Threadbare Toffees could come unstuck
David Moyes' Everton team have a reputation for serving up huge dollops of disappointment following a season of great achievement; European qualification is invariably succeeded by a season in the Premier League doldrums.
Champions League qualification in 2004/05 was supplanted with a bottom-half finish in 2005/06 and Everton fans will be hoping that the UEFA Cup qualification achieved last term is not followed by another campaign of calamity.
This season the Toffeemen need to achieve that most elusive of virtues in football: consistency.
And whilst Moyes has not made any headline making summer signings he has managed to retain the services of his most coveted players and this season's sights are once again set on European qualification.
Tim Cahill's return, if somewhat delayed by yet another foot injury, will be key to achieving that target. The Australian international missed much of last season with a knee injury sustained in a collision with team-mate Lee Carsley, and then suffered a broken foot that caused him to miss the end of the campaign.
Cahill's strikes from midfield are vital to an Everton side that find goalscoring at a premium. The former Millwall player was the club's top scorer in his first season at Goodison Park and continues to be a key contributor to the team's goal tally.
The 27-year-old's physical style, excellent heading ability and knack of arriving late in the box compliments the guile, vision and set-piece delivery of his midfield partner Mikel Arteta. If the duo can continue to take some of the workload off striker Andy Johnson then Everton can really compete in the second tier of the Premier League.
Johnson has a huge responsibility to get goals as his intended strike partner James Beattie, who failed to find the net from open play last season, has been in poor form and is heading for Bramall Lane to play for Sheffield United.
The lack of a top quality striker to share Johnson's workload means the burgeoning talents of Victor Anichibe and James Vaughan, two young strikers, should get a chance to shine this term.
The duo are already favoured ahead of Beattie and have pushed James McFadden down the pecking order.
Last term Anichebe made 19 appearances, mainly as a substitute, as Moyes looked to ease the 19-year-old into Premiership football. He can expect to see more action next season, but he will probably be battling for a starting place alongside Johnson, with fellow youngster Vaughan.
Powerful striker Vaughan returned to the first-team frame for 2006/07 after recovering from a serious knee injury. By the end of the campaign the local-lad made a string of first team starts and netted three times in six games at the end of the season, having come back from a severed artery in his foot, earning him the club's Young Player of the Season award.
His goal in the 1-1 draw with dethroned champions Chelsea on the final day of season capped of a great year for the 19-year-old and he will be looking to begin this term where he left off.
The young duo are certainly worth keeping an eye on this season and their success in front of goal could make the difference for the goal-shy Toffeemen.
At the back Everton had by far the best defence outside the top four last season and they can once again rely upon the experienced quartet of Phil Neville, Joseph Yobo, Alan Stubbs and Joleon Lescott. Such was the quality of the Stubbs and Yobo partnership that highly-rated central defender Lescott was shunted out to left-back, where he excelled.
Tony Hibbert's continued injuries saw Neville forced to fill in at right-back and that hotchpotch quartet proved formidable and can expect to keep their positions for this term.
With a solid back four, a complementary midfield and an attack full of potential the future looks bright for Everton but below the first XI the team lacks quality in depth. Fighting on two fronts, in the Premier League and in Europe, could well prove too much for such a limited squad and unless Moyes prioritises this term could well plot another trough on the graph of Moyes' stewardship.
The difficulty in prioritising is that Everton require a profile-raising run in Europe to lure the type of player needed to take the club onto the next level, but can't afford to drop out of the lucrative European qualifying places in the league. The team is not strong enough to do both.
The addition of £4million Phil Jagielka from Sheffield United will no doubt prove an astute acquisition, as Moyes has a history of successfully pilfering talent from relegated clubs - Joleon Lescott from Wolves, Andy Johnson from Crystal Palace to name two - but it will take more than 'Jags' and Steven Pienaar to enable Everton to compete on all fronts.
If Moyes can keep his first team free from injury then qualification for Europe in successive seasons would be a remarkable triumph. A piece of silverware, be it the FA Cup or League Cup, would be utopian.
The last trophy the club won was over a decade ago, the FA Cup in 1995, and before that it was 20-years ago when they lifted the league title in 1987.
Unfortunately it is doubtful that there will be any silverware again this year as Moyes' squad is simply too threadbare to focus on anything other than the league.