Everton’s August-September Progress Report

Baines Coleman

Diego Costa insouciantly rounded Tim Howard and slotted Chelsea’s sixth goal of the game at Goodison Park; the moment it became abundantly and indisputably clear Everton had pertinent concerns.

Some worries had emerged a week previous when the Toffees let a two-goal lead slip against Arsenal in the dying embers of an otherwise dominant performance. And before that, another good showing yielded just one point, as Leicester fought back to draw on the opening day.

But it was the 6-3 hammering at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s men that brought things into stark focus for a host of Evertonians; this is a team that was struggling.

Everton had the third best defensive record in the Premier League last season, but the coveted cohesiveness that was a hallmark of the club achieving their record points tally in the top flight had inexplicably disintegrated.

Players like Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard looked to have aged overnight, and as the goals flew past the American stopper during the early stages of the season—ten in the first three games—naturally, some big questions were asked about the first-team credentials of these long indispensable senior figures.

But with the aura of a man that’s seldom flustered, Roberto Martinez declared that he’d stick with the club’s defensive options, resisting the urge to make a late foray into the transfer market for a centre-back. And he was duly rewarded with a performance of diligence at West Brom in Week 4, where the Toffees picked up their first three points of the campaign courtesy of a 2-0 win.

That victory was critical and getting one in the win column lifted some of the gloom that had festered around L4. And after European Football returned to Goodison Park and Wolfsburg were subsequently swatted aside with gumption, Everton are beginning to look a lot more like Everton again.

The forwards are performing with a swagger and a penetrative edge—as they have done all season—and that’s without £28 million man Romelu Lukaku finding his best form yet, either.

In midfield, the duo of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry are perpetually purposeful, affording the effervescent attacking players insurance with their understated influence.

At the back, John Stones has been drafted in and, just as the 20-year-old did throughout his spell in the side last season, looked marvellous. Howard also looks to have rediscovered his mojo, producing some excellent stops in his last two outings.

Martinez’s men are beginning to accrue some vital momentum, and it’s imperative it’s preserved with some monumental challenges ahead. Indeed, beginning on 23 September Toffees will have to negotiate four away games against Swansea, Liverpool, Krasnodar and Manchester United in the space of 13 days.

It’s those kinds of spells that’ll allow us to assemble a clearer perspective on what this team can achieve this season. The Catalan boss has assembled a squad that’s bristling with quality, but the influx of European commitments—a competition Martinez looks to be taking very seriously—could push it to breaking point.

Ultimately, how astutely the manager rotates his squad and how well those players adapt will not only determine how well Everton will fare for the upcoming spell, but perhaps for the season as a whole too.

Best XI

Everton-formation-tactics

Best Performer – Steven Naismith

Nais

Much maligned during his first season under David Moyes, Naismith looks a player reborn under the tutelage of Martinez. With Ross Barkley out of the picture with a long-term injury, the Scottish international has assumed a role playing off the centre-forward, and he’s performed superbly.

Naismith is quickly becoming a critical figure in this Everton set up, and he’s a player that possesses understated intelligence on the ball, wonderful movement off it and a cool head in front of goal.

Once a scapegoat and even a figure of ridicule in some quarters, Naismith’s recent performances have not gone unnoticed by the Goodison Park faithful, and he’s quickly becoming one of the most popular players in the Everton squad.

Injury News

Barkley is expected to be back in the picture before November and his return will bring an raw edge to an already impressive array of attacking talent for the Toffees.

Bryan Oviedo and Arouna Kone are also close to a return after lengthy layoffs, with both players featuring in various behind-closed-doors games at Finch Farm.

Verdict

The torturously slow start to the season and the points that were relinquished could ultimately cost the Toffees in the race for those coveted Champions League spots. But with players beginning to find their feet and fitness, Evertonians have a lot to look forward to as the big games come thick and fast.

Three stars out of five is a fair reflection of the club’s start to the campaign, but how Everton fare in the coming weeks will make for some undeniably intriguing viewing.

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