The wait is over ladies and gentlemen, and the best time of the calendar year is once again upon us. English football is back this weekend and with it surely comes another season of ups and downs, triumphs and upsets, and infinite drama. It’s a strong opening weekend lineup throughout the league, with some marquee match-ups including Tottenham-Everton on Saturday, Arsenal-Liverpool on Sunday, and Chelsea-West Ham in the Monday afternoon game. So let’s take a look at the first of those matches, as Spurs travel to Goodison Park to kick-off their 2016-2017 Premier League adventure.
Last season, a look at Spurs and Everton told vastly different stories for each club. Tottenham spent most of the season flying high, chasing the top four for the first half of the year and then mixing it up for the title in the second. Though they sputtered towards the end (had to fulfill the “finish behind Arsenal” requirement after all), their 3rd place status at the end of the season was certainly MUCH better than most fans could have hoped for at the onset of the campaign.
Everton, meanwhile, cast a much more disappointing figure. Despite starting the season pretty well, hovering around 5th-7th position for over a month, they soon began to fade into mid-table obscurity. By the end of the season they had dropped down to 11th place, and were alarmingly poor when playing at Goodison, dropping 5 of their last 7 home games. That simply isn’t the form of a team likely to compete for a top 6 position, and it cost manager Roberto Martinez his job a week before the season concluded.
Onto this season now, and how each squad looks going into the opener. Spurs have strengthened an already strong starting XI with quality depth options in Wanyama and Janssen. In contrast, Everton have recently parted ways with starting central defender John Stones, replacing him with the capable, yet aging Ashley Williams. One thing that can be said about the Toffees is that their squad is already pretty solid: Barkley, Lukaku, Baines, and Mirallas are all quality players they retained from last season. But at least for this first game, they haven’t brought in anyone who is likely to make an immediate impact the way Wanyama or Janssen might for Spurs.
An advantage Everton do have is the potential boost from new manager Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman was successful with his last club, Southampton, and would certainly rank in the top half of the Premier League’s managers. How he chooses to get the most out of the talent at his disposal will play a huge role in Everton’s season, and this first match will be a good view into his impact on his new team. If he can get the best out of players like Lukaku and Barkley from the start this year, Everton should easily improve on last season’s disappointing finish.
If Everton have the advantage of a new manager, Spurs have the advantage of being coached by one who’s tried and tested. Poch’s evolution of Spurs last season turned them into genuine title contenders, even if that old Spurs naivety showed in their last few games. He has the benefit of heading into the match with a starting XI that will be virtually unchanged from the one that was so dominant last season, with the only real exceptions being the suspended Dembele and recovering Vertonghen (still nursing a muscle injury suffered at the Euros). Plenty of the Spurs’ English contingent will also be eager to put a disappointing summer with the national team behind them, and so I expect them to be well up for Saturday’s challenge.
Poch will likely employ the high pressing, high energy style his Spurs side have become known for from the get-go this weekend, and whether or not Everton can cope will come down to how well Koeman has prepared them for such an opponent. If Spurs are successful in suffocating Everton’s midfield to prevent service to Lukaku, it’s difficult to see a re-shuffled Toffee back line standing up to concerted pressure from Kane and Co. over the 90 minutes.
Prediction: Everton 0-2 Spurs; Kane and Lamela with the goals