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Premier League: Early Everton optimism may fade when stars depart

Everton boss Ronaldo Koeman has made some great signings, but will they be enough?
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Everton have made some fine signings already this summer, with more - including a possible return for Wayne Rooney - in the pipeline, but Kevin Hatchard believes they might not be enough to push the Toffees to the next level...

"The signings of Sandro, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen and Jordan Pickford are all impressive, but if Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley leave this summer, then finishing seventh again would represent a fine achievement."

Lay Everton at anything below [3.0] in the Premier League Top Six Finish market

There are plenty of advantages to getting transfer business done early. It allows players to have a full pre-season with their new clubs, getting to know teammates and the coaching staff. It also sends a clear message to fans and rivals that a club means business.

It appears clear that Everton mean business, in a number of ways. British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri has made good on his promises to inject funds into the Merseyside giants - approximately £82m has been spent on five signings, and after years of ifs, buts and maybes, progress is finally being made on a new stadium.

Everton finished seventh last season, in no-man's land between the Premier League's top six and the rest. In an encouraging first campaign, Dutch boss Ronald Koeman saw his Toffees finish a massive 15 points ahead of eight-placed West Bromwich Albion. However, the 15-point gap that will most interest Koeman is the one that ultimately separated his side from the top four, and Champions League qualification.

The club's fans are understandably excited about some of the new arrivals. England U21 keeper Jordan Pickford excelled in a poor Sunderland side last season and, at the age of 23, he is a long-term solution in one of the most important positions on the field.

The biggest coup so far was the signing of Ajax skipper Davy Klaassen. The Dutch international was one of the key players as Ajax reached the Europa League final, driving his side forward from midfield and breaking up opposition attacks. Klaassen is a leader, and he'll relish the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League. He scored 14 goals and made nine more in the Eredivsie last season, so he is much more than a midfield workhorse.

Everton edged out a number of rivals to sign Klaassen, and they have done the same in signing Malaga striker Sandro Ramirez. Having been cast aside by Barcelona, the 21-year-old excelled at Malaga, scoring 14 La Liga goals in 30 games. His form was so impressive that Barca are thought to rue letting him leave Catalonia.

Ramirez cost just six million euros (Everton activated his buyout clause), and he is an exciting prospect. He scores all types of goals, and has a knack for finding the net from long range. His performances for the Spanish U21 side at the recent European Championship did his reputation no harm.

The Spaniard made no secret of Koeman's influential role in his decision to choose a move to Everton, and described the former Southampton boss as the ideal manager to help him develop.

After an impressive season that saw him break into the England senior squad, Burnley defender Michael Keane has been brought in. It's a move that makes sense for all parties - Everton get a defender who is improving and does the basics well, Keane gets a club where he can play regular first team football in a World Cup year, and Burnley get a hefty fee.

The signing and subsequent loan to Anderlecht of Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru shows Everton are also planning for the future, and it's encouraging for their fans that the club can spend a fairly big fee on a player they have no intention of using in the short term.

So far, so good, but the elephant in the room is the likely departure of two of the club's best players. Romelu Lukaku has emerged as one of the Premier League's most dangerous strikers, having scored 43 league goals in the past two seasons. At the age of 24 he has accrued vast experience, and could get even better. The Belgian international has declared his wish to move on, with Manchester United and his former club Chelsea keen to sign him.

Another piece of the Everton puzzle that could disappear under the footballing sofa (I have kids, this happens a lot) is Ross Barkley. Koeman has been adamant that the 23-year-old needs to sign a new contract to show his commitment, with his current deal due to expire in 2018. The alternative is a summer sale, which now seems likely unless potential suitors are scared off by Everton's asking price.

Lukaku and Barkley contributed 30 goals and 14 assists to the Everton cause in the Premier League last season, and their departures would leave a huge hole. While I have no doubt that Koeman is an excellent manager who has made astute signings, you wonder whether those acquisitions are what Everton need just to stand still. Even the mooted return of Wayne Rooney to Goodison Park - a player I think is still far better than many of his detractors would have you believe - might not be enough to close the gap on the top six, and certainly not the top four.

Everton fans are right to be happy, but with all of the teams above them set to strengthen too, it may be another season where finishing seventh will be seen as a fine achievement.

In the Top Six Finish market, you can currently lay Everton at [3.75]. That's quite chunky and will put some of you off, but if the figure drops significantly, I'd take it on, because I don't think Koeman's men will crack the top six this season.


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Lay Everton at anything below [3.0] in the Premier League Top Six Finish market

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