With another mandatory international break now in full flow, every football fan across the country is enduring a painful couple of days without seeing their beloved side play regularly whilst the attention has been turned to England’s bid to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer.
During the agonising wait for league action to be resumed, supporters will spend this period thinking, analysing and discussing how the first two months and a bit have gone for their sides in their respective campaigns and that is no different for the thousands of Everton devotees, who were introduced to a new man on the Goodison Park touchline in June after 11-years of David Moyes’ unwavering presence.
Roberto Martínez, fresh from winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic last season, was the man chosen to replace the departing Scotsman and after a return of just one defeat in the opening seven Premier League games so far - against a Manchester City side who have spent well over a billion pounds since Abu Dhabi’s takeover in 2008 - the easily loveable Spaniard has already excited his newly-inherited passionate fanbase in many brilliant ways, as he begins to lay down impressive foundations in order to build the club in his widely respected image.
Ins, Outs and Results: Recapping the First Couple of Games and Roberto Martínez's Debut Transfer Window
After seeing one manager leave after what felt like an eternity to some fans, with him being replaced by another of a completely different ilk, Everton were uncharacteristically busy shoppers in the transfer market this summer with seven new faces being recruited.
A trio of players formerly affiliated with Martínez’s Wigan regime were signed in the early stages of pre-season in Arouna Koné, Antolín Alcaraz and Joel Robles, whilst Gerard Deulofeu - an exciting youngster from FC Barcelona - joined them shortly after on a season-long loan from the Spanish giants.
The frenzied Transfer Deadline Day brought the other three new arrivals in Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku, whilst there were also goodbyes issued to long-standing players Victor Anichebe (West Bromwich Albion) and Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) who both parted the club on the same night.
In the first seven games, Everton drew their initial three against Norwich City (2-2), West Brom (0-0) and Cardiff City (0-0) before going onto win the next three in a row over Chelsea (1-0), West Ham United (2-3) and Newcastle United (3-2) – losing only to Manuel Pellegrini’s City 3-1 last weekend.
Martínez’s men did, however, disappointingly bow out of the Capital One Cup in the third round, losing 2-1 away at Fulham after previously prevailing against Stevenage 2-1 after extra-time in the round before.
How Martínez Has Already Captured the Majority of the Everton Fans' Hearts in Such a Short Space of Time
Whilst Moyes may now not be held in as high regard as he previously was at Everton, due to his pursuit of star duo Fellaini and Leighton Baines throughout the course of the summer which tremendously upset his former admirers, the ex-Preston chief’s legacy which saw him morph the Toffees from perennial strugglers into an established top-eight side in, if not the best, certainly the most gruelling league in the world mustn't be understated all of a sudden.
It was always going to be a difficult job for Martínez to take, when considering the extremely weighty standards his predecessor set, but whilst a small number of convinced cynics still believe the jury is out, a wider amount of people see the bigger picture and can understand why the bulk of Everton supporters have bought into his charming nature and already love him all the way down his infectious grin and brown shoes.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite="Martinez explained his philosophy in an interview ahead of Wigan’s triumphant FA Cup final last season" quotestyle="style02"]For the future of a football club, you need to stamp a clear way of playing and a clear identity and that doesn't happen overnight. That comes from the understanding of the players firstly, but as importantly, you need to have the fans to understand and to be patient in order to see the evolution of that team. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Martínez’s sparkle in press conferences is captivating and the way he speaks about relying on the talent of players to win football games first and foremost is emblematic of his beautiful style of football, in which Everton are already ahead of schedule in terms of adapting to.
He would often end his Wigan matchday programme notes with the Spanish term ‘sin miedo’ meaning “without fear” and that is exactly how Everton are now playing in his fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, with passing accuracy and dribbling stats being heavily amplified amongst many others under the strategic instructions he deployed at both Swansea City and Wigan during his career.
So far in 2013/14, Everton under Martínez are averaging 14.7 dribbles per game compared to just 5.3 under Moyes last season – with only Tottenham Hotspur attempting more - and they have also increased their number of short passes to almost 70 more per game (448) whilst currently being the most fouled team in the league (104 times); although they were two points better off (14) at this stage of the season last year under Moyes.
The 40-year-old has been meticulous when living up to his word about how he couldn't wait to “become soak” with everything it means to be involved with the Merseysiders at his unveiling, as he revealed to the Independent newspaper in August that he analysed a three-disc DVD set all about the history of the club within the first initial weeks of his tenure.
Martínez’s due diligence when assessing the squad he has at his disposal was also evident through his signings because he added in areas that have been scarce in the Everton ranks over the years such as the goalkeeping (Robles), central midfield (Barry, McCarthy) and the striking (Koné, Lukaku) positions.
Everton’s overall appeal has improved because of their new eye-catching and possession-heavy philosophy and that encouragement is helping the supporters become prouder of their club each day, with a chant aimed towards Martínez and their talented squad called “Allez, Allez, Allez Oh” in the midst of renowned blue smoke signifying this - whilst a recent local survey also revealed that 98% of fans believe the style of play has gotten better this season.
He’s trying to mix youth with experience, the home-grown with the big signings and whilst the whole squad is playing a part in helping Martínez get the coveted patience from the fans towards his promising era in charge, certain players have stepped up more than others under his stewardship so far and it’s those individuals that have helped ensure that the tensions at the club are more relaxed this season yet incredibly invigorating at the same time.
Next Page: A Lethal Goodison Goalscorer Has Finally Arrived in Romelu Lukaku (use next page button below)
A Lethal Goodison Goalscorer Has Finally Arrived in Romelu Lukaku
Over the years, Everton have always had an abundance of creativity embedded within their squad – with Leighton Baines creating the highest amount of chances in the league (116) and the second most in Europe last season for example – but the one thing missing has been a powerful striker who can put the ball in the back of the net with an apparent ease.
The only problem in finding that man is the extortionate price they cost to sign, with the finances at Everton meaning that is almost impossible to sanction, but whilst Romelu Lukaku’s importance to Chelsea was not suitably sewn up by José Mourinho - to the confusion of almost everybody - Everton quickly pounced and brought the powerful Belgian in on a season-long loan, with his impact already being noteworthy to say the least.
Lukaku, who scored 17 Premier League goals in a temporary spell with West Brom last season, has already netted four goals in Martínez’s system and his all-round game in terms of vision, speed, strength and awareness not only means he is destined for the top, but more importantly that Everton now have that much-needed world-class striker in the making – albeit only for the short term.
Kevin Mirallas, Lukaku’s team-mate in the highly promising Belgium international side, was the somewhat principal negotiator in striking the deal as he was with the 20-year-old forward at the time he heard of Everton’s interest in his long-term friend and helped convince him to make the move.
With Lukaku being primarily left-footed, despite just 25% (1) of his strikes coming with his stronger foot so far this season, both him and Mirallas – who tends to play on the right although he loves to switch into an inverted winger on the left – can strike up a frightening partnership in attack this campaign with Lukaku’s first goal for the Blues coming from a Mirallas cross against Newcastle.
100% (4) of his goals at the moment have come from inside the box, scoring 50% (2) of them with his right-foot alongside one brave header which set the away stand at West Ham bouncing, and he has overall been involved in an Everton goal this season every 51.4 minutes.
Lukaku slots into Martínez’s approach with no trouble because he plays the game facing the goal but for all his hard work and energy, when he starts to tire, the ball stops sticking up front with the same vigour shown in the first-half – such as against Newcastle and Manchester City – and that illustrates why Steve Clarke deployed him as a super sub at West Brom in order to impact games against knackered defenders.
Ross Barkley’s Superb Start is Evidence That Everton’s Academy Remains One of the Best in English Football
Whilst the likes of Wayne Rooney and Jack Rodwell have both emerged from the Everton academy and shook the famous Gwladys Street stand with important goals in recent times, the latest talented youngster to have been bedded into the first-team fold hasn't just grabbed his chance to shine in the Premier League but has throttled it and his latest performances have seen him earn early recognition from England manager Roy Hodgson.
Ross Barkley, a player who would have easily walked into Moyes’ team setup had it not have been for a triple break sustained in 2010 halting his progress, is now learning his trade under a manager in Martínez who is categorically the right person to nurture his rare skills in the right way, whilst developing him in a simply gorgeous way of playing.
The 19-year-old has already been compared to top players such as, Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack for his well-rounded temperament as an attacking midfielder with a tough edge to his game. Vision, trickery, two-footed and composure are four obvious traits that have oozed out of Barkley’s displays and like Lukaku, he is another player – the elusive Number 8 that can cause havoc in the final third of the field - that has been severely missing at Everton over the years, especially after Mikel Arteta left for Arsenal in 2011, who has now come to the fore and lit up the first two months plus of the season.
In the first seven top-flight games, Barkley has completed 86.7% (282) of his 325 passes attempted, with 83% (105) being successful in the final third of the pitch and 22% overall going forwards. He creates opportunities for Everton by driving through the centre on either foot to confuse opponents and has conjured up 8 chances from open-play so far.
Supplementing his opening two goals against both Norwich and Newcastle, the Wavertree-born midfielder has won 80% (10) of his tackles, with a challenge coming every 63 minutes on average, whilst also making three interceptions.
Martínez’s signings of both James McCarthy and Gareth Barry not only give Everton shape, blend and balance in midfield but they also allow Barkley the platform to outline or pinpoint an attacking move and, in effect, have runners run off him as he carries the ball forward with perseverance and uniqueness.
Only Tottenham’s Andros Townsend (33) has completed more take-ons than Barkley (29) in the Premier League so far, which is particularly impressive considering he is operating in zones that include more opponents to try and weave past.
Not only has he now obtained an esteemed responsibility in the team, but whilst Martínez once dubbed Baines as an ‘icon’ due to the way he sets an example at the club, Barkley is fast becoming a role model to the wealth of youngsters in the Everton academy and is somebody reserve team boss Alan Stubbs can now point to and say “you can be the next one."
Unheralded stars such as John Lundstram, Tyias Browning, Hallam Hope, Conor Grant, George Green and Chris Long are all just some of the names being talked about fanatically and Barkley's surfacing should mark the future for where players are mainly going to come from Everton, with Martínez boasting a fabulous track record over the years of giving youth prospects a chance to flourish like Joe Allen (Liverpool) and Callum McManaman (Wigan).
Next Page: Why James McCarthy Could Prove to be More Than Value for Money (use next page button below)
Why James McCarthy Could Prove to be More Than Value for Money
At the time when James McCarthy was driving into Everton’s Finch Farm training complex ahead of his £13m move from Wigan in the closing stages of the August transfer window, Marouane Fellaini, a man who had so notably influenced a vast amount of games during his five years at the club through many momentous goals, was moving in the other direction to Manchester United and unfair comparisons between the two were drawn.
Whilst big money was involved in his switch, McCarthy is a completely different type of player to Fellaini, who moved to Old Trafford for £27.5m, and bearing in mind a change in the way Everton want to play is taking place, McCarthy is far more suited to Martínez’s structure whereas Fellaini looked unsure of where he was regimented in the opening three games of this season before his exit.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite="Frankie McAvoy, Academy Director at Hamilton Academical, believes the £13m Everton have stumped up for McCarthy is an absolute steal" quotestyle="style02"]There’s no doubt about it, he’s the best player Scotland has ever produced. Technically he’s great, he’s got a fantastic right and left foot, he can pick passes and he’s got great energy levels to go and support.[/sws_blockquote_endquote]
After two starts and two substitute appearances, McCarthy has completed 84.6% (121) of his 143 passes attempted, with a 97% success rate in the defensive zones of the pitch and 34% overall going forwards. The 22-year-old has sublime serenity when in control of the ball and never holds onto it for too long.
He is always looking to get the ball moving by recycling possession, easing any pressure team-mates are under and logically pushes forwards in support, whilst also being proficient at putting his foot in and chasing defenders down. McCarthy has completed 92.8% (14) of his tackles so far, with a challenge currently being attempted every 18 minutes, and he protects the backline really well – making three blocks, with two coming inside his own penalty box, in particular against Newcastle.
With last season’s midfield pairing of Phil Neville and Leon Osman being used the most frequently under Moyes, Martínez has quickly solidified that area in terms of tackling, doing the ugly work on the pitch efficiently and sharing the burden of starting attacks on both Coleman and Baines' shoulders through McCarthy and Gareth Barry’s arrivals – married with Barkley’s impressive development just ahead of them.
The Republic of Ireland international was Martínez’s gem at Wigan by keeping things ticking over crisply in the midfield and the defensive side of his game massively improved last season when Mohamed Diamé left for West Ham and the void needed to be filled. The evergreen McCarthy – who played all 38 games for Wigan last season - resembles a young Michael Carrick and he will only get better the more games and experience he gets in a team that will demand more and drive him further.
The international football scene on Friday night summed up how things have suddenly changed around Everton. Seamus Coleman, who turned 25 and captained Republic of Ireland, is no longer the young kid that cost a meagre £60,000 and is now an established Premier League right-back and one of the best at that.
Phil Jagielka again looked solid in the England defence and his vocal leadership for his club has now made him his country’s first choice centre-back, whilst Leighton Baines earned a thoroughly deserved starting berth at left-back and it’s only a matter of time until he nails the place down permanently.
Whilst the style of play has evidently changed in the first seven games, the squad has naturally become more wise and Martínez has kept the core principles that Moyes cemented after 11-years of work and has instead just slightly tweaked them. His tactical acumen could push Everton onto the next level as he proved by winning the FA Cup with Wigan – one of the greatest footballing achievements in modern history – that he is one of the brightest managers in the game and is still so amazingly young.
In the next few months building onwards, Everton supporters will be hoping to see more of Gerard Deulofeu in the first-team, who showed glimpses of class in both league cup ties, and the likes of Steven Pienaar – who created the seventh most chances in the league last season (82) - will be a huge player to get back into the team after injury and continue to bring the best out of Baines, who was ineffective in the last two games against both Newcastle and Manchester City, down the left-hand side.
The future looks bright and an extra enthusiasm from all corners has been restored, as Martínez ultimately strives to turn Everton into a footballing dynasty that epitomises breathtaking football – as the motto reads: Solo lo mejor.