Before coming to Everton last season, manager Robert Martinez worked FA Cup-winning magic with Wigan. Despite losing one star in the transition (when Marouane Fellaini bolted for United), Martinez built a team that had everyone talking last season. And the smooth-talking Spaniard isn’t not just a great manager, he also charmed World Cup-watching ESPN audiences with his astute analysis and dapper manner this past summer.
EPL fans already know that Tim Howard is one of the best and most consistent keepers in the league—but, after his 16-save heroics against Belgium, the whole world is now attuned to the Bearded Wonder’s shot-stopping ability. Given that Howard shone for Everton last year as well, with 11 clean sheets and less than a goal allowed per game, new American fans looking for an English team might very well gravitate toward the blue half of Merseyside.
Gareth Barry is glue: One of those unassuming team players who won’t wow an audience with flash but will make a team better by doing many subtle things quite well—accurate passing, a willingness to place his body in front of shots, and the experience that comes with playing over 500 Premier League games. After struggling to find a consistent place among Manchester City’s cadre of talent, Everton took Barry on loan last year, and he became an integral part of the team. That move has now been made permanent.
Perhaps Chelsea would have captured silverware last year if they hadn’t shipped their best striker, Romelu Lukaku, out on loan to Everton. The Belgian youngster was an integral part of Everton’s success last year, and Everton’s commitment to Lukaku-£28m to make the move permanent—shows how highly they regard him. Though he had a slow and disappointing start to his World Cup campaign, Lukaku showed up huge as a late-game sub, with physical hold-up play and precise shooting, to the dismay of Americans everywhere.
Though Everton’s lineup will be largely intact, as they’ve turned their key loanees into permanent team members, they’ll be missing one occasional but promising contributor from last year. Gerald Deloufou, a speedy winger deployed as a late-game sparkplug sub, was at Everton on a year-long loan from Barcelona. Unlike Chelsea with Lukaku, Barca wanted their talented youngster back.
The Gerrard-and-Lampard-era of English football ended with a whimper this World Cup, and yet ever-pessimistic Three Lions fans have something to look forward to with Ross Barkley’s emergence. Still just 20, Barkley has pace, moves, muscle and finishing ability. Last year’s 50-yard solo run goal vs. Newcastle more than earned its spot on the Premier League season’s highlight reel:
Ross Barkley isn’t the only future-of-England player at Everton. Defender John Stones, who committed to Everton with a new five-year deal this summer, was on the standby list for this year’s World Cup, and will figure largely into the back four of future English teams. This year, he’ll challenge Everton mainstays Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin for starts in central defense.
Everton’s Champions League aspirations will be tested early. Assuming that their opener against just-promoted Leicester goes well, they get the reloaded Arsenal and the always-reloaded Chelsea in weeks two and three, then visit Anfield in week six for a not-friendly against their crosstown rivals.
Last year against West Ham, Baines froze goalie Jussi Jaaskelainen on two consecutive free kicks—one bending over the wall into the top-left corner, the other bending the other way into the top-right corner. When Baines stands over the ball, you better not walk away from your TV.
There are several origin stories floating around, the most plausible being that a toffee shop in Liverpool’s Everton district, delightfully named Mother Noblett’s, sold an Everton Mint among its assortment of sweets. Other past nicknames include infinitely cooler choices—like the Black Watch, the School of Science, and the People’s Club—but the Toffees, for better or worse, has stuck.