After eight games last season, Everton had 15 points, with four wins, three draws and a single defeat. Remarkably, the 2013/14 campaign has begun in exactly the same fashion, despite the new style that Roberto Martínez has the Blues playing in. So, is it conceivable that Everton can maintain this form for the remainder of the season?
Of course it is easier said than done. There are many difficult games to come, notably with big-spending Tottenham and the team from across Stanley Park on the horizon, but there is a different feel around Goodison under Martínez than there was with his predecessor. Not invincibility, but a desire to win every game, rather than going to places like Old Trafford and Anfield cowering in a corner, desperately hoping to avoid a beating.
Although, in saying that Everton are not invincible at home, they have the longest unbeaten record in front of their own fans than any other team in the Premier League. It is most certainly the form of a Champions League side, and when the new brand of football that Martínez is encouraging is fully settled in, they can only get better. The first 45 minutes of the Newcastle game displayed exactly this prospect, as Everton ripped through their defence, with Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku at the heart of this.
The youth that the former Wigan manager has brought into the team has only improved things as well. Ross Barkley couldn’t get a look in under David Moyes, and the confusion that Evertonians felt about that has been shown throughout the last eight games, with the England international playing a massive role so far, and Lukaku has already won Everton two games, scoring four goals in the process. Furthermore, Gerard Deulofeu looks incredibly sharp when he’s come off the bench in the Premier League, and scored a fantastic goal against Stevenage in the Capital One Cup, whilst James McCarthy looks an absolute steal at £13million, and put in a man-of-the-match performance against Hull City.
Possibly the most important thing that Roberto Martínez has done since his appointment in early June though, was keeping Leighton Baines. As he showed against West Ham, he has the quality to change games within an instant, and the amount of chances that he creates is incredible for a left-back. Amazingly, he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves by England, as Ashley Cole seems more favoured by Roy Hodgson, despite Baines’ presence as one of the top-left backs in Europe. Baines is certainly the key man for Everton, and if he’s on top-form, then there is absolutely no reason why Everton can’t move further up the table.
But for a combination of a fairly poor performance by the team and the referee at Manchester City, the Blues could be even further up the table. It is also impossible to forget the three draws Everton started the season with, against Norwich, West Brom and Cardiff – teams that Everton should be beating, and winning two of them would have seen Everton in second place, level on points with Arsenal. This inability to finish off teams, though, could prove costly at the end of the season, particularly as it did in the last campaign, as the Blues finished with 15 draws, and missed out on the Europa League. If Everton are to better their sixth-placed finish of last season, they certainly need to learn from the mistakes that have cost them so dearly in the past.
The victory over Hull, despite it being a game a team like Everton should be winning, is hugely important. It was plainly obvious that the Blues weren’t at their free-flowing best for 90 minutes, and a mark of a good team is one that wins, even when they aren’t at 100%. Especially in the first-half, Hull had a few good chances, notably one that Abdoulaye Faye passed up inexplicably, after heading over unmarked from six yards out. This was a problem in the second half, as Everton’s defenders again won very little in the air, and conceding goals is a problem at the moment, having let in nine goals in four games.
There are no such problems in attack though. Kevin Mirallas was a threat all day, and his work-rate was particularly impressive. Whilst Lukaku didn’t have the best game of his career on Saturday, he will score plenty of goals this term, as he has already shown in his first three games, and Ross Barkley was again running past defenders for fun. Steven Pienaar’s return from injury is a huge positive as well, as his experience can only help the young players alongside him.
A lot of hard work has to be done for Everton to achieve a Champions League place this season, especially with the amount of money that Spurs have spent, and Arsenal are playing brilliant football. However, the Blues are playing their best football in years, and they can only get better. If they maintain their form, there is no reason why Goodison Park can’t be a venue for the Champions League in 2014.