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Stoke City-Everton Preview

Is this season the start of a new era at Everton?

The Toffees have spent much of their Premier League life paddling in the safety of mid-table waters, but starting with Saturday's match against Stoke City at Goodison Park, they are aiming to swim alongside the big fish.

Ronald Koeman's Everton have spent heavily during the summer transfer window, while the club's new ownership is also moving forward with plans to build a flash new stadium. Yet, even with Wayne Rooney, Sandro Ramirez, Jordan Pickford, Cuco Martina, Davy Klaasen and Michael Keane joining the ranks, there are still doubts over whether the Merseyside club can force their way into the Premier League's elite six clubs.

The loss of forward Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United is the major reason for those doubts, but Koeman is excited for what the future may bring for his burgeoning squad.

"We have big ambitions," Koeman said at his media conference on Thursday. "That is what we like to show everybody, but the end of the transfer window is when it is more realistic to speak about targets and what is possible.

"We spent money, but everybody is spending money and looking for the best players. It is a big competition and we will see what happens.

"Saturday will be a difficult game. We followed Stoke in pre-season, they had a lot of games. They have made some changes to their team, they lost Marko Arnautovic and brought in some new players. Playing Stoke City is always a battle, home or away."

Koeman's comments are to be expected prior to a season opener, but playing Stoke was not always a battle last season. In fact, Mark Hughes' side picked up just four wins in their final 17 matches of the campaign and finished 13th.

Couple that slump with the loss of maverick forward Arnautovic and the omens aren't good for Stoke, but Hughes says the club is still targeting a positive league campaign, perhaps even coupled with a major cup win for only the second time in their history.

"We always have the intention to win a trophy when the season starts," Hughes said. "It was an unbelievable thing that Leicester did in winning the Premier League (in 2015-16). Are we likely to do that? No, so there are other trophies up for grabs that we feel we have a more realistic chance of winning.

"Every year we go in with the intention of trying to win a trophy, albeit if it is the FA Cup or League Cup. We are not too picky, we will take any one of them if I'm honest!"

Starting the season without injured Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland won't help the Potters early, but Hughes is hopeful that Bojan Krkic will be fit after a calf problem.

Everton have doubts over the fitness of Aaron Lennon and James McCarthy, while Steven Coleman, Yannick Bolasie and Ramiro Funes Mori are all long-term injury absentees. Midfielder Ross Barkley is expected to be sold before the end of the transfer window, but a groin injury will also reportedly keep him out of action for the first two weeks of the season.

Updated August 10, 2017

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