It’s been better than last season for Everton, which is a positive. An opening day draw to Watford rekindled unfortunate memories of the previous term, but the Toffees showed what they are capable of with a rousing performing on the road at Southampton, swatting Saints aside with a wonderful 3-0 win.
That’s the team’s only win so far, but Roberto Martinez’s men acquitted themselves well in defeat against a formidable Manchester City team and showcased their resilience by grinding out a point at Tottenham Hotspur. It’s been far from spectacular, but from a very tough start, five points represents a solid return.
Off the pitch, things have been far from ideal, with a lack of summer investment and Chelsea’s aggressive pursuit of John Stones conjuring a volatile divide between those of a blue persuasion. Here’s a closer look at how the team have got on so far and what we should expect moving forward.
Best Performer – John Stones:
It’s a measure of Stones’ temperament and talent that despite all the hyperbole surrounding him, the young defender has been brilliant in the opening stages of the season. After an error on the opening day against Watford, the 21-year-old has barely put a foot wrong, playing with the composure and class which prompted Chelsea to launch three bids for his services.
After handing in a transfer request, which was subsequently rejected by Everton, it’ll be intriguing to see just how he fares in the months to come, especially when Chelsea head to Merseyside in their next Premier League game. But the overwhelming majority of Toffees supporters are well behind their young star, and his measured displays will be critical to Everton mounting a European charge this season.
Most Improved Player – Ross Barkley:
Barkley has returned from a much needed summer break replenished and ready to seize responsibility. In the previous campaign, the England international was a shadow of the player who swaggered onto the scene in Martinez’s first season, but early indications are that this season will be better for the local hero.
There are still questions about where Barkley would be best utilized on the field, having been used as a No. 10 and in orthodox central midfield. But the youngster is starting to make telling impacts regardless of his role, and for a player who thrives on confidence, it’s critical Barkley continues building momentum beyond the international break.
Arouna Kone deserves a mention, too. The forward has suffered horrendous injury problems since his transfer to Everton, but he’s showcased enough overdue form in recent weeks to suggest he could be a useful option.
James McCarthy (Sept. 4), Bryan Oviedo (Sept. 12), Tom Cleverley, Brendan Galloway (Sept. 19), Leighton Baines (November), Tony Hibbert (Sept. 12), Darron Gibson (Sept. 12), Steven Pienaar
In: Tom Cleverley, Gerard Deulofeu, Leandro Rodriguez, Ramiro Funes Mori, Mason Holgate, David Henen, Aaron Lennon
Out: Sylvain Distin, Antolin Alcaraz, Chris Long, John Lundstram, George Green
Manager Analysis – Roberto Martinez:
The manner in which Martinez has handled the Stones saga has delighted Evertonians, and it’s clear the Catalan is looking to build a squad which contains a young core of quality players. That’s a vision the overwhelming majority of Everton fans can get behind, but there are still plenty easily frustrated by what is often stagnant passing soccer.
Martinez isn’t as proactive as his first season in charge when it comes to his substitutions, and Everton certainly have players who suit a more counter-attacking style. As of yet, the manager has failed to find an antidote for besting sides who are happy to sit in against the Toffees. After one strong and one poor season so far, it’s crucial he finds it soon.
More of the same. The creative player the team badly needed has not been drafted in despite an outlay of around £20 million, meaning the Toffees will excel against sides who will leave them space to break but find it very tough to pick open deep-sitting, tenacious defenses.
A bigger squad and a lack of European commitments means the players should be sharper as the season rumbles on, but the first XI hasn’t been drastically improved, and the concern for a lot of Everton supporters is that while this group will probably be a bit better than last season, the rest of the division has made dramatic improvements.
Overall Rating – 3/5
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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