Everton’s Capital One Cup win over Stevenage took a similar trajectory to the other two competitive games played under Roberto Martinez – enough positives to suggest the new manager is on the right track, but enough negatives to lend credence to the doubters who have yet to be convinced.
Some mitigating circumstances must be considered. First, much like West Brom although less explicably since it was, after all, a cup game, Stevenage were content to defend with every outfield player behind the ball and invite Everton to break through, playing for the draw. Faced with a mass of white shirts, Everton perhaps understandably struggled to find space and with it, create meaningful chances. It will be intriguing to see how Everton fare at home against a team more inclined to break the defensive shackles.
Second, it was only Martinez’s third game. He has been in situ all summer but training sessions and pre-season friendlies can only do so much when the squad is adapting to such a different approach. Martinez has a style as distinct as any manager you care to name and while it’s not completely alien to these players, it is a sea change. It’s inevitable that time would be needed for it to click, and it hasn’t quite yet. But it’s August. If the problems on show in midweek are still prevalent in April, then it is time to be concerned.
The positives. John Stones, given a first team debut at centre-back to partner Phil Jagielka and, in the second-half, Sylvain Distin, was little short of immense. The 19-year-old played with a composure that belied his years, offering in equal measure aerial strength and a neat touch. He and goalkeeper Joel Robles did though combine to gift Stevenage their goal, Stones leaving a long ball for the goalkeeper, who was retreating to the goal line as if pulled by a giant bungee cord, but it was one aberration from the former Barnsley player.
Ross Barkley was again bright, one run from the half-way line to the Stevenage penalty area particularly reminiscent of, whisper it, Steven Gerrard, but the midfielders shooting was wayward – he can’t always score screamers such as the goal at Norwich, and a little more end product will be needed over the coming season. But no doubt about it, Everton have a wonderful prospect on their hands.
Speaking of end product, Gerard Deulofeu. The winger put in a number of scintillating crosses, but just as many utter duds. It may be expected of a wide player, a young one at that, but Everton need regular contributions – particularly when faced with a wall of opposition players. He took his goal well, though.
On the negative side of the ledger is the inability to break down Stevenage. Yes, they were dogged and determined, but they are also League One. The tempo was too slow to cause problems for the visitors on a consistent basis, too many passes hit back towards the Everton goal as the player’s lacked the confidence or craft to escape their marker. Ball retention is one thing but Everton were going nowhere for too much of the 120 minutes.
There is much to work on, but there is plenty of time before Martinez can really be judged. Perhaps the best way to sum up the performance is to say Everton resembled Wigan last season – which shows Martinez’s methods are getting through. But the Latics were relegated with them, or perhaps because of.
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