It’s still there. That Everton spirit. The coveted togetherness that many predicted would cease the second David Moyes walked out of Goodison Park. In fact, it’s been more prominent than ever in the past seven days. It’s helped Everton to their first two victories of the campaign and of Roberto Martinez’s tenure as manager; they remain unbeaten in the opening five games.
There was a sense that Everton’s season only really begun in their second home game against Chelsea. Transfer speculation lingered around Goodison Park over the course of the summer, as Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines were touted for moves to Manchester United.
It was far from ideal, and the constant coverage was always going to be a distraction, especially with the new Catalan intent on implementing a significant stylistic shift. But with some shrewd transfer dealings conducted by the club, Martinez has been able to work with a focused, bolstered and settled squad since the deadline closed.
And the benefits have been immediately obvious. Granted, the first triumph of the season – a 1-0 victory over Chelsea – was founded on the pragmatic principles instilled by his predecessor, but the next performance – a 3-2 defeat of West Ham – whilst showcasing an unyielding will to win and character, was also saturated with the ideologies and influence of the new man.
It hasn’t taken long for Everton to reap the benefits of having Martinez at the helm, and for those of a blue persuasion, it is so refreshing to see.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time against West Ham, the manager saw fit to act in swift and decisive manner. Introducing Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy at the break was an especially bold move – one that might not have been made under the previous regime – but it revitalized his team
McCarthy moved the ball at a better tempo and with increased purpose, whereas Lukaku ran the West Ham back-line ragged; dropping deep, running in behind, pinning down centre-backs and dominating aerially. And it was all done in especially classy fashion. Lukaku’s understanding with his compatriot Kevin Mirallas was plain to see, and the link-up play between the two Belgians and Ross Barkley was mouthwatering at times — brimming with pace, power and youthful exuberance.
It was a very, very encouraging 45 minutes that has gotten Evertonians very excited about the coming months, and Martinez deserves credit for laying such promising early foundations.
Firstly, the former Wigan man has created an environment by which young players can flourish. This has allowed Barkley to come in, show his quality and nail down a first team place. Under Moyes, the young midfielder was restricted to cameo appearances, but now Barkley has the freedom to go out and express himself. Not to mention gain crucial and learn from his mistakes, a vital experience for any young player.
Second, Martinez’s methodologies have also been a catalyst for securing the services of prodigious young talent such as Lukaku and Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu on loan. Whilst it is obviously imperative for Deulofeu’s future as a Barcelona player that he operates within a possession-heavy stystem, Lukaku also told the Liverpool Echo how crucial the manager’s principles were when a when choosing to join Everton on loan.
“I came here because it is a team that can dominate games and Roberto Martinez as a coach likes possession of the ball and he’s a manager who can really help me at this stage of the career to be a striker with good movement. I think he’ll help make me more clever on the pitch too.
“Sometimes I’m maybe too enthusiastic on the pitch and have lost easy balls in the past but at a team like Everton where there is a lot of possession of the ball I can improve.”
Taking those words into account, would Everton have picked these players up under the previous regime? Probably not.
But that’s not to say the new regime should wipe the slate clean and abandon all the good work done by Moyes. And Martinez is acutely aware of this.
Keeping Leighton Baines for example, the heartbeat of both past and present Everton sides, was so vital. The way Everton dug their heels in in the face of United’s interest should be applauded, as should the player’s professionalism during the whole transfer saga. But Baines is Everton’s talisman, and his two exquisite free-kicks show exactly why United’s valuation of the player was way low.
The determination shown by the club in keeping hold of Baines suggests Everton will not be ousted as top four challengers with ease. As we’ve already said, that steely determination Everton have become renowned for has remained. Against Chelsea and West Ham, this has shone through, albeit in different facets of each contest. Martinez too has shown his ugly side, as he apparently gave the players quite the rollicking in the Upton Park dressing room at half time.
Patience remains key, but slowly, it seems to be coming together, and Martinez is beginning to strike a blend between his own cavalier style and the robust, practical approach a lot of these players are so accustomed to.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball