It’s been a very accomplished start to life on Merseyside for Everton manager Ronald Koeman, yet with competition for the coveted top-four spots perhaps fiercer than ever; gate-crashing the party is a very tall order.
Although the Toffees sit just two points off fourth-place Liverpool in the table after every side has played eight games, odds of 10/1 to occupy any of the Champions League berths come May hints at how tough an ask it still is.
Koeman’s managerial prowess is already in evidence, as the six goals conceded is a figure only bettered for its paucity by Tottenham in the Premier League this season.
The additions of penalty-saving hero Maarten Stekelenburg and centre-half Ashley Williams this summer look inspired in that regard, not to mention the industrious defence-screening Idrissa Gueye, though it’s the other end of the pitch where Koeman still has pressing issues.
Failing to find adequate centre-forward cover for Romelu Lukaku was one of many areas that predecessor Roberto Martinez didn’t quite succeed in and the last-minute loan addition of Enner Valencia is not an auspicious start to the Dutchman’s own quest.
The West Ham man scored eight top-flight goals in 54 Hammers appearances before arriving at Goodison Park.
Lukaku is one of the finest marksman around and the Toffees were right to splash the cash on him, yet there has been an obvious overreliance on the Belgian, especially since he made his loan move from Chelsea permanent before the 2014/15 campaign.
As his own figures have risen in each season, Everton have been extremely fortunate that their record-signing has largely remained fit as a string of understudies have simply not been good enough to offer relief.
From a Samuel Eto’o well passed his best, through hit-and-miss Steven Naismith and sometimes-fit Arouna Kone, the Goodison striker stocks have remained limited.
Throw into this mix proper misfits like loan man Lacina Traore and current £13m outcast Oumar Niasse, and the point doesn’t require much expansion.
Bringing a player through the ranks, as Everton have successfully done with the likes of Ross Barkley before now is certainly an option. Discovering a Kelachi Iheanacho or a Marcus Rashford isn’t easy, yet Koeman may have his eye on one or two of the brightest reserves or academy boys.
If not, then recruiting in January seems paramount to the blue half of Merseyside’s top-four challenge this season and pursuit of European football in general.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing