Lukaku and Eto'o out to prove themselves vs. former club Chelsea
After Everton snatched draws from the jaws of victory against Leicester and Arsenal, Friday's draw for the Europa League group stage provided fleeting respite from recent domestic frustrations.
Drawn in Group H, the Blues will face Wolfsburg, Lille and FC Krasnodar. They will be facing each of their opponents for the first time competitively, and the tough group is sure to test Roberto Martinez and his players to the full.
The squad must also contend with a domestic away fixture following each European one. The trip to Krasnodar is sandwiched between matches at Liverpool and Manchester United; Lille precedes Burnley, and Wolfsburg is before a visit to White Hart Lane.
In the meantime, though, while passports are dug out of drawers and trips are planned, attention turns to Saturday and the visit of Chelsea.
The hosts will hope for a repeat of last season. Enduring another glacial start, drawing each of their first three matches, Martinez's men secured their first victory of last term courtesy of a Steven Naismith goal. It was also the first of many feathers in the cap for the new boss in his debut season, as it was the first time an Everton manager had overcome a Chelsea side led by Jose Mourinho.
This time around, after the last-gasp surrender in the two previous matches, Everton go in search of their first three points of the new season. It is imperative that those in royal blue stick to their game from first whistle to last, especially with those two opening draws highlighting the Premier League's answer to Jekyll and Hyde. In a role reversal from Martinez's debut campaign, his players are starting strongly then fading; last season they scored two-thirds of their goals in the second half and ended matches in the ascendency.
Seeking to eradicate this bad habit of dropping points late on, the players (potentially) tasked with firing the home side to success are two players Mourinho knows well, Samuel Eto'o and Romelu Lukaku. With neither quite seeing eye-to-eye with the Chelsea boss during their time at Stamford Bridge, both are sure to view this as a chance to prove a point.
Eto'o had his age mocked, with that particular incident helping fuel much of the so-called narrative for this Goodison reunion. The veteran forward also had to settle for a bit part role, only starting 16 league matches while at Chelsea. Much like Lukaku before him, Eto'o found that Mourinho, rather inexplicably, preferred Fernando Torres. Several years ago, that may have been excusable, but Torres has floundered since swapping Liverpool for London.
Similarly, in spite of a productive year on loan to West Brom, Lukaku found first-team football in short supply upon his return to Stamford Bridge. In fact, until Everton came calling, it looked as though the Belgian would be reduced to the occasional cup outing.
Unable to face Chelsea last season due to the nonsensical parent club rule applied to domestic loans, the young Belgian is bound to relish the chance to test himself against his former teammates.
Repaying the faith shown by Martinez, Lukaku excelled (for the most part) on Merseyside in 2013-14. A return of 15 league goals convinced the Blues' boss that Lukaku was the man to lead his attack when the summer transfer window rolled around.
Now, having added Eto'o to bolster a comparatively threadbare forward department, Everton -- despite Martinez's claims otherwise -- are in possession of a pair of forwards intent on proving something to a former boss who lacked belief in them, the kind of belief being shown by their current boss.