Bright start gives Everton Champions League hope

Eyebrows were raised across English football when Ronald Koeman made the decision to leave Southampton to join Everton in the summer. The Dutchman had just completed a second successful season at St Mary’s Stadium, guiding his side into the Europa League courtesy of a sixth-place finish.

Meanwhile, the Toffees endured a campaign of underwhelming displays under Roberto Martinez, especially towards the end of the term, which resulted in his sacking following a 3-0 defeat to Sunderland in the penultimate match of the season.

As a result there were confused spectators when Koeman readily accepted the position at Goodison Park, stating a willing desire to leave the Saints, despite his good work over the past two years on the South Coast. On early season form the decision appears to have been an astute one from the former Barcelona player as his men are flying high in the Premier League.

The Toffees are currently sixth in the top flight and are keeping pace with the contenders for the title and the Champions League places for the 2017/18 season. Koeman’s men are backed in the latest Bet365 Premier League betting odds at 9/1 to secure a place in the top four this term for the first time in 12 years.

Everton were prudent in the transfer market over the summer, not making the huge splashes that pundits may have predicted after Farhad Moshiri became the majority shareholder at the club. John Stones was sold for £47.5m to Manchester City, and with the money received Koeman landed the signatures of Ashley Williams, Idrissa Gueye and Yannick Bolasie for £25m from Crystal Palace.

They enjoyed a strong start to the campaign, battling for a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day before reeling off four wins on the spin. The key for Koeman now, and for the remainder of the season is the form of Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgian endured a nine-game drought in front of goal, which included some embarrassing misses early in the term, but he found his form in the second half of their 3-0 win over Sunderland. He dominated the Black Cats to end his troubles by scoring a hat-trick in 11 minutes at the Stadium of Light.

Since then he has added a further four strikes and will need to maintain his form for the Toffees to have an opportunity to break into the Champions League. At the other end of the pitch the club have felt no ill effect of Stones’ departure with Williams sliding into his position with ease.

Koeman tried his utmost to sign Lamine Kone from Sunderland, but the Black Cats rebuffed their approaches leading to the swoop for the Wales international. He and Phil Jagielka have formed a solid partnership in the middle of the defence, and only Tottenham have conceded fewer than Everton’s five goals in the Premier League this season.

An area that may cost the Toffees unless they improve is their performances on the road, especially against teams below them in the table. Koeman’s men have lost two just matches this term, but those have come in fixtures against Bournemouth and Burnley. To challenge for a top-four place, Everton need to regain the clinical edge they displayed against Sunderland when they tackle the bottom-half sides to push them towards Europe’s elite competition. It has been a bright start for Koeman, and the positive aspect of his reign is that there is surely more to come from him and his promising outfit.

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