So after all the tactical experimentation, the promising pre-season showings and the astute transfer dealings, Roberto Martinez is on the brink of his first Premier League match in his capacity as Everton manager. Carrow Road will be the venue for his opening Premier League game, as the Toffees start their season as far away from home as is possible in this division, with a trip to Norwich City.
It has been a pre-season of real promise for Martinez and his troops. After a slow start against Austria Vienna, the team slowly began to adapt to the Spaniard’s methodologies. Comfortable 4-1 and 3-1 wins followed at Accrington and Blackburn respectively which was then preceded a superb victory over Juventus in the International Champions Cup.
The tournament was rounded off with narrow, and somewhat unfortunate defeats, against Spanish giants Real Madrid and Valencia. But Everton did manage to snaffle a victory over Spanish opposition eventually, triumphing over Real Betis 2-1 in Martinez’s first outing at Goodison Park.
Most Evertonians would agree the positives far outweigh the negatives under the Catalan so far. The players have become increasingly confident with the all encompassing passing style that the former Wigan chief has put in place. Faith in their new boss’s principles is clearly not in short supply, and Martinez in turn will draw encouragement from how his side went toe-to-toe with the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus whilst sticking staunchly by his ideologies.
All the players have gradually grown into what was an unfamiliar style throughout pre-season, but there are squad members in particular that look as though they will benefit from this stylistic shift.
Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas are two that have carried their superb form from the tail end of last season into the start of this one. Coleman has looked particularly impressive in his role as a wing-back, and the Irishman and Leighton Baines will represent a formidable duo in those areas of the pitch should Martinez choose to set his side up in his preferred 3-4-3 system.
Mirallas, a player who showcased snippets of his undoubted talent last season, also looks ready to take his game on further. Given a role of lessened defensive duty, the Belgian will be a major threat in the advanced areas. His four goals in this pre-season suggest he is ready to thrive in a more attack-orientated system.
Further optimism comes from the performances of other players. One is Nikica Jelavic, who has found his golden touch once again. Like Mirallas, he too has bagged four goals this pre-season.
Martinez will also be buoyant about the chances of some of his younger players making an impact on the first team too, with England U21 internationals Ross Barkley and John Stones showing real hunger and quality when given chances. Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu arrived late into the squad and has offered glimpses of his much coveted, raw ability. Given time to settle, he could prove to be the cutting edge the Toffees were often lacking in their last campaign.
But ultimately, despite all this positivity, the first true test of Martinez’s influence and how the players will adapt to it comes at Norwich City.
In many ways, this game represents the perfect test for the Toffees, with a clash of styles looking imminent. Everton will stick to their manager’s philosophy of possession-based, passing football, whereas Norwich will play an intense, pressing and physical style. Subsequently, those in blue will have to be decisive and accurate in their passing from the off.
The Canaries too will be well up for this one, as they themselves have made an impressive set of signings which will no doubt buoy a set of fans that need no encouragement to make some noise.
The game also presents Martinez with a chance to overcome two early obstacles that troubled his predecessor. Since Norwich’s return to the Premier League in 2011, the Toffees have not managed to bag a victory over the Norfolk club. Three successive draws against the Canaries were followed by a 2-1 defeat, the latter a game in which Everton recoiled into a defensive shell and lost two goals late on.
Everton’s away form also raised concerns last season. Despite tasting defeat at home once throughout the campaign, the Toffees only managed to pick up four victories on the road, with their last coming on January 2 against Newcastle. They did manage to pick up a huge amount of away draws however; nine in total. An away victory first up would be a massive mental boost for the squad
Critics of David Moyes will point to his defensive impulse as the primary factor in the team not winning more points away from home. The hope amongst Evertonians is that Martinez’s free-spirited approach will help turn a few of those stalemates into victories. But in the same breath, a more gung-ho style could see some of those draws become losses.
And herein lies the Catalan’s biggest challenge: striking the right blend between the renowned defensive solidarity of Moyes’s Everton and his own heightened attacking approach. The balancing act starts in earnest on Saturday afternoon.
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