Strange things are happening at Goodison Park. After a summer characterised by rancour, pessimism and disinterest, Everton are among the early Premier League pacesetters and thinking of good times ahead.
Unbeaten in four games, the Toffees sit joint-top of the table. And, with matches against Aston Villa , Norwich, West Ham and Watford to come over the next five weeks — plus a trip to Manchester United — there is every chance they could still be flying high on Bonfire Night.
And all achieved with a manager few fans wanted and signings plucked from the summer's bargain basement.
With his appointment by Everton as successor to Carlo Ancelotti imminent at the end of June, Rafa Benitez was greeted by a banner declaring, 'We know where you live. Don't sign' near his Merseyside home.
That Benitez had kept roots in the area more than 11 years after leaving Liverpool illustrated his affinity with the local community, but this virtue meant nothing to supporters who remembered the Spaniard as the man who described Everton as a 'small club' during his six largely successful years at Anfield.
If the identity of their new manager provoked discontent, Everton's transfer business did little to salve the wounds. After years of lavish spending failed to land European qualification, the club found themselves spending 85 per cent of turnover on wages and sailing very close to breaching the league's financial fair play regulations.
Recruitment was affected accordingly with Benitez restricted to moves for free agents Andros Townsend, Salomon Rondon and a couple of reserve goalkeepers in their mid-to-late 30s — Asmir Begovic and Andy Lonergan.
The only transfer fee Everton paid was the £1.8million offered to Bayer Leverkusen for the no longer so highly rated Demarai Gray, all a far cry from the 17 players they brought in for £20m or more between 2017 and 2020.
Yet, in the fledgling weeks of the season, the new men have exceeded expectations where many of their big-money predecessors failed to even meet them.
Gray, an enigma never really unlocked in five years at Leicester, has three goals already, having managed ten in 133 top-flight games for the Foxes. Townsend has two assists and opened his own goalscoring account with a trademark piledriver cutting in from the left in the 3-1 victory over Burnley on Monday night.
As well as his past associations, it is fair to assume supporters were not enamoured with Benitez's reputation for an often defensive approach but only free-spending Manchesters City and United have scored more than the Toffees' ten league goals. And only United, Chelsea and Liverpool can match their haul of ten points.
Much more of that and Everton fans may have to revise their opinion of the club's new manager. If that moment comes, they will at least know where to send the thank you cards.
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