Sandro Ramirez will carry the goalscoring hopes for the Blues against Stoke in Romelu Lukaku's absence
A new season rolls around and Everton begin another quest to break into the top four as Ronald Koeman embarks on his second season in charge at Goodison Park.
In the context of the Dutchman's initial three-year project with the Blues, he comes into 2017-18 with what is arguably a stronger squad in all departments except in the areas that could really make the difference this time around.
Romelu Lukaku, the man on whom Everton were hugely reliant for goals has left for Manchester United but despite making a £62m profit on the Belgian, the club have yet to sign his replacement.
Sandro Ramirez, an exciting but untried entity, is the kind of signing Evertonians would have wanted to see drafted in to replace Enner Valencia; in terms of the focal point of the attack — even more so if Gylfi Sigurdsson ever becomes an Everton player — supporters are waiting to see who is identified to partner the Spaniard in a new-look attack.
In terms of the season opener against Stoke, such concerns will have to be put on the back burner because Koeman will be going with what he had for the two Europa League games against Ružomberok when it comes to team selection.
Along with long-term absentees Ramiro Funes Mori, Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley and James McCarthy are out of contention but other than that it is “as you were” in Slovakia where the Blues did enough to advance to the play-off round where they will meet Hajduk Split.
Both legs against Ružomberok were underwhelming to say the least but the friendly curtain-raiser against Sevilla last Sunday offered more encouragement for Blues fans searching for evidence that the team can improve on last season's seventh-place finish. Sandro notching a quick goal in front of his new home faithful was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the game, his composed finish hopefully indicative of what he can bring to the team this term.
Equally encouraging has been the form of Michael Keane in pre-season and in Europe, together with the promising early glimpses of Jordan Pickford. Together with Davy Klaassen, who has the potential to be a significant addition to midfield, at around £80m the English duo represent the vast majority of Everton's summer expenditure and form a new long-term spine to the team.
All three should make their Premier League debuts for the Blues against Stoke, with Sandro joining them at the spearhead of a team that should also feature Wayne Rooney.
Koeman will have decisions to make at right-back, centre-half and up front, though. Assuming that the manager doesn't opt for a back three (unlikely given how unsuccessful it was in Slovakia) and that Jonjoe Kenny isn't deemed ready to start — had he done so against Sevilla and played, he would be in with a shout — it will be a straight choice between Mason Holgate and Cuco Martina for the role.
In the centre, it's likely that either Phil Jagielka or Ashley Williams will get the nod to partner Keane while further forward, it could be between Kevin Mirallas and Dominic Calvert-Lewin if Koeman deploys a forward three. The competition in central midfield, meanwhile, might mean Tom Davies is edged out, a situation that underscores just how strong the Blues are in that area of the pitch.
For their part, Stoke have made modest moves in the market, with the loan acquisition of Kurt Zouma from Chelsea arguably Mark Hughes's best move of the summer so far. The 22-year-old will further beef up what is always a robust Potters back line in much the same way as 6' 3” tall striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will add strength and physical presence at the other end of the pitch in the wake of Jonathan Walters' departure for Burnley. Darren Fletcher will add experience and solidity in midfield but Stoke are unlikely to be pulling up many trees in the Premier League this season.
They remain a tough proposition, however, and Everton won't be expecting any easier a task than the one they had against Hughes's men almost a year ago when a solitary goal, an own goal by Shay Given at that, handed Koeman his first home league win as the Toffees' boss.
Everton will need to call on the formidable strength they displayed on home turf from the start of 2017 on last season while hopefully demonstrating the benefits of a further 10 days' pre-season preparation since the second leg in the Europa League.
While the management and recruitment team lines up their final targets of the window to put a more complete complexion on the close season's business, this first game of the new campaign is all about the result. That is particularly true given the brutal run of four games that follows against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United before the relative comfort of a home game against Bournemouth towards the end of next month. A good start could be huge, psychologically speaking.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 12 August, 2017
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Last Time: Everton 1-0 Stoke City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin, Sandro
Full details: ToffeeWeb Match page