Second season syndrome relates to teams that, the previous year, were promoted to the next tier of football and performed above expectations in their debut in - or return to - said division. In their second term, however, the team in question struggles to match the exploits of the previous season and will either flutter with relegation or drop down a league.
Now, that isn't to say Everton are going to be relegated on the back of their fifth place finish. The Toffees have never suffered the drop from the Premier League and were one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League last term, with Roberto Martínez guiding the Merseysiders to the Europa League. Despite suffering relegation with Wigan Athletic the previous season, Bill Kenwright took a punt on the 41-year-old manager and was duly rewarded with a return to European football.
However, the microscope will be firmly fixed on Everton in the upcoming campaign to see if they can match, or better, their exploits from the previous year. In a way, Martínez faces the prospect of enduring his own form of 'second season syndrome'. Supporters will be expecting the team to threaten last season's top four, but with Tottenham and Manchester United appointing new managers and those above them strengthening, that may be easier said than done.
The minimum requirement is expected to be back-to-back European finishes and it's therein that the struggle lies. Everton were able to count on the performances of loan players to secure their high finish in the Premier League, most notably from striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian scored the most league goals (15) of every Everton player and for a team that netted 61 times in 38 games, his input was vital.
Only Bryan Oviedo (7.38), Seamus Coleman (7.32) and Gareth Barry (7.31) attained better WhoScored ratings than Lukaku (7.29) for the Toffees in the Premier League last season, reflecting what was an impressive loan spell for the striker. Kevin Mirallas was Everton's next highest goalscorer (8), while only four players bagged 6 or more goals in the league last term, one of which was defender Coleman.
Granted, it's a nice spread of goalscorers. Everton had 12 different players score in the 2013/14 campaign and for a team that netted 61 goals, the team clearly shared the goalscoring burden rather than relying too heavily on one individual. Nevertheless, losing a player of Lukaku's quality will be a massive hindrance and while it's too soon to rule out a potential return to Goodison Park, the lack of movement in the transfer window, especially up front, is cause for concern.
Martínez may have confirmed on Wednesday that he is close to signing promising forward David Henen from Anderlecht, but an 18-year-old Belgian who spent last season on loan with Monaco B is hardly going to be enough to cover the loss of Lukaku. However, that isn't to say the Merseysiders haven't been at all active in the transfer window already. Everton secured the permanent signing of Barry earlier this month, though fans feel it was a case of when, not if, the Toffees would confirm the experienced midfielder's signature.
Barry averaged more forward passes per game (25.2) than any other player in the Premier League last season and was vital to Martínez's gameplan in his debut campaign at the helm. The 33-year-old formed a resolute midfield partnership with James McCarthy, so keeping him at Goodison Park was somewhat essential, regardless of his age. Nevertheless, the lack of investment up front is a worry and one that Martínez must address sooner rather than later.
With Gerard Deulofeu and Lacina Traoré also returning to their parent clubs - Barcelona and Monaco, respectively - following the culmination of their loan spells, the only strikers Martínez can call on are Arouna Koné and Steven Naismith. Naismith netted just 5 league goals last season, while Koné is currently recovering from a knee cartilage injury suffered in October, so it remains to be seen when he will return to first team duties. Mirallas can lead the attack, but his performances for club and country show he is better when playing out wide, where he can utilise his WhoScored strengths of 'crossing' and 'key passes'.
Mirallas registered the most assists (8) of every Everton player, so deploying him as the lone frontman will limit his creative impact, though his goalscoring record suggests he can spearhead the attack when needed. Nevertheless, it would be in the best interests of Martínez to bring in a striker before the new season starts and, though there is over a month to go before the transfer window closes, time is still of the essence if they want to secure a marksman of Lukaku's calibre.
If he wishes to successfully integrate any new players before the campaign begins, the Spaniard needs to make his move in the market soon. The permanent signing of Barry and imminent arrival of Henen will not be enough for Everton to juggle domestic and European duties. The Europa League saps the energy of players, as any football manager will testify, so strength in depth is essential in order to deal with the physical rigours that come with Europe's second competition.
The worry that couples a reliance on loan signings is that they are a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Lukaku, in particular, excelled in an Everton shirt last season, but the lack of movement in the summer transfer window has the potential to derail the progress the Toffees have made under Martínez.
Where do you think Everton need to strengthen if they are to secure back-to-back European finishes?
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All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.Suggest a correction