As their players head off to their respective international sides, Everton fans can reflect on a very solid start to the current Premier League season.
After seven fixtures Everton have four wins, two draws and a solitary defeat at Aston Villa. This is one point better than after the same number of games last season.
A year ago, Blues fans and some commentators were getting very excited about the team’s prospects for the campaign. Carlo Ancelotti’s side were playing some great flowing, attacking football and scoring a lot of goals.
But there were signs that not everything was quite as rosy as it seemed on the surface. Despite netting plenty of goals the Toffees were also conceding regularly too and in a familiar theme there were also concerns about the squad’s depth.
Then came that first international break, which I felt at the time could undermine the team’s momentum and a succession of subsequent injuries.
Ancelotti couldn’t ever replicate the style of football he had employed at the start and had to resort to an increasingly defensive approach for much of the rest of the campaign. Everton never really recovered and the season eventually petered out.
While this current break is technically the second of the current campaign, it has come at roughly the same time as the first one did last season.
Will Everton repeat that frustrating outcome this campaign?
It was obviously really important for Rafa Benitez’ and the team to start well with some benign early fixtures, especially because for some fans the Spaniard had all that past Reds baggage to overcome.
Well Benitez and his side have certainly delivered that good beginning, despite all the injury problems, and while not all doubts about his appointment haven’t been totally overcome, the majority of Evertonians have been impressed by the performances and his approach.
The Toffees are playing with determination, economy of style, energy and considerable attacking flair. And Benitez’s two outfield signings Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have been outstanding as have others reponding to his coaching, particularly Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Because Everton are playing in a simple and straightforward way emphasising a disciplined defensive shape and quick and direct counter-attacks, there is a real sense this side understands clearly exactly what they are supposed to do and play and are able to impliment these plans. There is also a degree of resiliance that has been very much lacking in past Toffees teams.
Now comes another test to maintain this focus and consistency when the Premier League returns after these latest international games.
It was this period following the first seven matches of last season when the wheels started to come off and results went south.
First of all hopefully the Blues will have both their two injured star forwards back when the Premier League resumes. At the very least Dominic Calvert-Lewin will presumably be fit again.
Richarlison is a more uncertain a case but fingers-crossed he might also be available. And Seamus Coleman could also have finally overcome his latest problem.
Assuming there are no new injuries following the internationals (always a real possibility particularly for Everton!) then Benitez will have an almost fully-fit squad again. That’s important as injuries after the international break was a major reason Ancelotti’s fine start came apart.
As this season started, the Blues first seven fixtures looked a reasonable set of games to begin with – just as was the case last time- and the team have, apart from the Villa lapse, made a very good fist of securing as many points as possible.
Everton also have some very winnable matches on paper after the break with first up a game against David Moyes’ West Ham United at Goodison Park.
This match is incidentially on the exact same date as the corresponding fixture following the first internationals twelve months ago when the Toffees resumed their season against Liverpool.
The Hammers have had a solid start themselves too and just like last season they are proving a real thorn in their opponents side playing in the same sort of way Moyes Everton teams did.
West Ham are a real threat going forward but have conceded quite a few goals and I think while there might be a few goals in this one, the Blues should win at the Grand Old Lady.
Then comes another home game against a struggling Watford currently in the process of appointing a new manager and if the Blues can get six points from both fixtures, it will set the team up well.
Next up are two more games against opponents that I also think this Everton team are very capable of beating on current form: Wolves away and then Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park.
After this it gets tougher with a really difficult trip to Manchester City followed by Brentford away and then first Merseyside derby of the season. I’ve included the Brentford trip because the Bees have started very well and the way they play will I think prove very testing for many opponents this season.
So, if things go well and Everton can arrive at the Etihad Stadium to play the current champions on 21 November with say another nine or ten points, then we could be really on for a good campaign overall. Let’s hope the team can sustain this excellent start and avoid last season’s ultimate disappointment and failure.