Everton vs Stoke City Preview: Will the Toffees' new signings gel on opening weekend?

Stoke City make the trip to Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon to take on an Everton side rejuvenated by an influx of summer signings.

The Toffees have spent a collective £88m on seven new players to bolster a squad weakened by the departure of top scorer Romelu Lukaku, who joined Manchester United for £76m.

In stark contrast, Mark Hughes has spent little on players this summer after a highly lacklustre 2016/17 season.

The two sides have just met twice on the opening weekend of a top flight season - in 1964 and 1983 - with both ending in victories for this weekend’s hosts.

Everton have reason to be optimistic

Everton enjoyed a highly respectable season last term as the Merseyside outfit finished seventh in the Premier League during Ronald Koeman’s first year in charge.

The club finished well clear of Southampton in eighth - 15 points to be exact - but were still some way from finishing the top six, let alone the top four.

The Toffees have loftier ambitions than mid-table mediocrity and, with Lukaku’s departure becoming increasingly imminent as the summer went on, have spent big on a plethora of quality players.

The likes of Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen have all come in for big money while shrewd business have allowed them to also purchase Cuco Martina, Henry Onyekuru, Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney.

Pickford was brought in for an estimated £25m. Source - Getty Images.
Pickford was brought in for an estimated £25m. Source - Getty Images.

Signs in pre-season have been fairly promising with Everton going all four of their friendlies unbeaten and beating Ružomberok in both legs of their Europa League qualifier.

Leighton Baines and youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin got the goals against the Serbian outfit, with Koeman stating his side are raring to get their Premier League season underway.

"You smell and feel the motivation of the players to start this Saturday. That is a good signal for everybody.” said the Dutchman.

Everton have a disappointing record on the opening weekend of the season. The club have begun their last four league campaigns with a draw - three of which ending 2-2 - and have won just once in the last nine years.  

Another slow start for Stoke?

Stoke City go into their 10th consecutive season in the Premier League with many predicting the Potters to struggle under Mark Hughes.

City finished in a disappointing 13th place after three successive seasons in the top half of the table and could be in store for a similar scenario.

Despite spending just under £7m on transfer fees this summer, Hughes has brought in players. Darren Fletcher brings real experience to midfield, Josh Tymon and Kurt Zouma are promising defenders and signing Bruno Martins Indi on a permanent deal was a must for many fans before the transfer window began.

Bruno Martins Indi impressed for Stoke last season. Source - Getty Images.
Bruno Martins Indi impressed for Stoke last season. Source - Getty Images.

The majority of players that have departed are expendable with some more exciting talents hopefully taking the place of Glenn Whelan and Phil Bardsley in the squad. Marko Arnautovic leaving is a big blow with there not many in the team with the ability to make something happen.

The strike force must be Hughes’ biggest worry going into the start of the upcoming campaign. Bojan was out of favour last term along with Joselu, Mame Biram Diouf is not an out-and-out goalscorer, Saido Berahino has not hit the ground running in Staffordshire and Peter Crouch is, well, getting on a bit.

The Potters played eight friendlies this summer against the likes of Monaco and RB Leipzig. Stoke won five of those with Joselu their top goalscorer of the summer (4) but Hughes has echoed his opposite number’s thoughts, saying:

“Everyone is fed up of friendlies, and we just all want the season to start now.”

Stoke also have a pretty dreadful opening weekend record having just won once since their promotion to the Premier League, with that victory coming in 2009.

A host of debuts expected

Ronald Koeman will be missing Ross Barkley and James McCarthy with groin and knee injuries respectively.

Seamus Coleman, Yannick Bolasie and Ramiro Funes Mori have also been ruled out for Everton.

Coleman has returned to training but is not fit to play. Source - Getty Images.
Coleman has returned to training but is not fit to play. Source - Getty Images.

Wayne Rooney will his league debut after returning to his boyhood club and should be joined by centre-back Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford.

Saido Berahino is said to be in ‘great shape’ while Darren Fletcher, Max Choupo-Moting and on-loan Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma could all make their competitive debuts.

What do Hughes and Koeman have to say?

Stoke City face a difficult start to the season. After Everton, they play four of last season’s top six in their next seven league outings.

“We have another tough start, which is no great surprise because we are used to that now,” Hughes told the media on Friday.

Mark Hughes during a recent pre-season friendly. Source - Getty Images.
Mark Hughes during a recent pre-season friendly. Source - Getty Images.

“The key thing from our point of view is that we start better than in previous years, because if we can do that, then when we go into games that people expect us to win then we should be in a really strong position.” the Welshman continued.

"It's always a close game when we play Everton - a draw and they won by a single goal last season. There is always a turnover of players at this stage and you don't know until you start playing where you are."

In his pre-match press conference, Ronald Koeman opted to discuss his team’s ‘big ambitions’ for the season ahead while eluding to the difficulty of facing Stoke home or away.

“We have big ambitions,” said Koeman. “That is what we like to show everybody, but the end of the transfer window is when it is more realistic to speak about targets and what is possible.

Koeman addresses the media. Source - Getty Images.
Koeman addresses the media. Source - Getty Images.

“We spent money but everybody is spending money and looking for the best players. It is a big competition and we will see what happens.

“Saturday will be a difficult game. We followed Stoke in pre-season, they had a lot of games. They have made some changes to their team, they lost Marko Arnautovic and brought in some new players. Playing Stoke City is always a battle, home or away.”

Prediction: Everton 2-0 Stoke City