international break of the new campaign all smiles and full of confidence despite significantly deepening the squad. They have gone undefeated in this first stretch of matches, beating Huddersfield Town to move onto the third round of the Carabao Cup where they will play Queens Park Rangers in the coming weeks, and have won two of three Premier League clashes against the likes of Southampton, Leeds United and Brighton & Hove Albion.
While the club started off last season undefeated as well in the first seven matches with Carlo Ancelotti, there is a different feel about this team than in prior years. Last year there was great promise regarding what the club had the potential to do, but all too often, it felt like Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison were being left to carry the team from an offensive standpoint. While the odd contribution could be found from James Rodriguez when he was healthy or available, that was less often than Everton wished; meanwhile, other players on the team simply did not provide enough consistent support for the biggest stars that the Toffees possess. As the team fell to pieces towards the end of last year, this became more and more apparent.
Things appear different this year though with contributions not only from the young tandem of DCL and Richy, but from the precocious Demarai Gray, the veteran Andros Townsend, and the tireless Abdoulaye Doucoure. The squad is faster, sharper, more in tune with their boss and his own ambitions and style. There is greater fluency from all players and with just the subtle additions of a talented, playmaking winger like Townsend and a blazingly fast, hungry Gray; while these are wonderful innovations, the team is nowhere near completion or any type of pinnacle.
Can Everton carry this form across the whole campaign?
The rumors surrounding the Toffees transfer and financial situation have been spoken on ad nauseum this summer, and while Moise Kean was loaned-sold back to Turin and Juventus, James Rodriguez still remains; should he get fit and motivated, he could be such an important player. Fabian Delph, Cenk Tosun, and Andre Gomes are also still on the squad and their contributions, however limited they might be, will be crucial for the Toffees to succeed going forward too.
The acquisition of Salomon Rondon could also prove to be a really strong, under-the-radar sort of move as well. All four of the acquired players have been low key as they say, yet really important and useful for the push that Rafa has us going for this season. Gray has that pace and fire, while Andros Townsend has leadership and wonderful passing and creativity; Begovic has intelligence and maturity in net, while Rondon simply has a knack for finding the ball in the box and showing grit and fight where Everton need it the most. They will need to make an impact as often and as regularly as they can.
The interval between the first and second international breaks starts with Burnley at Goodison Park before another three matches in seven days featuring a tough road game against Aston Villa at Villa Park, before visiting QPR in the third round of the Carabao Cup just days later. Finishing up those three matches with a game against Norwich City should be another positive and should the Toffees manage to go past the Canaries without a loss, they’ll have gone seven to start the season for the second consecutive season under two different bosses.
The final game before the second international break will be against Manchester United at Old Trafford. This will be the most difficult game of the season to that point, and will likely be a proper barometer of where the team really is at this point in its development. Last season, United was a team that had their way with Ancelotti and the Blues; this year, the Red Devils are better, there can be little doubt regarding that, yet the Toffees are better as well. Might Rafa know how to work the situation to get the best result possible? Eight games unbeaten across all competitions to begin a season would be some start, and one could only imagine the confidence of this outfit were they able to go into the next break without a loss.
Can the club go undefeated across eight matches to start the season? The team that Rafa has reorganized does not currently seem too dependent on any one player which is a breath of fresh air. That the two best attacking players on the club have been scoring freely is positive, for surely they too feel a burden lifted ever so slightly as well. Meanwhile, the defense has played, even with the mistakes of Michael Keane, really well, as have both Jordan Pickford as well as Asimov Begovic.
There are many positives to take out of these first four matches, and if Everton continues to play as they did, there will be many more positive points to discuss when the second international break is upon us. Until then, however, the Toffees will have to continue to focus and understand that, unlike last season, it will not be acceptable for the team to run out of steam with two or three months remaining in the campaign.