Wayne Rooney is set to make his first Premier League start for Everton in 13 years in Saturday’s season opener against Stoke at Goodison Park.
It’s been a busy summer at Everton so far with business including bringing back Rooney from Manchester United and landing Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen.
Ronald Koeman is still targeting further additions as negotiations continue with Swansea over £50m-rated playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson.
However, with optimism and expectations rising at Goodison Park, Koeman is not making bold promises about breaking into the Premier League’s top six.
“First of all we have big ambitions,” said Koeman. “That is what we would like to show to everybody.
“Like everybody knows we are still working on some targets and that is difficult, but if we can do the business we want I think we are stronger than last season.
“But of course it is difficult with the big clubs. You need one or two struggling in this season and maybe you can make the next step. If all the big ones are really strong and doing what they need, it is very difficult.”
Meanwhile, Stoke have a handful of summer signings of their own ready to make their debuts on Saturday.
Darren Fletcher, Kurt Zouma, Josh Tymon and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting have been brought in by manager Mark Hughes and are in contention to play.
“Everton have brought good players in but lost key players too, like (Romelu) Lukaku. Clearly, Wayne Rooney has the ability to fill that space,” said Hughes, who had a brief spell at Goodison Park towards the end of his playing career.
“They’ve got a good side and they’ve spent money from letting good players go, perhaps similar to Southampton a couple of years ago.
“It’s always a close game when we play Everton – a draw and they won by a single goal last season. There is always a turnover of players at this stage and you don’t know until you start playing where you are. We are looking forward to getting started.”
Midfielders Ross Barkley and James McCarthy, whose futures have both been the subject of speculation this summer, are unavailable following groin and knee injuries respectively.
Winger Yannick Bolasie (knee) and defenders Seamus Coleman (broken leg) and Ramiro Funes Mori (knee) will miss the start of the campaign with longer-term problems.
Ibrahim Afellay (knee) and Stephen Ireland (broken leg) are the only absentees for Stoke as they continue to recover from long-term injuries.
Everton’s last four Premier League campaigns have all started with a draw, with three of those ending 2-2.
The Toffees’ only success in their opening match in the last nine Premier League seasons came in 2012-13, beating Manchester United 1-0 at Goodison Park.
Only Frank Lampard and Alan Shearer (8) have scored more goals on Premier League opening day than Rooney (7).
Stoke’s only Premier League opening day victory came in 2009, seeing off newly promoted Burnley (D3 L5).
Mark Hughes hasn’t won any of his last six opening day Premier League games (D2 L4) in charge of three different clubs in that time (Fulham, QPR and Stoke). His last win was in 2009 as Manchester City manager.
Gareth Barry could feature in his 21st Premier League season, a record only bettered by Ryan Giggs (22).
Veteran Stoke striker Peter Crouch has been involved in 10 goals against Everton in his Premier League career (six goals, four assists) – only against Aston Villa (11) has he been involved in more.
The Toffees have scored more home Premier League goals in 2017 (30) than any other side – indeed, they have already scored five more than they managed in the entirety of 2016 (25).
Stoke, who won their last away Premier League game on the final day of last season at Southampton, haven’t recorded back to back away league wins since October 2015.
Everton have signed a lot of players this summer, but not a lot of great players! They’ve bought in players, spent money and they are having a go though, so fair play to them.
If they can get Sigurdsson then they will be a certainty for seventh. They are a solid team and should be good for a run in the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup, but I can’t see them breaking into the top six because their squad is not as strong as those above.
Having said that I’m backing them to kick the season off with a win against a Stoke side I fear will struggle having lost Marko Arnautovic to West Ham.
PAUL PREDICTS: 2-0 (6/1 with Sky Bet)
Everton are Sky Bet’s 4/6 favourites for the victory with Stoke priced at 17/4 while the draw is 11/4. The big-spending Toffees are 9/1 to secure Champions League qualification this season and 9/4 for a top-six finish, while their visitors are 11/2 to face the drop. Sandro Ramirez and Rooney are the 9/2 joint favourites to score first, with Saido Berahino considered the Potters’ main threat at 8/1.Euro Soccer Bonus
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