Leicester City F.C. delivered the story of the year in European Soccer in 2015. The nearly 5000/1 long shots with England Bookmakers went wire-to-wire over the 38 game Premier League season to raise the trophy, completing one of the most remarkable, entirely improbable achievements in the history of English football.
Has Everton begun to mirror that kind of run in the new season? People all around Merseyside, the metropolitan county in North West England with a population of 1.38 million, aren’t that silly.
But a dream start has at the very least cranked up the enthusiasm. Pubs such as The Cricketers Arms, a famous watering hole 16 minutes by taxi from Everton’s Home Goodison Park is full of locals buzzing about their soccer team.
The Toffees have had their best start to a season in 38 years with four wins and a draw leaving them second behind Manchester City in the Premier League table.
Ronald Koeman the Dutch manager placed in charge of Everton before the season began says it would be crazy to consider his team contenders for the Premier League title despite their impressive start to the season.
“I don’t think we can do a Leicester,” Koeman told the Guardian Newspaper. “Normally not, but you don’t know what is normal in life and normal in football. I am realistic. If I tell you we will fight for the title I think most people will tell you that man is crazy. Even when I mention that it sounds crazy.
“Why would we change our ambition and aspiration after 13 points from five games? The big teams have much more qualities and unless it is like it was last season it will be impossible.”
Coach speak is what it is.
There is no denying the new era under Koeman has already seen last season’s disappointment fade in the memory. The club placed 11th in the 2015 final table.
New faces on the squad, quicker tempo with added athleticism and stellar play from 33-year old goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg are reasons to believe this is no pipe dream.
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is living up to his all-world talent. His hat trick at Sunderland Sept. 12 followed by another goal five days later vs. Middlesbrough place him second among the league’s top scorers, one back of the explosive Diego Costa of Chelsea and Michael Antonio of West Ham.
The start of great news for Everton took place on Aug 21 when the 23-year old walked into Koeman’s office to announce he had changed his mind about a move to a bigger club. Lukaku was reportedly linked with a mega-money move back to Chelsea, where he began as a teenager. That equaled anything the Toffees could have done in terms of adding transfers.
Among the midfielders, industrious Idrissa Gana Gueye is already looking terrific.
The new signing from Aston Villa (£7.1 million) has impressed purely on his work-rate alone. The Senegal international midfielder’s recent Premier League effort produced eight tackles won. It barely scratches the surface of how impressive the performance was. Industry, composure, tackling, interceptions, accurate and decisive passing, were all on display.
Senegal international midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye (right) has proven a brilliant signing by Everton. (Photo Reuters).
Winger Yannick Bolasie has been another excellent addition. He came over from Crystal Palace in the offseason and it would seem that Lukaku has struck up a bond with Bolasie ever since the latter arrived at Everton over the summer. Both are of Congolese descent and have been seen pranking each other and sharing celebrations on the pitch.
Everton has outscored its opposition 10-3 with Stekelenburg posting a couple of clean sheets during the opening five-game stretch.
American Tim Howard was a 10-year fixture in goal for the Toffees. He had his share of ups and downs but was mostly loved by the club’s supporters. Howard secured 133 clean sheets in goal during his stint, third most in club history. He even scored a goal from his own box on a memorable day against Bolton in 2012.
Clearly, the more difficult matches lie ahead. There are road tests at Chelsea in mid-October and Manchester City in early November. Then three days after Thanksgiving a trip to England’s South Coast to face greatly improved Southampton awaits.
As a player Koeman was a star with the Netherlands, He won UEFA Euro 1988 and played in the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, captaining the team at the latter. The 48-year old is managing his second Premier League club, after debuting in June of 2014 with Southampton.
Can he become a household name like superstar leaders such as Pep Guardiola of Man City, Jose Mourinho of Manchester United and Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool?
Produce wins and the answer is, by all means, lad.
Everyone now knows of Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri because his team upstaged all challengers a year ago.
Today the door is wide open for Everton to join what promises to be a chase of splendid action and drama. Of course, the four suspects, Man City, United, Chelsea, and Liverpool must be knocked off. Arsenal and Leicester also figure to have their say.
If you asked Everton’s fans and squad alike, they would certainly settle for the realistic chance of a spot in next year’s Champions League, awarded to the top four finishers. Since its inception in 1992-93, the Premier League has never seen the Toffees place in the top three.
In a league full of an array of young talent Everton now has its share. New names such as Arsenal’s Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Liverpool’s Ovie Ejaria has breathtaking talent for the future.
It isn’t all roses as Everton lost one of the league’s best center-backs over the summer. John Stones signed a rich contract with Man City. But with only three goals conceded through the five league matches, anything is possible.
After all, less than two hours southwest of the Everton home grounds, on the River Soar and at the edge of the National Forest, a town called Leicester became known all over the world a few short months ago.
Photo credit: Mirror online