There is certainly no comparison between Premier League football and international football. The only thing that the international break serves to do is make me look forward to Everton’s next game even more, regardless of the previous result. So as we eagerly await the return of “proper football” while it is temporarily placed on hold for the international break, I think now is as good a time as any to take stock of how Everton have begun the season.
The eternal optimist that is Roberto Martinez believes we have had a “solid start”. He says,
“It’s been a solid start because we’ve got a solid squad and a group of players that have been together for a long period in football…we have challenging fixtures but I am really excited to see how far we can go and the level of performance we can reach.”
First, let me say that I do not always agree with Roberto, and I am sure I am not the only one who would appreciate a few home truths in a press conference every once in a while. I also think that there have been a number of causes for concern over the first 5 games of the season. Anybody who read my last piece will know my thoughts on the Watford game. In my opinion, it was also criminal of Martinez to have left Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu warming up on the sidelines while the team on the pitch struggled to get a foothold in the game while 1-0 down against Man City, only to bring Deulofeu on in the 85th minute when the game was all but over, and the defensive performance against Barnsley was somewhat alarming, albeit it was against the back drop of the seemingly never ending John Stones saga. As far as I am concerned, the biggest worry is the fact that we have left ourselves short in the pivotal number 10 role, despite identifying it as a key area that we needed to strengthen at the end of last season. It remains to be seen whether or not Roberto will go back into the market come January, though I suspect a lot will depend on league position etc.
With all this in mind, I would not necessarily go as far as to say that we have had a “solid” start. Instead, I would be more inclined to suggest that we are “on par” – that is to say the bare minimum we would have expected, but there is certainly scope to suggest that we are in for a solid season. For me, before a ball was kicked this year and having reviewed the opening fixtures, I would have accepted no less than 5 points from our first 4 games – beat Watford at home, draws at Southampton and Spurs away, and a narrow defeat to Man City. Of course I, as I am sure everyone was remained hopeful that we could maybe nick an away win or take points off Man City. As it has turned out, we have ended up with 5 points, though we did it the hard way, as we always seem to do, having drawn the opening fixture before a scintillating performance away at Southampton. Throw into the mix a win at Barnsley to progress into the third round of the League Cup and I think even the most scathing of Evertonians would be hard pressed to construct an argument suggesting the blues have had a poor start.
There is another way to look at the opening 4 games and that is to compare them to last years fixtures and results. It is difficult to compare the Watford result as of course they are newly promoted and although we managed a 1-1 draw against Man City at Goodison, last season both Spurs and Southampton away ended in defeat. We are therefore 3 points better off this season than we were in the corresponding fixtures of last season. If we continue in that vein throughout the course of this season then this term could turn out to be one of the most successful in recent times.
Having made a decent enough start to the season, now is the time for Everton to kick on. Now is the time to attack. Roberto assured us all that he would make sure that by the end of the transfer window the squad would be stronger than it was before the window opened, and the lack of a number 10 aside, it is. There are now no excuses. I would love to see us go for it against Chelsea, not only for how sweet it would be to beat them given their unscrupulous pursuit of John Stones, but also because by their standards they have started poorly and are there for the taking. Follow that up with a win at Swansea, traditionally a happy hunting ground, and we are flying going into further big games against West Brom, Liverpool and United. Prior to the start of the season this was a daunting opening 10 games for Everton. It is perhaps to early to suggest otherwise just yet, but with the uncertainty of the transfer window at an end, the John Stones episode put to bed for now, and a decent if not solid first 4 games, there is no reason why we can’t go into these games with confidence and look to assert some authority.