Everton Evolution?

After the 11 year reign of David Moyes, the appointment of any manager would undoubtedly bring about changes at Everton. The capture of former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, however, immediately signalled alterations of a fairly drastic kind. On a coaching level, the 39-year-old Spaniard had to fill the gap left by United-bound assistant Steve Round, and coaches Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods. Martinez sought familiar faces – the likes of Graeme Jones, Inaki Bergara and Kevin Reeves – whom he had worked with not only at Wigan, but also at Swansea,where he was credited with starting the revolution in playing style which evolved under Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup, and ultimately led to Premier League football, a platform far away from the position Swansea City found themselves in when Martinez was appointed manager. But it was not merely the coaching staff that Martinez found himself visiting his old club for. Although tags such as ‘Everton Athletic’ are not only infuriating but also inaccurate (Martinez has only bought one player from Wigan – Arouna Kone), it is true that Martinez has worked with 3 of his 4 signings (at the time of writing) before Everton. So even before a ball had been kicked it seemed evident that Martinez was not shirking from imposing his own stamp and philosophy on the club.

Following Premier League games against Norwich and West Brom, many pundits could be found proclaiming the sizeable change in playing style in the brief interlude between the Moyes departure and the full time whistle in the first two games of the season. It is true, Everton could be found perching proudly at the summit of passing statistics (be it quantity or quality), but had the team actually evolved?

Of the four players signed none of them made the starting XI in either match (Arouna Kone featured as a substitute twice – for a combined total of about 30 minutes). In both games a 4-2-3-1 formation was preferred – the only difference in selection to last season was the starting of wonderkid Ross Barkley and the role of Marouane Fellaini (a deeper role, which the Belgian himself has gone on the record saying he prefers). I was at Goodison Park for the West Brom match, and it was clear that Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin had been instructed to *pun* Play From the Back. This was obviously causing the reliable duo some difficulty, and after the first 10 minutes or so were spent with Everton’s back four in possession of the ball, an ever-so-slightly more direct approach was preferred. In formation, then, there was no visible change. But in playing style there was an alteration, albeit fairly slight.

Many people will claim David Moyes’ Everton teams were hard-working, gritty teams who fought to win games. This perception was true up to a point. Midfields containing players such as Lee Carsley, Simon Davies and Zinedine Kilbane were always going to be slightly more industrial than mesmerising. However, the introduction of the more stylish Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (yes, really), and more recently Kevin Mirallas, has provided Everton with a flair they perhaps previously lacked. It would certainly be harsh to say Everton did not play fantastic football at times last season. The 3-0 win at Swansea, the Fulham away tie and the 2-0 win against West Ham (Moyes’ last home game as manager) spring to mind as examples where Everton passed the ball fluidly and precisely. However, it is true that at times Phil Jagielka had a tendency to lump the ball forward to a battling Marouane Fellaini in an advanced role, and as Nikica Jelavic’s goals dried up, the ‘physical’ Victor Anichebe was often preferred as a striking option.

My point is, for all the (probably justified) furore concerning Roberto Martinez and his style of play (its ultra-attacking nature and three man defence), perhaps, judging on the first two league games, the changes won’t be so pronounced. I stress judging on the first two league games, but I don’t believe that Everton’s attacking play so far has been any more impressive or fluid than it was at times last season. Perhaps the difference between Martinez and Moyes is that Moyes was happy to play pretty football against lesser opponents, but often reverted to a more rigid style against better teams, whereas Martinez will persist with his ideology at all times against all teams. What will be more effective remains to be seen – both have pros and cons, and both have experienced varying results. For example, Everton beat Manchester United 1-0 in a game where Fellaini’s strength was used to its full, and United’s makeshift defence was targeted time after time. However, Moyes’ seemingly negative style resulted in a staggering 0 wins at Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates and Stamford Bridge in the entirety of his reign. On the other hand, Martinez succeeded in some great triumphs with lowly Wigan – winning at the Emirates, routing Everton themselves at Goodison Park, and outplaying Manchester City to seal a magnificent FA Cup win. However, there were the crushing defeats – the 9-1 Spurs loss, the 5-0 at Old Trafford in 2011, or the 4-0 defeat at home to Arsenal – there are many to draw upon.

It would be fair to expect that Everton players would be quicker to adapt to a new system than Wigan players, but after 11 years minimal changes can be magnified. Whether Martinez will have the boldness or even resources to change the style and formation more significantly remains to be seen, but if the first two games are anything to go by, it won’t be too much too soon. And don’t forget, Everton weren’t half bad under Moyes at times last season too.
Whatever Martinez eventually decides upon in terms of formation and style, he must be given time and patience by Everton fans who have rightly come to expect much, but must also realise they are punching above their weight – not in stature (Everton is the 4th most successful team and has been in the top-flight the longest out of any club), but in finance – and although David James’ prediction of 16th is ludicrous, it might be realistic to suggest a couple of years of mid-table are in the offing, at least while Martinez is not allowed to spend accordingly.

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