Everton kick off their 2017/18 Premier League campaign on Saturday by welcoming Stoke City to Goodison Park. Mark Hughes’ side, who are playing in their tenth consecutive season in the top flight, finished last season in 13th place, level on points with the previous year’s champions, Leicester City.
The Staffordshire outfit have seen several senior players move on in this summer transfer window, with Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters, Phil Bardsley and Marko Arnautović all departing. However, the club have begun a recruitment drive, signing talented Hull City youngster Josh Tymon, West Brom’s captain Darren Fletcher, Schalke winger Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Chelsea centre-half Kurt Zouma on a season-long loan.
Despite their losses, the Potteries still possess an array of talent, including Champions League winners Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan, and hugely talented goalkeeper Jack Butland.
To get an inside view on all matters Stoke, I spoke to The Bear Pit TV co-host Elliot Hackney.
How do you feel about the transfer window so far, from a Stoke point of view?
This all depends on how it ends, we’ve already got in four players but haven’t spent a single penny. If we can spend some cash and improve the squad even further, including the purchase of Bruno Martins Indi, then I think most Stoke fans will be happy.
In what areas do you think Stoke are still lacking?
We need someone to score goals. With Arnautović now leaving we’ve lost one of our main threats, and without a man who will score 15+ goals a season we could really suffer.
What should Stoke be aiming for this season?
I’d be happy with anywhere in the top half. Last season was one for regression so we need to make an improvement on that.
Many Stoke supporters, including former player Matthew Etherington (watch Etherington’s interview with The Bear Pit here), weren’t overly impressed with Mark Hughes last season. Do you feel he’s still the best man for the job to move the club forward?
Personally I think he should’ve gone in the summer and many other fans did too, but once it’s became apparent that he’s staying then all we can do is back him. But the signings and football in pre-season haven’t exactly been inspiring.
Onto the game, how do you expect Stoke to line-up?
I expect us to start with a 3-5-2. Mark Hughes has liked this formation for a while and it will only be strengthened if he can get Martins Indi in too. The problem for us though is our full-backs aren’t really good enough for this system. Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters aren’t the youngest of wing-backs, and are probably coming to the end of their careers with a quite obvious decline in form.
Who should Everton be most wary of and where will the danger come from?
I’m going to have to say Shaqiri. He’s now the star man for us after Arnautović’s departure and he seems to be revelling in it which is pleasing to see. He’s also known to score at Everton too!
Everton have lost record goal-scorer Romelu Lukaku. Are you still expecting a tough game from the Toffees, despite the club losing their main goal threat this summer?
Of course, you’ve splashed the cash and made some very good signings with possibly more to come. That being said though, we hope it takes them time to gel and they all don’t immediately click on Saturday.
Finally, what is your prediction for the game?
I’m going to go for a very optimistic 1-1 draw. But it’s a bit biased, that.