Forget Moussa Sissoko and other missed targets, Everton have plenty of cause for optimism

The Premier League season may only be three matches old, but Greg Lea explains why the early signs are good for Everton.

Everton enjoyed a busy and largely successful transfer window, but arguably the best piece of business can be found in the dugout with the appointment of Ronald Koeman as manager. Ed Sykes / Reuters
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It was not the most convincing of denials.

“[Moussa] Sissoko is a great player,” Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri told Sky Sports in a statement released last week, after Tottenham Hotspur had moved in on his club’s move for the then-Newcastle United midfielder at the 11th hour.

“But when I bought into Everton, I made it clear I was proud to join a family, and we don’t turn our backs on our own. Keeping James McCarthy was a priority and ultimately we could not proceed with a deal that would jeopardise his place at Everton. We wish Sissoko the best.”

Deep down, Moshiri was probably as disappointed and frustrated by the Frenchman’s U-turn as the majority of the club’s supporters — particularly as reported moves for Manolo Gabbiadini, Rachid Ghezzal, Lamine Kone and Yacine Brahimi also failed to materialise — but Everton nevertheless have reason for optimism ahead of the resumption of the Premier League this weekend.

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The season may only be three games old, but Everton are in fourth place after victories over Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion and an opening-day draw with Tottenham.

A trip to Sunderland on Monday provides them with an excellent opportunity to make it 10 points from 12, and while there is still a long way to go until such things are decided, Everton’s European credentials are at this stage looking encouraging.

Idrissa Gueye, Yannick Bolasie, Ashley Williams, Enner Valencia, Maarten Stekelenburg, and Bassala Sambou were the signings Everton did manage to get over the line in the summer, but the club’s most important addition of the close-season came in the dugout.

Poaching Ronald Koeman from Southampton was a real statement of intent, with the Dutchman’s exploits during his two years at St Mary’s likely to stand him in good stead at Goodison Park.

Everton did not meet expectations last season, when they could not even scrape a top-half finish and failed to take advantage of many of the Premier League’s biggest clubs’ underachievement. A talented squad consistently amounted to less than the sum of its parts.

The dismissal of Roberto Martinez, which eventually arrived after a 3-0 defeat by Sunderland in May, came to be inevitable.

There are already signs that Koeman is taking Everton in the right direction. Martinez, now in charge of the Belgium national team, repeatedly proved unwilling to dilute his principles with a necessary dose of pragmatism, and opponents found it far too easy to take advantage of a frail defensive unit.

Everton have looked considerably more solid so far this term, with the presence of ball-winner Gueye in the centre of midfield adding a vital layer of protection in front of the backline.

Teenager Mason Holgate has turned in some promising performances at both centre-half and right-back — Koeman has switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations — and Stekelenburg represents an upgrade on Tim Howard in goal.

At the other end of the field, retaining Romelu Lukaku was significant, with the former Chelsea striker aiming to improve upon last season’s return of 25 goals in all competitions.

Lukaku, 23, has only begun one of Everton’s three matches so far. His return to the side on a permanent basis will give Everton more of a presence and scoring threat up top.

While Everton were not able to land all of their transfer targets in the summer window, there are still plenty of positives to be taken from their start to the season.

With Koeman at the helm, Everton fans have genuine cause for optimism that they can push on and put last season’s disappointment behind them.

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