The race to finish in the Premier League top four in 2014-15 is set to be as tightly contested as ever.
It seems increasingly likely that three of the four Champions League qualification places will be filled by perennial powerhouses Chelsea, Arsenal and last term’s top dogs Manchester City, while a wounded Manchester United are already looking more threatening under Louis van Gaal.
However, another team should be right in the mix after a change in ethos in the club over the last 12-18 months.
Everton have been consistently handed the ‘overachievers’ tag in the current generation, with David Moyes applauded for helping the Goodison Park club to punch above its weight despite financial duress.
Excitement on Merseyside has intensified around the team in blue since Roberto Martínez’s appointment last summer; rightly so given the expansive and forward-thinking football that the team has adopted.
Despite the team’s impressive performances on the pitch, the most promising thing for Toffees’ fans will be the mentality of the club away from the action.
In recent times Everton have been powerless to rebuff the overtures of ‘bigger’ clubs and retain their best players, while the in-demand stars have always been more than willing to jump ship.
Since Martínez has been at the helm this has changed.
Despite reported interest from the English game’s top sides, Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and a dramatically improved Séamus Coleman have all signed new long-term contracts at Goodison since the turn of the year.
Even Toffees fans must have feared the worst when the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea were linked with the star trio, but their collective commitment to Everton is a major statement of intent.
The shoestring budget that the club has had to work with has seemingly improved also, as the Merseyside outfit has pulled off quite the coup d’état by making Romelu Lukaku’s tenure at the club permanent.
The club record £28 million spent to sign the powerful Belgian ahead of a wealth of European teams is another indicator that Everton are ridding themselves of the plucky underdog tag and are ready to be perennial challengers at the top of the English game.
Martínez has been widely commended for the job he has done in his first 12 months at the club, but the Spaniard’s objectives will shift in 2014-15.
Fifth place was deemed a success last term, given that the team was only a couple of positive results away from Champions League qualification. The same final position would now be perceived differently in 2014-15.
With Martínez given money to bring Lukaku and Muhamed Bešić to Goodison, Gareth Barry making a successful loan switch permanent and existing stars committing themselves to the club, Champions League qualification now seems like the be all or end all.
For the talented coach, the challenge of the next campaign will be a new one.
Martínez has forged a reputation of managerial excellence by overachieving at teams that were not expected to do much; Swansea, Wigan and last term Everton.
However, with expectations at Goodison now heightened, both inside and outside the club, Everton’s ultimate goal is Champions League football – fifth place is no longer an overachievement.