[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the finances at the elite clubs in England grow even more astronomical, it was widely assumed that the other clubs would have to scrap for seventh at best. Yet Everton have shocked everyone by shooting for the stars. A flurry of signings has transformed what could have been a preseason bemoaning the loss of Romelu Lukaku into a period of optimism.
Only time will tell if Lukaku has been adequately replaced, but after seasons of inconsistency, there is a burgeoning hope that Everton will be able to sustain a challenge for European places. Last season saw Ronald Koeman begin to stamp his influence on the side. Having conducted so much transfer business early in the window, there is time for the Dutchman to continue gelling a side together that will hold ambitions of defying the odds and breaking the top four.
Manchester City have spent exorbitantly, whilst most of the other leading clubs have made marquee signings. The only exception is Tottenham Hotspur, with chairman Daniel Levy recently speaking out about how the considerable increase in spending is unsustainable. The two Manchester clubs and champions Chelsea are perceived to be the favourites to battle it out for the title, in part because of their willingness to part with vast sums of money.
Arsenal have signed one of the top European strikers in Alexandre Lacazette, but much will depend on their ability to hold onto Alexis Sanchez. Liverpool still have question marks over their defence, with the possibility of Philippe Coutinho heading to Barcelona a spanner in the works. Spurs have been outstanding over the past two seasons, but inevitable concerns will arise over their potential stagnation compared to their rivals.
Those three clubs will be the ones that Everton will be dreaming of overhauling. In the Premier League top four odds, Everton can be found at a price of 10/1 of securing a Champions League berth, and are almost caught in a league of their own between the top six and the rest of the chasing pack. Yet a strong start to the season for Everton would put pressure on Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal – three sides that will be aware of their vulnerable position in the top six. Unfortunately for Everton, they face Chelsea, Tottenham and the Manchester duo in their first five league matches.
Of course, get points on the board in those tricky fixtures and the sky will be the limit. Everton will also have to contend with the balancing act of a domestic charge and Europa League football, but the experience and quality of the new signings should alleviate that burden. Sandro Ramirez arrives on Merseyside on the back of a spectacular breakout season in Spain, although statistical analysis from Paul Riley shows that the Spaniard may struggle to match his level of goalscoring in future seasons.
Yet Sandro will be supported by a strong midfield. Davy Klaasen will bring energy and impact to both ends of the pitch, whilst the returning Wayne Rooney can replace his ageing legs with vision and experience. At the back, Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford will add steel, as well as their youth suggesting the foundations of a dynasty. Everton had an exciting squad already, but now they have quality and depth across the board. It will be a tough ask for them to break into the top four, but their business in the transfer market shows that they are up for the challenge.