Dare we dream the Dream?
In Everton and Southampton we have two primary candidates to keep the Premier League Dream alive. Like the Yankee version, it is the idea that anyone can come to this land and make something of themselves, no matter what their creed, disposition or social standing.
Examples of such a phenomenon are scarce. Leicester City are the only side in two decades to challenge the established order of things. Before them, arguably only Blackburn Rovers in 1995. Perhaps it stems from a misplaced sense of romanticism but most of us want to believe it’s possible to pole-vault out of the mid-table doldrums without stacks of cash to prop us up.
Going into the season, we had good reason to believe that both sides from the Saturday-afternoon kick-off could take a major stride on that long journey. The first game week belied that expectation. The Toffees gave us madness to mull on where as the Saints delivered, to borrow a classic Mark Lawrenson phrase, a great advert for cricket.
A clash between the two represents an opportunity for both to get the locomotive to the Dream chugging again.
Against Wolves, Everton simultaneously flaunted their potential for class and broadcast their propensity to collapse. Phil Jagielka is no longer a Premier League-calibre defender — whatever pace there might have been has evaporated. His Titus Bramble impersonation left his team scrambling and unable to provide an answer to the possession of Portugal-light. Still, even at 10 men, Marco Silva would have expected better than the limp surrender of their lead on two occasions.
At the other end, though, Richarlison is starting to look real sexy. The second goal in particular, when he somehow threaded the ball through an onrushing orange mob, underlined the ability at his disposal. Watford, to their detriment, weren’t able to tease it out nearly often enough last term — a situation Silva will try to avoid. With an exciting-looking attack coming in, there’s reason to believe he can do just that.
Joining the Brazilian in the final third will be compatriot Bernard, loanee André Gomes will slot into midfield and Yerry Mina should eliminate the need to play Jagielka. Consider January signings Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott and the intent of this club begins to look clear. The Toffees are one of only six sides to participate in every Premier League season; now is the time to prove why they deserve a medal of a different kind.
Opponents Southampton have taken a slower trajectory but need to prove that it is still indeed an upward one. Dragging them down has always been their steely reputation as a selling club. The fact that three of four goals in the Champions League final were netted by former Saints gives us an idea of the extent of their pain in that regard.
But, almost every year they inexplicably push out another prospect or add another shrewd signing. A rare failure to do so last term showed on the pitch — a dangerous flirtation with relegation only resolved in the final weeks. Whether one will emerge this season remains to be seen.
The new arrivals impressed to varying degrees against Burnley last weekend but failed to create significant open-play opportunities. Only at the dead ball was Joe Hart given overt reason to fret on his Clarets debut.
Mark Hughes praised the additions after the game but it will take something special to get the most out of a player like Liverpool lost boy Danny Ings. Jannik Vestergaard at least looks eager to return the defence to its pre-Virgil van Dijk sulk days and Mohamed Elyounoussi did enough in his cameo to warrant expectation.
You feel it’s going to be one or the other at St Mary’s — a battle at the bottom or the type of top six challenge that saw Mauricio Pochettino so eagerly snatched out of their clutches.
The Road to Damascus begins on Saturday for Southampton and Everton. Victory will keep the Premier League Dream very much alive. A stumble at this early juncture, however, could prove telling.