Everton fans got a first glimpse of Roberto Martinez’s side in Premier League action during the 2-2 draw and it was encouraging, both from individual players and the team as a whole.
The line-up could have been from the tail end of the David Moyes years. None of Martinez’s four new signings started; Joel Robles and Arouna Kone were on the bench and the latter was introduced in the second-half, while Gerard Deulofeu went unused and Antolin Alcaraz missed the game through injury. So, in terms of personnel, it was all quite familiar – but the devil, as ever, was in the detail.
Not only did Marouane Fellaini start in the two of a 4-2-3-1 formation – with Ross Barkley the central playmaker behind Nikica Jelavic – but there was far less of the long diagonal ball to the gargantuan Belgian, not only because with Fellaini deeper it was rendered unavailable, but Martinez’s side were unwilling to go long early. That’s not to say Moyes’ team was a route one outfit but when faced with a robust Norwich side, they would not have hesitated to use Fellaini’s aerial power.
This Everton were far more patient, content moving the ball back and to the side as long as they remained in possession. It was generally easy on the eye. But it did lack dynamism, Norwich content to defend on the edge of their penalty area, crowd Everton out and then break with pace down the wings.
It is early days and Martinez’s methods will take time to fully click but there was definitely something of Wigan about Everton at Carrow Road – pleasing football, a struggle to carve open the opposition and a defence far too porous. Well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful passing football will not be greeted too warmly at Goodison Park.
The highlight was unquestionably Barkley, not only for his stunning goal but his all-round performance. The youngster who appeared hesitant and unsure of his touch in brief appearances early last season, or the one who appeared to surprise even himself with a sterling showing at Arsenal towards the end of the last campaign, is gone.
In his place is an all-action midfielder, equally as comfortable winning the ball as lashing it into the net. Barkley has long been talked of as a diamond at Goodison and he is starting to shine.
With Barkley behind Jelavic, Fellaini was played in the centre of midfield, said to be his preferred position despite much of the evidence suggesting he is far more effective as an auxiliary attacker.
Contrary to his hulking frame Fellaini is distinctly low intensity in defence – twice he stood off Norwich players on the edge of the Everton penalty area, twice a goal followed soon after – and his best pressing was done in winning the ball back high up the pitch. If Fellaini wants to continue playing in the heart of midfield – indeed if he even stays at Goodison – he has to do better. Everton in general can do better too, but the signs are more promising than not.
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