Last season, Everton’s free-flowing attacking football of 2013/14 gave way to tepid, toothless possession, as questions began to be asked of Roberto Martinez’ philosophy.
After initially being viewed as a breath of fresh air at Everton, the fans have started to turn on Martinez.
Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku visibly regressed last season, as Everton spent far too much of the season looking over their shoulders, struggling to juggle the demands of Europe and the domestic league.
More will be expected this term from the Toffees, but the squad remains perilously thin.
The first eleven is certainly capable of making a go at a return to Europe, if not in the Champions League. Lukaku was not nearly as bad last season as criticism would have you believe, netting a decent return and still being likely to improve at just 22. Behind him though, Aruna Kone is an average player who has struggled during an injury hit spell.
The supply line is again, talented but inconsistent. Kevin Mirallas can be a frustrating figure, as can Aiden McGeady, whilst Steven Pienaar has struggled to find fitness. That left much of the creative burden to Ross Barkley last season, who struggled under the pressure and seems better suited to a deeper role.
The signing of former loanee Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona should ease that creative burden, but only if he can recapture top form after a difficult spell at Sevilla.
With Daren Gibson returning to fitness, Tom Cleverley joining from Manchester United on a free and Muhamed Besic settling into life in England, Everton are probably best stocked in central midfield, even if Barry is starting to show his age.
However, rivals are starting to circle key man James McCarthy. Defence is the big concern, with another one of their best players – John Stones – increasingly linked with a move to Chelsea.
Even if Everton do manage to retain Stones, there is almost no cover for what is an impressive first choice back four. With Sylvain Distin and Antolín Alcaraz having departed and no arrivals thus far, an injury to Phil Jagielka or Stones would leave the Toffees reliant on young players to bridge the gap.
Injury has already taken its toll, with Baines set for a period on the side lines. Bryan Oviedo is now Everton’s only fit senior left back with Luke Garbutt out on loan. On the other flank Seamus Coleman will need to be better than he was last year. Their job will be to protect a goal tended by Tim Howard, who whilst solid, has begun to look more fallible with age.
Key Player: Leighton Baines is the most creative full back in the league and a consistent goal threat from both set pieces and open play.
It says a lot about how crucial Baines is that he was still Everton’s best player last term despite injury and not hitting top form. Everton need him to return from injury and hit top form very quickly.
One to watch: Everton have a very impressive crop of young players, many of whom could feature fairly heavily for the Toffees this term.
Brendan Galloway is a powerful midfielder, who is also capable of playing in central defence. He will be up against Tyias Browning who is also adept at right back.
Ross Barkley will be expected to show progress this year and get back on track to fulfilling his immense potential.
Prediction: Everton fans will be hoping for much better this season, both in terms of style of play and results, but without serious reinforcements, a small squad might well struggle again.
The Toffees won’t ever be in real danger of relegation, but with clubs around them strengthening heavily, even a top half finish would be an achievement – 13th.