Following Roberto Martinez’s magnificent debut season on Merseyside, the manager is in danger of suffering second season syndrome at Everton.
The added demands of European football already seem to be taking their toll on his ambitious side, but is it really all bad news at Everton? With the international break, it’s a good time to asses how the Toffees’ season is progressing so far.
The table doesn’t lie at the end of the day. Everton have struggled with their league form but there is no need to panic just yet. Fixtures have been tough with the squad facing Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool in their opening seven matches.
They have been unlucky in a few of those matches too. Victory was all but secured at home to Arsenal but for a shocking collapse in the final ten minutes, which saw them surrender a 2-0 lead and only come away with a point, while David de Gea’s superb performance meant Everton left Old Trafford empty handed.
however, it has been against lower opposition that they have really struggled. An opening day slog away to Leicester ended in a draw while defensive mistakes cost them dear as they slumped to a 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Those defensive mistakes have been a regular feature for Everton this season. Bad luck has nothing to do with the club conceding the most goals in the league. When you compare last season’s record of conceding 39 goals to already letting in 16 in only seven games this year, it makes for bleak reading.
England’s dismal World Cup seems to be weighing heavy on Phil Jagielka with the club captain being particularly at fault for many of those. The same can be said of left-back Leighton Baines who has not performed to his usual high standards.
It’s an odd comparison to keeper Tim Howard who became a national hero in America thanks to his brilliant displays during the summer.
Since the Premier League campaign has started however, he has seen a worrying downturn in form. He was especially culpable in the defeat to Crystal Palace. The main concern for fans is that John Stones has been the best of a bad bunch, and it looks like his injury will keep him out the squad until January.
Many pundits have claimed last season’s excellent league form was a mix of Martinez reinventing the attack, while the solid defence was the result of David Moyes’ hard work the previous decade.
It’s an interesting thought. Martinez’s Wigan side were always capable of getting a hiding on any given day, and he was always known for his offensive rather than defensive qualities whilst in charge. It will be interesting to see how the Spanish boss copes with this new problem, after his debut season on Merseyside went so smoothly.
There are some positives for Evertonians, however. Steven Naismith is again confounding his critics with his goalscoring, bagging four so far. Going forward is where the team have had no problems. Aiden McGeady has been one of their best players and his dribbling and trickery is causing opposition defences all sorts of problems.
Fans can also look forward to seeing more of Samuel Eto’o, as the Cameroon forward has made a great impact in each match he’s played in, including scoring with his first touch against Chelsea and poaching the equaliser away to Krasnodar in the Europa League.
With the talented Ross Barkley back in training, and news that Kevin Mirallas’ hamstring injury is not as bad as first feared, the midfield and attack should have real quality in depth in a few weeks.
There are small concerns over the form of record signing Romelu Lukaku but the Belgian has been struggling with a toe injury since the season began. He is a striker that thrives on confidence, and fans will be seeing him back to his best sooner rather than later.
The next five fixtures will be vital for Everton. They face away trips to Burnley and Sunderland, while Aston Villa, Swansea and West Ham will be making the journey to Goodison Park. Martinez knows that if his side are serious about challenging for a place in the Champions League, there can be no slip-ups against these weaker teams.
It’s been a shaky start for the Blues but if they can cut out the errors at the back, they will be set for another strong year. One thing is for sure, with their attacking prowess and the manager’s gung ho attitude, Everton are sure to be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season.
Jason Coulter, Pundit Arena.