A man, his hair, and some serious potential fantasy value. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Year after year the story remains the same on the blue side of Liverpool. No money to spend on new players. Slow starts in the league. A few key acquisitions on a tight budget that don't seem like they'll make a difference. A stingy defense and an attack that provides just enough. A few great wins against bigger clubs with far bigger budgets. A second half charge back up the table ending in a finish somewhere between 9th and 5th. This past season David Moyes and the boys split the difference and finished 7th and ahead of local rivals Liverpool which likely made for great bragging rights for Toffees and their supporters all summer.
With the script largely known ahead of time, there are really only a few questions to ask: Who has improved enough to overtake Everton? Where will the points come from? Is this the season where walking on the tightrope described above ends in disaster rather than the typical charge up the table in the second half. Click past the jump to see what you should expect from David Moyes and Everton in 2012-13:
Quick Recap of Last Season: You read it above, the typical Everton script was in full effect last season. Everton were plodding along making their supporters wonder if this was the season where the lack of funds finally caught up to them when David Moyes pulled a rabbit out of his hat and brought in Nikica Jelavic from Scotland and Steven Pienaar back on loan from Spurs and hit the jackpot in the form of the goals that rocketed the Toffees past Liverpool down the home stretch.
What Changed: Steve Naismith - Jelavic's old partner from the Rangers strikeforce - is the only real change from the end of last season. Steven Pienaar is back on a permanent basis after being loaned to Everton in January of last season. Everton also lost a couple of fading spare parts over the summer in the form of Tim Cahill and Joseph Yobo. You may see those names and have fond memories of solid-to-strong production but it has been at least a couple of years since that was an accurate accounting of their current contribution. A full season of Pienaar and the potential that Naismith could be even 75% as effective as his former teammate. Call it just a bit better than treading water.
Real World Projection: With Liverpool looking like they're heading in the right direction and QPR potentially improving with a number of new acquisitions it is my guess that Liverpool's best case scenario this coming season is 8th with 9th probably more realistically. The real worry is that Martin O'Neill will continue to bring Sunderland forward and push Everton into the double digits. That would certainly be in keeping with MON's history.
Fantasy Production: Everton aren't a very good fantasy team despite their reasonably high finish in the table. With a total of 2287 points Everton look more like a relegation struggler than a top half team - they had similar totals to Wigan and West Brom while Liverpool and Fulham had about 20% more. If you need any evidence for the fact that Everton are a defensive-minded team - five of their top six fantasy performers were four defenders (Leighton Baines, Tony Hibbert, Johnny Heitinga, and Phil Jagielka) and goalkeeper Tim Howard. Of their forwards, the highest scoring option was Jelavic and he only played half the season. Not good news.
Fantasy Gold: Only Leighton Baines can really be considered fantasy gold from among the Evertonians. Howard is a solid goalkeeping option and is among the top half of the goalkeeping options but definitely not in the top few.
- Marouane Fellaini - With Tim Cahill gone the rumor is that Fellaini and his hair will be moved up to the more attacking role that Cahill played to such great effect for seven of the last eight years. If Fellaini can approximate Cahill's 7 to 10 goals per season in that role then his opening price of 6.91 will look like a bargain the size of the Fellaini's 'fro.
- Steven Pienaar - Hard to know what to expect here. Pienaar was very effective over the second half of the season for Everton after sitting for most of the first half at White Hart Lane. The problem is that his price jumped up after 3 exceptional fantasy weeks over the last 5 weekends of the season. Traditionally, he has been a hit and miss sort of player and his price should probably be under 10 for there to be any value to be had. Still, if he can extend his 4 goals and 7 assists from the second half of last season over a full season, his opening price will look like a bargain. Like I said, it could go either way.
- Steven Naismith - There are lots of forwards new to the Premier League who appear to have more upside - Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Eden Hazard, and whomever Spurs sign to play up top - but you have to think that Naismith will have the advantage that he'll play a lot for certain. Not like there are many alternatives to partner Jelavic.
- Nikica Jelavic - Like Pienaar, if he can keep the production going, he'll look like a bargain. More likely, he'll slow down to 15 to 18 goals over 38 matches as opposed to 9 in 13. Not bad numbers but for a guy who does virtually nothing else (no phantom points to speak of) his goal production is at the root of his fantasy value so I'd expect him to be overpriced in the early-going this season.
First Five Weeks: Manchester United, @Aston Villa, @West Brom, Newcastle, @Swansea - 3 away matches and the two home matches are with teams that finished ahead of the Toffees. Doesn't sound like a recipe for early investment in Everton. The hope has to be that a rough early stretch will bring down some of the prices in time for the schedule to get easier in late-September and early-October.