Every year the debate starts about how European football can affect teams, especially those who aren’t used to the extra matches. This is a crucial reason I expect it to play a big part in Everton’s season. Last season, they were admired for their fearless approach and attacking style of play, which brought in praise, especially for manager Roberto Martinez, but a shaky start to the season suggests that they could be in for an uncomfortable campaign, after picking up five points from five league matches. Everton came so close to qualifying for the Champions League and would have had ambitions of doing just that this season, but it will be extremely difficult due to the Europa League.
The main concern for Everton is the size of their squad, which is small and will be badly exposed when injuries hit, something that is inevitable as the season progresses. The fitness of Romulu Lukaku is particularly important as it is unlikely Steven Naismith, Arouna Kone and Samuel Eto’o could debutise effectively for a long period of time. Plus there have to be doubts about the Belgian and whether he can maintain such a high standard, as Chelsea don’t sell players for no reason.
Another big strength of Everton last season was their incredibly resolute defence, which has taken a huge downwards step in the opening few matches of the new season. They have already conceded 13 goals, more than any other side in the division, although that was hugely impacted by their heavy defeat against Chelsea. However it must be a concern for Roberto Martinez, especially after witnessing his side fall to defeat against Crystal Palace, despite leading the match at home. Everton have always been able to rely upon Goodison Park to be a fortress, they can’t afford to be losing to sides like Palace.
Also the increased strength of the sides around Everton will make it difficult for the Merseyside team to improve on last season’s impressive finish. Tottenham and Manchester United both look stronger, while the likes of Swansea and Southampton could certainly prove a threat. Everton failed to add to their squad as well as they needed to, although keeping hold of previous loan stars was their main objective in the window, while the likes of Eto’o and Christian Atsu are unlikely to bring the star quality the side needed.
The Europa League could turn out to be a positive thing for the club though in the long run as it provides an opportunity for fringe players, plus this year the eventual winner will qualify for next season’s Champions League. The potential rewards do outweigh the negatives from having an under par league campaign. However, if they look to the Europa League and then fail to win it, therefore risking their league campaign for no reason, Roberto Martinez will become under pressure quickly. It may seem like his job is one of the safest now, but the Europa League has the potential to change that if it leads to a poor season.