THE Premier League’s big hitters are sensing a new threat on the horizon. During a week when Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger backed a resurgent Everton to challenge for honours this season, Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson then tipped David Moyes’ men to gatecrash the top four.
Any hopes of sneaking under the radar at the start of the campaign have been well and truly dashed.
The secret is out. The Blues boast their strongest squad in years and after a settled pre-season expectations are high.
However, rather than groan at extra pressure being heaped on their shoulders, Moyes believes his players should be inspired by all the plaudits coming their way.
And the Goodison chief believes clubs are right to be wary of his side ahead of today’s opening clash at Blackburn.
Moyes said: “I think that’s Alex’s mind games at the start of the season working on us! No, I don’t think he’s trying to kid anyone. He recognises we’ve got a good group of players.
“If we perform well and play to our potential we have a chance to compete with the top teams.
“But I’m not setting any big targets. There’s nothing on the wall saying ‘let’s do this and that’. Let’s just try to win the first game and see where it takes us.”
It’s been a summer full of positives for Everton. Despite a flurry of interest from rival clubs, Moyes has successfully managed to hold on to all his key players.
Mikel Arteta became the latest star to put pen to paper on a new deal when he signed a five-year contract yesterday. The injuries which wrecked the last campaign have cleared up and the manager believes his side are ready for duty.
“Pre-season has gone well and the players have gone about their jobs well,” Moyes said. “It’s been the first close season for a while when we’ve really been able to work with the players.
“Two years ago in Switzerland we only had about seven or eight players. Last summer we were waiting on players to come back and then picked up more injuries after the start. It was a difficult period for us.
“We all feel confident because we have a strong squad. We haven’t added to it much but the squad who finished last season did really well and we want to keep that going.
“Mikel was always going to be one of the big deals we had to do. He’s so important to us and he showed that when he came back last season.
“We knew there was a chance he might leave but the chairman’s persuasive talks helped keep him here.
“We don’t have much money to go out and buy so we had to keep our best players here. If we let our better ones go we would be back to rebuilding again.
“I’ve been here nearly nine years and want to have a good crack at it this season.”
There were times last season when Moyes was struggling to find 11 fit senior players.
The Scotsman now has a very different selection headache and admits he has some difficult decisions to make ahead of the clash at Ewood Park.
“Now we’ve got the squad fit there will be some people not involved in matches,” he said. “I’ve explained to the players about it. I’ve told them how I expect it to work and I think they all understand.
“They have been wanting a situation like this as well. They’ve been wanting a good squad. They understand there will some weeks when some of them aren’t playing. Some people will be better suited to certain games.
“I’m able to make those kind of changes this season and with us not being in Europe we don’t have as many midweek games so I can sit back and look at it a bit better.
“There is no guarantee for anyone to start. They are all in the same situation where it comes down to performances.
“I’ll pick a team to start with at Blackburn and we’ll go from there but I’ve certainly got more options than I’ve had before.
“The hope is that competition will spur players on. We will see the ones who it inspires and those who maybe fold, who can’t deal with that competition.”