Premier League preview – Everton

Last season:

Premier League 6th

FA Cup: Quarter-finals

League Cup: 4th round

Everton enter the unknown this season, preparing for a new campaign without David Moyes for the first time since the summer of 2002. Roberto Martinez replaced the Manchester United-bound Scot and, so far, has prevented his predecessor taking Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini with him.

That the in-demand pair are still at Goodison Park is either a feather in the cap of Martinez or just one step in what will be a long-running transfer saga, depending on your point of view. But it cannot be denied that with Fellaini and Baines still present, the squad Martinez has to hard is superior to the one Moyes left, in terms of both quantity and quality.

Martinez made four signings in quick succession, snapping up goalkeeper Joel Robles from Atletico Madrid, defender Antolin Alcaraz after his Wigan contract expired, Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu on loan and Wigan striker Arouna Kone, signed for £6m. The quartet bolster an Everton squad that was the smallest in the league last season so if nothing else, Martinez has plenty of options to draw upon.

The four new arrivals represent smart business from the new manager, addressing areas of the side that were in need of attention, although not full scale repair. Robles is much younger than the incumbent first choice, Tim Howard, and will provide ample competition for the American with a view to taking his place in the near future. Alcaraz is experienced back-up for Everton’s existing central defenders, and knows the ins and outs of Martinez’s back three formation, if the manager chooses to deploy it.

Deulofeu, meanwhile, adds invention and intrigue on the flank and potentially behind a striker, and aides the likes of Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas in providing for Everton’s forward players. And Kone, Wigan’s top scorer last season with 13 goals, can help ease the strain on Nikica Jelavic, who endured a torrid season but has shown encouraging signs over the summer.

Much rests, however, on which system Martinez employs. He was noted for using a 3-4-3 variation with the Latics and it was seen through pre-season, but only rarely with a 4-2-3-1 the dominant formation. Most likely is a switch between the two depending on the circumstances of the match and the opponent, but this kind of tactical flexibility is one of the most notable changes following Moyes’ departure. Under the Scot, Everton stuck rigidly to a 4-4-1-1 formation and it served them well, but there were times when the side was crying out for innovation from the touchline.

Martinez has also spoken highly of Everton’s young players, suggesting he will turn to them more often than his predecessor. Moyes was cautious in how he developed the likes of Ross Barkley and it may be that the midfielder is coming of age just as Moyes moved on, but Martinez has made the 19-year-old a regular feature of his pre-season teams. Along with Bryan Oviedo and a handful of others, there is the potential for a new lease of life among the Everton squad.

That’s not to denigrate Moyes or his substantial achievements in 11 years on Merseyside but it speaks to the optimism Martinez’s appointment has generated. He has plenty to prove – Wigan were pitifully relegated after all – but their FA Cup triumph is something Everton would welcome gratefully. A cup run and top eight finish would mark a fine first season for the new man.

Roberto Martinez has made an encouraging start but still has plenty to prove at Everton

Manager – Roberto Martinez: Doubts were raised when Martinez was appointed in Moyes’ stead, with concerns over his part in Wigan’s relegation prominent. But the affable Spaniard has eased the worries with his approach in pre-season, taking to his new role with quiet dignity and encouraging Evertonians to dream of a future of stylish football, if nothing else.

Key signing – Steven Pienaar: The full-time return of Pienaar was what Moyes and Evertonians alike desired most of all from the summer. There is a special bond between the player and the club and it was well worth the £4.5m to see it re-established once more.

Key signing – Arouna Kone: One of a number of players to follow Martinez from Wigan, Kone provides experienced competition for Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe, who each need to improve on their goal return from last season. Kone has a year of Martinez’s and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the manager make the Ivorian his first choice striker.

Keep an eye out for…Gerard Deulofeu: Signed on loan from Barcelona, the winger’s arrival was greeted with enthusiasm on the blue half of Merseyside. Much is expected from, if not known about, Deulofeu, and the prospect of the teenager linking up with Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar is certainly an intriguing one.

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