Last Sunday’s clash between Everton and Tottenham may have fallen a bit flat but as far as races between dark horses go. But the similarities between the sides are as interesting – if not as enthralling – as a goal-fest might have been.
Spurs, lacking the vivacious spark of one departed Welsh wizard, have nonetheless made strides in Bale’s absence. But the Toffees have had the more dramatic face-lift. With a new manager, a new philosophy and a reinvigorated squad, they’re far from their boring David Moyes-era selves.
In fact, new gaffer Roberto Martinez has steered them through their best start to a season since 2004/05.
With 19 points after 10 games, the Spaniard eclipses his predecessor’s tally in the same period in each of the last 10 seasons apart from 2005, when they had 22 points and ultimately finished fourth.
Keeping up their current points per game average of 1.9 would see them achieve around 72 points next May. Their highest of the Premier League era is 63 – an average of 1.65.
Europe on the horizon?
Everton have ended up sixth or higher every time they have amassed over 17 points in their opening 10 fixtures in the last decade, so the Toffees can certainly expect a European berth at the end of the season barring a sudden downturn in form.
An away win against bottom side and managerless Crystal Palace would leave them just a point off Liverpool going into the Merseyside Derby (Nov 23) if the Reds beat Fulham as expected the same day.
Martinez, what with being Spanish and all that, is attempting to instill the same coveted philosophy he attempted to impress on Wigan.
Everton have lagged behind their neighbours’ attempts to tiki-takafy themselves, but Martinez seems to be changing that. You could chalk it up to lazy journalistic assumptions if it weren’t for the stats that show just how much this new-look Everton depend on short passing and higher-ball retention.
Their average number of short passes per game has jumped from 359 under Moyes to 442 in 10 games with Martinez. Their average possession has gone up by almost 5 per cent. This is partly down to personnel changes.
Marouane Fellaini was regularly on the end of long, punted balls last season (a very visible target); his replacements in midfield are the more diminutive and less attacking pair of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy.
Meanwhile, Everton’s back four appear to have been given a wider brief than just hoofing the ball upfield and into relative safety.
Phil Jagielka’s passing accuracy has leapt from 79 per cent to 86 per cent. Leighton Baines’ has seen his accuracy jump from 83 per cent to 87 per cent.
In the summer window, Martinez made his spending count, recouped largely through Fellaini’s link-up with Moyes at Manchester United, and improved dramatically on the options already available to him.
James McCarthy was just one of his additions and he, along with free transfer Barry, provide a solid centre for an Everton side that depends largely on using width they have in abundance thanks to marauding runs from the likes of Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas.
Despite a fairly anonymous showing from Mirallas on Sunday, the Belgian winger has the joint top amount of assists (4) in the league. That aligns him with with Aaron Ramsey, Oliver Giroud, Mesut Özil and Sergio Aguero.
Under Moyes, he managed just three over the whole season.
In selling Victor Anichebe and relegating the misfiring Nikica Jelavic to the bench – Martinez freed valuable space for what is arguably the best loan signing of the season: Romelu Lukaku.
Winning the right way
The other pair had 53 appearances between them but only managed a combined 13 goals. At West Brom last season, Lukaku scored 17 in 35, giving him an average of a goal every 2.05 games. Already this season, he has scored five goals in six games.
Replacing David Moyes’ tracksuits with Martinez’s actual suits has been the best thing to happen to Everton in years.
Under the Scot, they had grown stale – persistently mediocre and consistently dull.
With Moyes off capitulating at Old Trafford, Goodison is like a Febreeze advert. Refreshed and revived, Martinez’s side are set up to win – and to win the right way.
- Neville Southall: Romelu Lukaku’s goals can make Everton a top-four side this season
- Amy Eustace on Friday: Everton aren’t impressive, just plain boring