Promoted Watford begin their first season in the Premier League since 2006-07 with a difficult looking trip to Everton, who are determined to improve on last season’s disappointing 11th placed finish.
It was generally accepted that Everton’s league form in 2014-15 was severely hindered by their participation in the Europa League, but they will have no such excuse if they labour again this time around. They have retained faith with most of the existing squad, with a return to the top six surely the aim for manager Roberto Martinez.
Tom Cleverley arrived from Manchester United with a point to prove, adding to the already sizeable number of midfield options at Goodison Park. They include Ross Barkley, who will be keen to return to his best form. Meanwhile, defender John Stones will need to ignore the potential distraction of being courted by champions Chelsea, and striker Romelu Lukaku must improve his level of consistency.
The visitors also like to play a passing game, but are slightly more direct. They certainly have a number of attacking players who are capable of exposing an often vulnerable Everton backline, with burly striker Troy Deeney finally provided with a much-deserved chance to prove himself at the highest level. Odion Ighalo was a regular scorer last season, while Matej Vydra will trouble opponents with his pace.
Despite going up, the Hornets were unable to agree a new contract with boss Slavisa Jokanovic, so have appointed journeyman Spaniard Quique Flores. He has been among the busiest in the transfer market this summer, breaking the club’s transfer record for Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue for the most significant signing. As ever for a promoted side, survival is the main aim, and they can manage that provided they tighten up in defence.
Everton will be without Muhamed Besic and Steven Pienaar, while Lukaku and fellow forward Gerard Deulofeu will be assessed after sustaining hamstring injuries.
Jose Manuel Jurado, Valon Behrami, Allan Nyom and Jose Holebas are among the many players who could make debuts for Watford, but Steven Berghuis, Almen Abdi and Miguel Britos are all unavailable.
Last Meeting: A massively controversial penalty helped Everton to a 2-1 victory in August 2006, with referee Peter Walton adjudging that Tim Cahill’s cross hit Chris Powell on the arm. It allowed Mikel Arteta to double their lead after Andrew Johnson scored a debut goal with a neat left-footed finish. Damien Francis scored Watford’s late consolation.
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