The search for a first league win enters its fourth week on Saturday, with Jose Mourinho and Chelsea the visitors to Goodison Park, but the signs in these early stages offer plenty of encouragement. Combine that with the deadline day influx and the squad is primed for the remainder of the campaign.
When Everton announced Roberto Martinez as manager, the doubters pointed to a Wigan defence boasting more holes than a tramp’s blanket. So far, however, the added quality of the Everton defence has evaporated such concerns.
Two clean sheets from three is a satisfying start; the Blues conceding the fewest shots per game (6.3) and just 19 in total. This is three less than nearest rivals Manchester City (22), who have conceded 7.3 shots per game.
Allowing the opposition just five efforts on target, which is another chart topping return, Everton are excelling defensively. Cardiff managed just four attempts last time out, with each one from outside the penalty area, and only one forced Tim Howard into a save.
Conceding for 18 consecutive matches at one point last season, the change in style and increased possession has taken the pressure off the defence. The key moving forward is solving the problems in the attacking areas.
Although the Martinez tenure is in its infancy, the change in approach is patently obvious. Last season delivered a possession average of 52.9% and that figure has risen to a league-high 64.1%; Everton moving from ninth to first on the possession table.
Passing accuracy has also improved, as expected under the patient approach employed by Martinez. Only Manchester City (87.1%) and Swansea (86.9%) can better the current accuracy (85.9%), and that is a marked improvement on 11th best in 2012-13 (79.4%).
Seemingly granted more freedom, as players drive forward in possession, another aspect on the rise is dribbling. Attempting a lowly 5.3 per game in 12-13 – a total bettered by 14 teams – this has risen to 13.3 this season. Only Tottenham (53) attempted more dribbles per match (40) in the opening fixtures.
As mentioned above, Everton are dominating possession. The objective now is turning these assured performances into wins. No team has had more shots (55) while no player has registered more attempts than Ross Barkley (13).
Further underlining the attacking improvements, Everton sit atop two other attacking categories this season. To this point, Everton are completing an average of 149 passes per game in the final third and playing 33% of their football in the opposing third.
Acquired on deadline day, the loan acquisition of Romelu Lukaku can aid this goal quest, though not until after this weekend. The Belgian impressed last season at West Brom with 17 goals and four assists from his 35 appearances (20 starts) last season.
Some things never change
Many thought the arrival of Martinez would lessen the workload for Leighton Baines, or see the creative burden eased, but the early signs suggest the left back is as important as ever.
Tied with Santi Cazorla, Eden Hazard and Sylvain Marveaux, Baines tops the chances created chart (10). Replicating the form that saw him end last season as the most creative player in the league, Baines is justifying the resolve shown by the club amid the summer attentions of Manchester United.
Once again, his partnership with Steven Pienaar remains the best source of creativity, yet this is far from surprising, as the left side houses the most creative player (Baines) and the player posting 12 assists since rejoining in January 2012 (Pienaar) – the best return of any Everton player in that time.
The action zone percentages from the matches contested in August further highlight the value of the left side. Everton played 47% of their football on the left and just 28% on the right. Unsurprisingly, the left-sided figure is the highest in the league; the right-sided figure is the lowest.
Successive fixtures without scoring is far from ideal, but there is no reason to panic. The time to worry is when chances are at a premium and the level of football drops. At present, there are significant improvements on both fronts thereby leaving goalscoring as the sole issue.
Maintaining a settled side, with the same eleven chosen in the first three matches, the foundations are in place. Defensively strong, swiftly dispelling the doubts surrounding Martinez, the team need only address the lack of goals. Boosted by Lukaku and midfield reinforcements James McCarthy and Gareth Barry, the next step is kick-starting the season with three points sooner rather than later.