Ahead of Aston Villa's home opener against Everton, our friend Calvin from SB Nation's Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey answers our questions about all things Toffees.
Q: How are you feeling about Everton this season? From an outside perspective I like the way the transfer window has gone for your club; Naismith and Mirallas are both very good players that you managed to pick up for what look like excellent deals, and Pienaar's quality is something you're quite familiar with. Losing Rodwell and Cahill will obviously hurt, but on the balance your team looks (to me at least) to be a bit stronger. Do you see the team improving on last season's 7th place finish?
A: There is a lot of expectation among the fanbase this season, possibly the most in David Moyes' tenure. Tim Cahill is not the player he once was, and it is better fans remember him this way than growing resentful when the performances go south. Jack Rodwell on the other hand is full of potential, and has been that way for five years. At some point the umbilical cord had to be cut and now is as good a time as any.
The team is definitely stronger, especially on the attack where Everton have found goals hard to come by in the last few years. With Nikica Jelavic and Naismith in attack, and backed up by Marouane Fellaini, Pienaar and now Mirallas, there is genuine belief that Everton will be able to score a few goals. Anything less than 7th place and long Cup runs will be considered abjectly disappointing.
Q: Anyone that's been watching for the past few years knows what a good player Marouane Fellaini is and those that weren't previously aware or convinced likely are after his performance against Manchester United on Monday. It looked to me as though Fellaini, playing in the space just behind Nikica Jelavić, was acting as a withdrawn forward rather than an attacking midfielder. Is that something new? If so, do you think it was a one-time tactical approach, or can you see him in this role long-term?
A: Fellaini has actually played in that hole behind the sole striker before; while Tim Cahill was out injured last season Moyes put the big man up there a few times. Like everyone saw Monday night, Fellaini is very good in the air and knows how to distribute the ball quite well too. I do expect to see Fellaini there quite often, but most likely he comes back into the midfield to replace Phil Neville, and either Naismith or Mirallas play behind the striker. Moyes knew United were weak in the middle of the defence and made them pay for it last season and then again on Monday by having Jelavic occupy Vidic and using Fellaini to terrorize Carrick.
Q: When I take a look at your squad, I see a decent bit of quality in every area of the pitch. Is there a major weak spot in the lineup that you worry about the opposition exploiting that someone that doesn't watch the team as closely might have missed?
A: Right wing has been a big issue for Everton in the Moyes era. The last really good, fulltime right wing we had was named Andrei Kanchelskis, that should tell you how long it's been! Seamus Coleman and Royston Drenthe were almost effective last season, but Everton only looked truly dangerous when a certain Landon Donovan crossed the pond for a couple of months. Clubs like Villa and Everton are not blessed with owners that have bevies of oil wells, so squad depth is always as thin as the wrapping paper our Christmas pressies come wrapped in. God forbid if Leighton Baines or Fellaini gets injured and suddenly this squad takes on a whole different look. Also having more than one world-class striker is a luxury only the loftiest teams in the Premiership can afford.
Q: For those that may not be as familiar with the details, can you give a quick rundown on where things are with Everton's spending limitations? If you pay attention to the league it's not hard to pick up on the tension between some Everton fans and the club, and with Aston Villa (seemingly) in a somewhat similar age of austerity it's always good to hear from fans of other clubs going through the same kind of thing.
A: Ahh yes, there is definitely some tension between the Board and the fans. Certain elements that need not be named have been propagating rebellion, though the majority are of the opinion "Better the devil you know". Moyes has gone so far as to say that the sale of Rodwell had nothing to do with money as funds from Cahill and Joseph Yobo leaving had covered the financial bases. However he has not been shy with the £12 million so far, picking up Mirallas and showing interest in a couple of other players.
Q: Finally, would you care to share any predictions for the match?
A: Years of poor starts to the season have Toffee fans conditioned to await failure with trepidation and then resignation. After Monday's game there is hope that this might be the year they get off to a better start. That being said, I expect Villa to come out fighting in front of their home crowd. I'd say 1-1 with Bent getting in behind Distin to score first, and another setpiece goal from Everton to tie.