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Everton Continue To Impress In Europe, As James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku Shine

EFC Europe

The current campaign was always going to be a season of firsts for Everton. For Roberto Martinez, that was the case on a number of fronts, with the Catalonian having to deal with European football and all the accompanying connotations for the first time in his career. The players too had to get into an unfashionable routine of playing Thursday and Sunday matches, a combination that sides have struggled with in well documented fashion in seasons gone by.

The Europa League is typically a competition that takes some getting used to, but away from their domestic form—which has infuriatingly oscillated between abject and excellent—the Toffees have embraced Europe’s second tier competition and after a 3-0 win over Lille on Matchday 4, they now stand on the cusp of qualification for the knockout phase.

It’s to the team’s great credit that they currently have two wins and two draws from their opening four matches, especially in a group that looked on paper to be the most difficult in the competition. Nonplussed by the daunting trio of teams to face, the Toffees hammered high-flying Wolfsburg in the first European game under the Goodison Park floodlights in five years, before hard earned points in Krasnodar and Lille set them up nicely for the second half of the group phase.

Last time out against Lille, while the opposition were admittedly poor, Everton completely bossed the match from start to finish. There was a panache in their play that reeked of a team that was well versed in European competition, despite a significant portion of this squad getting their first taste of the continental style.

The XI fielded by Martinez functioned superbly but there were a few standout performers, the most notable of which was James McCarthy. Amid the manager’s focus on expansive, attacking football, the 23-year-old’s dogged work is a often understated, but against a ponderous Lille midfield, his ferocious pressing and magnificent defensive awareness shone through.

McCarthy has formed a fine partnership in the middle of the park with Gareth Barry, and the Irishman’s unwavering intensity is a fine foil for the studious, experienced qualities of the former Manchester City midfielder. While the reintegrations of Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman have been attributed as the main catalysts in Everton’s recent upturn in form, McCarthy’s return to fitness and peak intensity has been just as critical.

But there was another individual performance that caught the eye against Lille, and for Evertonians in attendance at Goodison Park, Romelu Lukaku’s bustling display at the sharp end of the Toffees’ attack was probably one of the most encouraging facets of the evening.

Rom

The Belgian has had a tumultuous start to life on Merseyside since completing his £28 million move from Chelsea, and although he’s already bagged four goals, its not taken long for him to be labeled as a flop in some quarters. But after being forced into the squad for the opening day clash with Leicester City without playing a minute of pre-season soccer, there was a lingering sense that the 21-year-old might take a while to get going.

Lukaku has admitted recently that his performances in the early part of the season were hampered by a lack of match sharpness and a lingering toe problem, but insisted he’s over those issues and the Everton faithful were about to see the best of him. And although he didn’t find the back of the net against the French outfit—he did have a strike wrongly ruled out for offside—this was his finest all-round display of the campaign so far.

Despite standing at 6 ft 3 in, the striker can occasionally look a bit of a soft touch. But Lukaku has reveal he’s spent a lot of time working with former Everton hard-man Duncan Ferguson on the training ground, and there were welcome signs of a greater physical edge to his game against Lille.

After the stick that’s come his way in the early parts of the campaign, it’s worth remembering that Lukaku is a very young man with a massive price-tag around his neck and a lot of expectation on his shoulders. But all the requisite attributes are there, and working with the likes of Ferguson and Samuel Eto’o on a day-to-day basis, improvements are surely inevitable as he looks to fire Everton towards European glory.

That totem is a long way off, but given the distinction with which this team has played so far, there are plenty asking “why not?”. The continental style with which the Toffees go about their business is wonderfully suited for the European game and in Martinez they have a manager that’s showcased a willingness to be pro-active and adaptable, vital qualities for any team if they’re to flourish in European competition.

For a club of Everton’s stature, 20 years without a trophy is unforgivable. Indeed, Martinez himself stated in the aftermath of the triumph over Lille that winning silverware is part of the club’s DNA. And while the Europa League may not curry unanimous favour with the soccer stratosphere, it’s a tournament that the Toffees are excelling in and a long overdue honour the supporters would love to see lifted come the end of the campaign.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. RJ

    November 7, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Continue?

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