A moribund, stagnant display gave rise to major concerns that had not been learned from the abject showings throughout 2014-15. Coupled with the lack of summer transfer activity, there was a stale atmosphere at Goodison Park for the 2-2 draw with Watford in Week 1. But the response away at Southampton seven days later was emphatic.
It’s wouldn’t be overblown to suggest this was a perfect away performance from the Toffees, certainly their best under Roberto Martinez, as they romped to a highly impressive 3-0 win. The manager set up his team in a cohesive defensive shape, but one that could transition swiftly into a fluid attacking force, accentuating the abilities of their key weapons in the attacking third.
It was a tactical shift that has been long overdue. So players like Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, who were restricted against the Hornets, were enlivened against Saints. Aided by the impressive industry of Tom Cleverley and the intelligent forward play of Arouna Kone—who occupied opposition defenders wonderfully—the shackles were off both players, as they tore into Southampton time after time on the counter-attack.
There was clear intent from the Toffees to play their football in more dangerous areas, which made a refreshing chance for the traveling Blues. The indomitable Lukaku, who took his two goals superbly, raided down the left flank early in stunning style, while bullying the Southampton pairing with the space that was created for him.
In turn, Lukaku’s own rumbustious efforts made room for Barkley to swagger into. The England international is a remarkable sight at full flow and playing in a role which was a little more withdrawn, he was able to pick up the ball deep and charge at a Southampton midfield hampered by a Morgan Schneiderlin-shaped hole.
In addition, James McCarthy ratted around in the middle in synonymous style, giving Gareth Barry time to calmly survey the game and snuff out Saints attacks. It left the back four with plenty of cover, but when called upon, John Stones—unflustered by Chelsea’s aggressive and increasingly tiresome pursuit—and Phil Jagielka dealt with any danger with poise. Even the much maligned Tim Howard made a couple of key saves to cap off a rounded team effort.
It was 90 minutes that reminded Evertonians of what this group of players is capable of producing. Of course, investment is needed to keep the team from falling back into the chasing pack, but the spine of this side has massive potential should it be preserved and nurtured. When they synchronize, as was the case at St. Mary’s, the Toffees can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the division.