For the second straight week, Everton claimed a 3-2 victory in the Premier League after a first half of attacking dominance secured all three points against Newcastle. Romelu Lukaku capped a stirring home debut with his second match winning performance, scoring two and assisting the first Goodison Park goal of the equally enthralling Ross Barkley. Following three frustrating draws, Roberto Martinez’s methods have been clearly vindicated after a third straight extends Everton’s unbeaten run to six and sees the Toffees rise to fourth in the table. Whilst Yohan Cabaye’s 30-yard second-half screamer and Loic Remy’s late strike brought to an end the Toffees’ outstanding record of 711 previous minutes without conceding a goal at home, the fact that’s disappointing highlights the post-Wigan humiliation standards-raising Goodison has witnessed.
Since that wretched day when Martinez’s Latics destroyed Everton with three in three minutes, only one of eight teams has escaped Goodison with a point as Newcastle became the first to score in that period. In truth, Newcastle’s goals give an unfair complexion to the score line as Everton played their best football in a while. A first-half Toffees blitz saw the industrious, retentive qualities of Gareth Barry, Leon Osman and James McCarthy lay a sturdy platform inside Newcastle’s half which allowed the pacy, dynamic trio of Barkley, Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas to attack the 18-yard-box at will, supported as ever by the excellent Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. Everton looked powerful, savvy and slick as McCarthy’s dual-benefit came to the fore. Direct and sharp with his passing and consistently urgent when closing down, the Irishman’s energetic central nouse perfectly complemented Barkley’s similar, more threatening contribution ahead of him. Lukaku offered everything the Everton striking department has lacked for too long- strength, smarts, pace, power, interplay and goals.
Lukaku’s first time strike handed Mirallas a second straight assist and Everton control five minutes in before a weighted pass beyond Fabricio Coloccini into the onrushing Barkley’s path facilitated a neat finish. The Belgian then capitalised when Tim ‘Look at his beard’ Howard’s ginormous long ball caused Tim ‘The Flapping Dutchman’ Krul, to flail his arms in a way not to be confused with Robbie Fowler’s description of the Vertonghen and Torres kerfuffle.
As the first half of home debuts go…
3-0 up, two goals, an assist and another two disallowed for good measure. I don’t know about you but that’ll do me. Whereas Barry and McCarthy provided Everton with a sturdy midfield base, Lukaku represented a consistent upfield outpost, enabling a much more comfortable, settled and consequently crisper, more quick-witted passing game in between. Both Lukaku’s league appearances have seen extra willing and increased effectiveness on the wing from Mirallas – arguably a result of not providing for the allegedly disliked Jelavic – and bolder, more targeted running from Barkley to forge a varied, potent threat of Everton’s new-look attack.
The absence of a left-sided Mirallas equivalent and the McCarthy-Gibson quandary represent two areas for Martinez to develop. Lukaku up front, Mirallas on the right and Barkley no. 10 are nailed down, as too is Barry’s position in defensive midfield and the whole of the regular back five. That’s nine round pegs in nine round holes for the first time in an age but the final two must follow. Martinez is blessed with perfect balance in both positions. On the left, Pienaar, 31, Oviedo, 23, Deulofeu, 19; in the centre, Osman, 32, Gibson, 25, McCarthy, 22. Three different types of player of differing ages in the same position affords Martinez the chance to work towards the long-term. Looking at the age of the players, and indeed the age gaps, it makes most sense to pick Oviedo and Gibson and actively encourage Deulofeu and McCarthy to challenge them with regular match time whilst retaining Pienaar and Osman as cover. Ability challenged by youth guarded by experience is the key to development, and would certainly be in keeping with my impression of Martinez’s Everton vision.
Whoever nails down those positions will settle into a confident, vibrant attacking side that boasts two of the league’s best young players in Barkley and Lukaku and the league’s premier full-back duo in Coleman and Baines. On the defensive side, Everton have however conceded two goals in three of their six games this season and whilst winning two of those made a pleasant change, a team with the boundless attacking potential of Man City – next up for Everton – will offer a serious challenge. The School of Moyes would teach us a point’s not a bad aim given the unbeaten run-lengthening it offers, but with City poor at the back against Villa and facing a presumably physical test against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s early kick off, Martinez must view this as an opportunity to create serious momentum ahead of a key game against Spurs (h) following matches with Hull (h) and Aston Villa (a). On the basis of what we’ve seen so far, in particular the first half against Newcastle, I have every confidence he’ll do just that.
By Chris Smith
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