Rejuvenated Everton excited about their Premier League hopes

Everton manager Roberto Martinez believes his club possess the “most exciting youngsters” in England as his Toffees boldly target a top-four finish in the upcoming Premier League season.

Martinez guided Everton to fifth and a spot in the Europa League in his first season in charge, but battled through a disappointing 2014-15 campaign when they finished down in 11th place.

Everton are currently in Singapore to compete in the Barclays Asia Trophy and will commence the four-team tournament against Stoke City on Wednesday.

It is an important step in the club’s planning for the new season and Martinez is very comfortable with the talent at his disposal.

Twelve months ago £28 million Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku became the Toffees’ most expensive signing.

They have been far more quiet in this transfer window, but Martinez told a press conference in Singapore on Tuesday he is supremely confident they will be back challenging at the right end of the table in 2015-16.

“At the moment we’re just looking to build on what we’ve done in the last four (transfer) windows,” he said.

“You mentioned one player that was the transfer record, sometimes you need to find that sort of money to bring the specific players that need to be found in world football. I think now we’ve got a really strong group.

“I think probably we’ve got the most exciting youngsters that you’re going to see in the league, we’ve got exceptional leaders and players with an incredible experience and at the best moment of their career.

“I think that mixture is perfect. Maybe many teams now would like to talk about the window and the business they can do. For Everton, it’s more about how good we can be with the players we have in our squad.”

One of those youngsters is 22-year-old Everton Academy product Conor McAleny. The striker has battled with injuries so far in his career, but put in a five-star showing in the club’s pre-season victory over Swindon Town on the weekend.

With three assists and a goal in the 4-0 win, there is speculation McAleny could partner Lukaku in attack when the season gets underway next month.

“Connor is a boy with incredible technical ability,” Martinez said. “He’s got a very good footballing brain. The only thing with Connor is we have to make sure we can keep him fit.

“Last season we were very excited about his role he could have in the first team. Unfortunately he couldn’t manage to get himself fit for long periods and that happens sometimes when you’re growing up.

“We hope he can be fit because it would be a terrific addition to the squad and someone who brings something different.”

Two well established members of the Toffees' line-up, Leighton Baines and Bryan Oviedo, haven’t made the trip to Asia due to injuries.

Baines missed the end of last season with a persistent ankle problem, while Oviedo followed up a badly broken leg with a foot complaint.

Martinez expects both to be fully fit when the season commences at home to Watford on August 8.

“Leighton is well ahead of what we expected,” Martinez said. “We were making a final decision if he was going to make the party to come to the tournament. I expect him to be starting the campaign fully fit.

“The first week of August is a realistic target for Leighton and I would say the same for Bryan Oviedo. Both are progressing really well.”

Everton captain Phil Jagielka fronted the press conference alongside Martinez and said the Barclays Asia Trophy, which also includes Arsenal and a Singapore Selection, was an ideal opportunity to win a trophy and play in front of a big crowd.

And he is bullish about their chances of making a significant climb up the table this season.

“Previously the target is always to aim for the Champions League and see how we get on,” the defender declared. “The manager would love us to win something, but we’ve got really high standards here as a club.

“We let ourselves down and never got the momentum we needed last season and every time we won a couple of games, we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.

“A lot of people have blamed the Europa League, but if you ask me where I want to finish this season, it’s in the European qualifying positions. I’d like to get back into Europe sooner rather than later.”

Credit: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo