Jack: The Everton evolution is alive and kicking

Kristian Jack,
9/23/2013 2:03:00 AM
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And then there was one.

After five rounds of matches in the Premier League, 19 clubs have lost at least once. Only Everton remain unbeaten.

Yet, typically for a team that plays all of their games in the shadows of their mighty neighbours across Stanley Park, it is quite fitting that they are far from the league's major storyline coming off another action-packed weekend.

Want to read or talk about another Jose Mourinho press conference? You can't miss it. Reflections on the thumping Manchester United took in the derby? On the lips of everyone on Monday morning in England. Paolo Di Canio's sacking? On all the back pages of Monday's newspapers.

Everton? As usual, only on the minds of the blue side of Merseyside.

Saturday's 3-2 win at West Ham is certainly a performance that will stick in the memories of many Evertonians for some time.

It was, of course, highlighted by two fantastic pieces of individual skill from Leighton Baines, scorer of two direct free kicks from the same spot, passed a bamboozled Jussi Jaaskelainen, but the performance away from the result showed many encouraging signs of development.

One of the early themes from this season's Premier League has been new managers bringing new ideas to their new teams and this is certainly the case with Roberto Martinez at Everton.

Although David Moyes did a great job during his time on Merseyside there was some frustration growing, certainly among regular visitors to Goodison Park, about his style of play last season.

The hiring of Martinez certainly didn't come on the back of needing to please those fans, but it certainly won't hurt. The Spaniard wants Everton to pass more and improve their overall technical quality, while not compromising some of their old traits and at Upton Park on Saturday all of that shone through.


Five games in and it is already very clear that Everton's ability to outwork teams has remained. During last weekend's victory against Chelsea they had to spend long stretches of the match without the ball and that is what Martinez recognized, saying: "Technically we can improve but we showed attributes of a winning team, desire, work ethic, keeping to our responsibilities."

Moyes worked very hard to instill that into Everton and with many of his core players still there it is clear none of these strengths have disappeared. They relied on them against Chelsea and during some difficult spells against West Ham on Saturday.

Distribution from the back

West Ham are not a side who are comfortable in pressing too high up the field. They like to maintain their shape, let opponents play it out and then use their midfield to press to close down and block outlets. This style suits Everton and it allowed Tim Howard time to play the ball out to his centre backs in their own third, much more than the corresponding game last season:

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In Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, Everton have two centre-backs that are strong in the air, have decent pace and, importantly, can feel comfortable receiving the ball while positioning far apart to cover wide areas when their full backs go forward (as the graph below shows).

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In last season's match at Upton Park, between the two sides, Jagielka played right back with John Heitinga playing centre back. On Saturday, Everton's two centre backs attempted more than 50 passes (59 to 113) than a year ago and completed enough passes to make a difference to their overall style (97 to 51).

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Masters of Midfield

"He is very clever with his positioning, he is quite unique with his role in the British market, you always get the role played really well by foreign players, but he is unique in the way he plays. He will be a perfect influence for the likes of Ross Barkley, James McCarthy. It was an impressive master class of the position." Martinez certainly didn't hold back in his praise of Gareth Barry following his debut for Everton last week against Chelsea.

Barry clearly has his limitations but what he gives Martinez is tactical discipline. No other player available to him can do what Barry does (Darron Gibson needs to improve his passing and discipline). The Englishman is better deeper where he can read the game, without needing any pace, and cause vital turnovers. He is also comfortable coming deep in between the centre backs to begin attacks, giving his fellow central midfielders, Leon Osman and Ross Barkley in this case, opportunities to join the attack and create triangles in wide areas with the full backs and wingers.

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Barry has often shown good vision against teams that play down to his tempo, such as West Ham. On Saturday, Barkley benefited from Barry's calmness on the ball, as the two linked up more than any other players on the pitch.

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At half-time, with his team down 1-0 and struggling to keep the ball to his liking, Martinez made two changes inserting Romelu Lukaku in a straight swap for Nikica Jelavic up top and James McCarthy in midfield for Steven Naismith, who had played out wide. This gave us our first glimpse of the midfield trident of Barry-Osman-McCarthy but it lasted just five minutes before Osman limped off injured. For those five minutes all three worked well, treasuring the ball and feeding the lively, energetic duo of Mirallas and Barkley who played as wide forwards just deeper than Lukaku in a 4-3-2-1 shape.

Osman was replaced by Bryan Oviedo, a left sided winger, and the impressive Barkley was moved centrally again, playing just ahead of McCarthy and Barry. It proved to be a pivotal move.

The Premier League was already into its second season the day Ross Barkley was born. On Sunday Dec. 5 1993, Everton sat in 11th place following a 1-0 win over Southampton the day before their newest fan came into the world less than five miles from Goodison Park.

Less than 20 years on, Barkley turned a Premier League game on its head on Saturday. Baines got the headlines for two brilliant free kicks but both were won by Barkley's penetration, intelligence and skill, getting in between the lines and forcing James Collins, and then Mark Noble, to retreat behind him and chop him down while dribbling towards goal.

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Many young English players have been touted to be stars of the future but many come up full of energy, pace and skill but with little understanding of the game. Barkley is different. He is a rare young English player who desires space and can keep the ball in small confines while waiting to find an outlet.

It was little wonder English manager Roy Hodgson was in the stands at this game. Barkley is still very young and raw but he is the closest thing to Steven Gerrard that English football has produced in a decade.

Barkley, who spent time with Gerrard while on England duty earlier this month, received some great advice from the Liverpool skipper: "He [Gerrard] told me I'm from Liverpool, a local lad playing for the team I support, and there is nothing better. He's done that throughout his career. He said playing is the main thing, going to another team and not playing would be no good for my development."

If Barkley stays fit and in Everton's team he will be with England in Brazil next summer.

On the opening day of the season at Norwich he scored Everton's first goal of the season, playing as most attacking member of a midfield three. Marouane Fellaini played deeper that day almost like Martinez was preparing for his exit. Barkley stepped into the big Belgian's position from last season with ease and instantly became the face of Martinez's evolution. He no longer needed a big target man to win long balls and play off a central striker, instead choosing a better technical player who will benefit playing alongside a pair of midfielders he used with the money received from the Fellaini sale to Manchester United.

Martinez found his own big Belgian on deadline day when Lukaku joined on loan. The style the manager is preaching is easy on the eyes for football fans but in order for it to be successful he needs a goal-scorer. Patience with Jelavic seems to be running out and now he has a replacement who offers much more of a threat to opponents it is clear the jigsaw pieces are coming together for the Spaniard.

The Ever-lution is on. Just don't expect to hear about it from too many people.

Roberto Martinez (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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