Everton are certainly one of the more curious cases heading into the new Premier League season following their impressive battle to seventh place last year, eventually falling just short of the top six.
The sale of influential striker Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United allied with the uncertain future of England midfielder Ross Barkley, who looks destined to leave before the end of the summer transfer window, has left spirits on Merseyside a little dampened just days ahead of the new season.
But boss Ronald Koeman has been making waves himself in the transfer market, making seven new additions at an overall cost of over £100million as he looks to break into that top six once and for all.
Throw in a possible Europa League adventure should they make it past tough opposition in Croatian outfit Hajduk Split and reach the group stage, and it could be a thrill-a-minute nine months.
The Boot Room takes a look at three of Everton’s key men to watch out for in the upcoming season…
Idrissa Gana Gueye
If there was one man at the front of Everton’s push last season, it was Idrissa Gueye.
Seemingly out of nowhere the 27-year-old has stepped into the first-team at Goodison Park and revelled in his deep midfield role, and comparisons to N’Golo Kante have been more than merited.
If anything, the statistics suggest that Gueye was more efficient and industrious last season; the Senegalese man made a staggering 103 tackles compared to Kante’s 82 – not surprisingly being the highest number in the top-flight – and he made more key clearances (46) than the Chelsea man.
Ronald Koeman often sets his side out with an intent to press, and Gueye’s natural tenacity around the centre circle, forcing opponents into mistakes, has added a whole new dimension to their midfield.
The Dutchman will be expecting big things from Gueye once more this season and if Everton are aiming to get anywhere near the top six – or succeed in the Europa League – he will be absolutely vital.
Of all of the new arrivals at Goodison Park so far this summer, the general consensus is that the most eye-catching one is the addition of technically-gifted Davy Klaassen from Dutch giants Ajax.
The 24-year-old roaming midfielder has moved to the Premier League with 55 goals in 180 appearances for Ajax under his belt and it’s well known that Koeman holds him in high regard.
He may take a while to settle in after his switch, not particularly hitting the headlines in Everton’s laboured Europa League qualifiers so far, but he’s already shown glimpses of just what he can bring.
Klaassen is undeniably sharper than most Premier League footballers, being incredibly intelligent whilst on a football pitch, and once he begins to develop an understanding and a sense of chemistry with his new team-mates then it’s only a matter of time before his own game begins to thrive and click more.
His clever movement in opposition territory opens up gaps for other players to exploit and he has already shown such a deft touch on the ball; there’s certainly good reason for Everton to be excited.
Yet above all, there’s little doubt that all eyes will be constantly trained on Wayne Rooney on his Goodison Park return after 13 years spent at Manchester United, looking for a fairy-tale campaign.
Can he still cut it at the top level at 31-years-old?
The same questions that reverberated around Old Trafford for the past few years will be heard on Merseyside for sure, but the class that Rooney can bring to any side simply can’t be underestimated.
He won’t be scoring 20 plus goals a season or spear-heading Everton to the Europa League final anytime soon but his vast experience across his career will influence that dressing room in ways that are unimaginable, rubbing off on the youngsters in particular and making the Toffees a much better team.
Where he fits into Koeman’s system, and how much game-time he is awarded, is yet to be seen but it’s almost certain he will add a sense of composure and calmness that can take them to the next level.