Let's get this out of the way: last year was not the best season Everton has ever had. A disastrous 11th-place finish has the team missing out on all European competitions this year, but all is not lost for the Blues. The team should have more time to focus on its league success and without the distraction of European soccer, there's no excuse not to improve.
However, the Blues' opening match against newly-promoted Watford hasn't done much to instill confidence that this season will be any better. While the team managed to salvage the match and scrape by with one point on a 2-2 draw, the fact remains this was a game the team should have easily won. And it certainly doesn't bode well that the team has been hammered with a string of injuries to key players with few replacement options in sight.
As reported by the BBC and confirmed by Everton, the team has finalised a deal for Barnsley's 18-year-old defender, Mason Holgate, in an effort to invigorate the team's defence. Holgate received a fair amount of attention from Manchester United earlier this season and follows the trail set by fellow Barnsley defender John Stones, who joined Everton in 2013. This influx of quality fullbacks is a godsend given the recent injuries to Leighton Baines and 34-year-old right back Tony Hibbert, both of which have left the back line looking gaunt.
As both hail from Barnsley, Stones and Holgate should have a natural chemistry and transition well with the veteran experience of Phil Jagielka. Reports of a potential transfer of Stones were quickly quashed, as The Mirror noted that manager Roberto Martinez has vehemently denied any rumours he'll sell off the defender at any price.
The Toffees will not only be trotting out a relatively untested defense but will have to cope with a host of injury issues that could dash the team's hopes before they even get off the ground. In providing some excellent insights on the current market, Betfair has reported on the team's preparations for a much tougher match when they meet Southhampton at St. Mary's this Saturday. The site notes that the team will have to make due without three midfielders as Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady and Steven Pienaar are all out out for the foreseeable future with longterm injuries.
In an effort to plug some of the glaring holes this has presented for the midfield, Martinez signed Barcelona youth product Gerard Deulofeu for some fresh legs on the wings. The Spanish winger previously did a stint with Everton during the highly successful 2013-14 season that saw the club finish 5th in the English Premier League. Supporters are still on the fence about signing the 21-year-old forward as his previous loan with Sevilla saw Deulofeu turn in a less-than-stellar performance.
Saturday's match should say a lot about both Everton and Southampton as both teams are expected to be battling for a top-six finish this year. However, the Saints are being given the edge considering the medical woes at Goodison Park. Everton don't have a great track record against Southampton in recent years and have only won two out of eight games without Baines since last season.